Toxic beauty – the price we pay to look our best

Ever wonder why natural beauty is trending these last few years? It turns out that one in every eight ingredients in personal care products contains an industrial chemical on average. In recent years, consumers have become more aware about the beauty industry’s chemically-laden formulas and the harmful effects. Did you know that most people use an average of nine personal care products each day, and that these products may contain any combination of 126 chemicals or more? It’s a scary reality. Let’s discuss.

As you get ready in the morning, you should know there are likely a few dangerous ingredients lurking in the products in your medicine cabinet – everything from carcinogens to plasticisers to heavy metals. That mud mask you use to unwind may be laden with chemicals. That $60 designer brand night cream is likely swimming with toxic ingredients, a bevy of chemicals. It may promise to fix your wrinkles, but at what cost? The cost of your health.

In the age of information, customers became savvier than ever. As they learned about beauty ingredients for themselves, talk simmered and bubbled over everywhere from blogs to online forums, eventually gaining the attention of mass media and beauty magazines. Customers made their demands clear. Less chemicals and safer products are here to stay. The wave of change has begun.

Small brands popped up everywhere, looking to unseat mega beauty companies who hadn’t given the natural beauty resurgence its proper respect. Boutique brands caught wind of consumers’ needs early on, and many took to homespun labs to whip up fresh batches of natural, chemical-free beauty products from cleansers to mud masks and serums.

Drugstore shelves used to be lined with the same old run-of-the-mill products from skin creams to cleansers, but now even the big companies are jumping on board to get a piece of the pie. There’s a reason all natural beauty products are holding their position at the forefront of the skincare industry these days. The market has blossomed, and the trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So why all the hype about natural beauty? Many chemicals found in traditional personal care products have been linked to everything from cancer to neurodegenerative disease to asthma and miscarriage, just to name a few. Many of these chemicals are capable of passing through the skin and absorbing into your bloodstream where they set up camp and spread throughout your body. Perhaps a product only contains trace amounts of a harmful chemical, but with so many products containing these ingredients, they can build up in your body and cause disease and cell death.

You probably feel pretty shocked to hear this. Now that we know why chemical ingredients are dangerous, you may wonder why companies add these chemicals to their products in the first place. There are a number of reasons. For example, parabens allow products to have a longer shelf life because they act as broad spectrum antibacterial and antifungals. Other chemicals are added to improve consistency. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a foaming agent usually found in cleansers and shampoo, but it is a known eye and skin irritant.

And fragrance – often the worst offender since it’s considered proprietary under the law. Be warned, “fragrance” is usually NOT a single ingredient. A single fragrance can be a blend of any number of 5,000 chemicals! Companies don’t have to disclose which ingredients make up a fragrance. Just the word “fragrance” in the ingredient list is considered good enough for the government. Fragrances often contains known irritants, and may cause everything from red, itchy rashes to headaches and asthma.

Obviously you’ll want to avoid chemical ingredients as much as possible. So what kind of products should you look for? Labels like “all natural” and “organic” are largely meaningless. The government definitions are too vague and broad to be helpful. Instead, you should take a look at the label’s ingredient list. A general guideline is that the ingredient list shouldn’t be a mile long, and words should be largely pronounceable. If you see the word “fragrance”, run the other way! In fact, that’s the first thing you should look for on the label to save yourself a lot of time. Fragrance is usually at the very end of the ingredient list.

That’s not to say all long, uncommon, difficult-to-pronounce ingredients are offenders. Many natural and safe botanical ingredients tend to go by their scientific name. Take lavandula angustifolia, for example, which is just the formal name for lavender oil, or cellulose, which is a safe and natural plant fiber used to add a creamy consistency to beauty products. Both have high marks for safety.

The best advice is to always read the ingredient list on the label. When in doubt, look it up. The EWG’s Skin Deep® database is a good place to start. Here’s to staying beautiful – and safe!