Not only is the cosmetics and skin care industry massive—valued at nearly $130 billion dollars—it’s largely unregulated, which makes it a minefield to navigate for people avoiding hazardous ingredients and animal testing.
According to the Humane Society, everyday products such as lotion, soap, and nail polish can contain chemicals and carcinogens such as BHA and coal tar. And it’s estimated that 500,000 mice, guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits still suffer and die in cosmetic and personal care testing every year.
Here’s a guide to four major beauty categories, to help you avoid the nasty stuff and figure out what to use instead.
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The Environmental Working Group says that the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 different ingredients daily. Because many skin care products are designed to penetrate into the skin’s layers, that means their chemical ingredients do too. Among them are industrial plasticizers called phthalates, which have been shown to affect lab animals’ reproductive systems; parabens, which act as additional estrogen once absorbed by the body; and synthetic fragrance like musk xylene, a carcinogen.
Instead, try this: Make your own! Not only is this fun and cuts down on chemical compounds that aren’t good for your body or the environment, but it saves a ton of money, especially compared to high-end products. Once you have a supply of basics like shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil, and essential oils, individual products like moisturizer, eye cream, toner, and make-up remover can often be made for a few dollars or less. There are many free online resources on DIY skincare, but some of my favorites are Wellness Mama, Homemade for Elle, One Good Thing by Jillee, and Jenni Raincloud (her anti-wrinkle eye cream is the bomb!)
If you don’t want to go the DIY route, make-up artist and natural beauty expert Rebecca Casciano swears by Laurel Whole Plant Organics facial serum, especially for sun damage. “This is definitely a go-to moisturizer.” She is also a big fan of Josh Rosebrook Skin and Hair Care, May Lindstrom SKIN, and W3LL People products.
There are a lot of pretty nasty ingredients found in most makeup products, including lead, mercury, aluminum, coal tar, and formaldehyde, to name just a few. EWG has a Cosmetics Database that rates products based on health concerns, and is a great resource for researching any product.
Mascara is right at your eyes (along with eyeliner and eye shadow), and therefore particularly irritating. Commonly found brands include things like known neurotoxin aluminum powder, and retinyl acetate, which can disrupt your natural biochemistry. You only have to think about the difficulty of removing mascara to wonder what else it’s made of.
Instead, try this: Numerous brands offer non-toxic, natural mascaras that really work, using organic oils, mineral pigments, and plant products. Try 100% Pure, Ecco Bella, Ilia, or W3LL People. These products are usually more expensive than drugstore brands, but cheaper than high-end cosmetic lines. Tip: the natural ingredients in these mascaras tend to smudge until they’re fully set, so be sure to build in time to your makeup routine for drying and keep cotton swabs handy to take care of any smudges.
Remember the old days when people used pure hydrogen peroxide to dye their hair blonde? Most of us probably don’t, and that’s a good thing. Hair dyes have come a long way, but a lot of the most commonly sold hair coloring products in the U.S. still contain toxic chemicals, some of which have been banned from use in Japan and the European Union, and restricted in Canada. This goes for color removal products as well.
Instead, try this: Australian company Original & Mineral created the CCT™ Clean Color Technology line of natural hair dyes. Madison Reed created the first at-home hair color that uses a “six-free” formula, meaning that it doesn’t include what they consider to be six questionable ingredients: ammonia, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, PPD, and gluten.
“It’s very easy to mix and apply, and the results are amazing … incredible color that has depth, shine, and really lasts,” says brand advisor, famed stylist Sally Hershberger. “It’s definitely a salon grade product.”
Nail polish has flown under the green beauty radar for a long time. But in October 2015, EWG released a study with researchers at Duke University that showed a toxic chemical widely used in nail polishes to be present in the bodies of women just 10-14 hours after painting their nails. Triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP, interrupts the endocrine system and can affect hormones, metabolism, and reproduction.
Instead, try this: Ruth Kallens, owner of the non-toxic nail salon Van Court in New York City, is a big fan of 7-free Deborah Lippman nail lacquer. The term 7-free means that the product does not contain the seven most harmful ingredients traditionally used in nail polish. Other 7-free brands that get high marks for color selection and long lasting wear include Tenoverten, Ella+Mila, and Pacifica, which also has a 100% vegan brush. But don’t think that going 7-free means you have to give up a good manicure. Many of these lines also offer base and top coats and protectors that really extend the life of your manicure.
If it seems overwhelming to switch your entire beauty routine to one that is healthier, Rebecca Casciano advises you just start with changing one product at a time. “Don’t feel like you have to change everything over at once,” she says, recommending that you start by swapping out daily facial products and move on from there.
Many beauty items are marketed as impulse buys, but before you toss that trendy lip or nail color into your basket at the drugstore, check the ingredients for things like parabens, phthalates, and metals. Your body will thank you later.