Get Gorgeous: A Natural Guide to Skincare and Makeup

An excerpt from Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life

Women spend an average of four hundred hours a year on their beauty routine. That's a lot of time spent rubbing in lotions, potions, and the like. As a green girl, I realized that I needed to make absolutely sure that everything I used from bubble bath to blush was safe. Without knowing it, we slather ourselves with toxins morning and night. One product alone is unlikely to cause harm, but repeated exposure to these chemicals can eventually lead to health problems and environmental pollution.

I don't have a lot of time for my beauty routine anymore: work, husband, and six-year-­old daughter meltdowns have seriously compromised my glorious "me" time. I comfort myself by using the most nourishing, luxurious, and safe products I can find. I need to know that I am not only saving myself but also the planet. Moreover, if I use harmful chemicals on my body, many of them wash down the drain and contaminate the groundwater and urban runoff. So it's a win/win situation to get Gorgeously Green in the beauty department.

I adore makeup. It makes me feel sexy and glamorous. It can transform me in seconds from an old hag into a goddess. Even on my worst day, a quick lick of shimmering lip gloss and a dab of mascara can change my mood immeasurably. When I first started becoming green, I worried that I would have to seriously compromise in the beauty department. I had visions of the vegan woman named Joy who lived next door to us growing up. She let her natural gray hair grow down to her waist and wore Abba-style beauty-without-cruelty makeup. Things have changed since then. There are so many wonderful companies that offer everything our hearts might desire.

It's time to get savvy about your choices right now. You are about to take the second step of the Gorgeously Green program, so let's examine exactly what you plaster all over your body on a daily basis. Is it really good for you or are you harming yourself and the planet?

Your Skin

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It is living and breathing and absorbs everything you apply to it. Unlike food, which goes through your digestive system before being absorbed into your body, the chemicals you put on your skin are directly absorbed into your bloodstream. It's insane that the government demands regulations for food labeling but not for cosmetics. This will probably change in the future as the large cosmetic companies come under greater scrutiny and organizations lobby for them to remove dangerous chemicals, but for now we have to be detectives.

Did You Know?

According to the Environmental Working Group, only 11 percent of 10,500 ingredients in beauty products have been tested for safety. One in thirteen women are exposed every day to ingredients through their personal care products that are known or probable carcinogens and reproductive toxins.

Aubrey Hampton, founder of the fabulous company Aubrey Organics, says that the average woman’s morning routine puts her in contact with a hundred chemicals before breakfast!

We are lucky that a fantastic nonprofit group called the Environmental Working Group has taken matters into its own hands and given us a ton of information. This group has also put pressure on companies that are not towing the line. It will not be a wasted journey for you to visit its Web site at ewg.org and give the group some support. This group covers every aspect of the environment, pushing the companies and organizations that need it, to make our world a healthier place.

We tend to focus mostly on the skin on our face. When I think of the crazy amounts of money I used to spend on miniscule pots of antiaging cream filled with useless and possibly dangerous chemicals, I'm more than a bit annoyed with myself. Seduced by the packaging, I'd bring the precious pot home with the sales assistant's claims ringing in my head: "erases every single one of your fine lines in just a week!" I'd carefully unwrap the cellophane, open the box, and fish around to find the paper leaflet, which would confirm what the assistant had told me. After a week, when all the fine lines were still firmly entrenched, I felt more than a bit silly but had to still keep on believing in the claims because I'd spent so much money. By the way, it's not just me! Women spend an average of $650 a year on beauty products.

Now that I'm older and wiser, I walk the other way when one of those painted beauties approaches me in the department store. I smile not because I think that beauty comes from within (we all know it does—but come on!), but because I'm savvy now about what's safe and effective.

We'll focus on our hair and body to begin, since these areas absorb more products. The Gorgeously Green program is going to make this supersimple for you. There is a ton of information available, so let's deal with the most important issues first.

What on Earth Is in the Products You Use?

I want you to get out your beauty-related products (shampoos, conditioners, body scrubs, bubble bath, face creams, body lotions and oils, and hairstyling products). Grab your partner's or roommate's stuff while you're at it. Put them on the kitchen table or the countertop. Grab a large magnifying glass as most ingredient lists are so tiny, you can barely see them with your naked eye. I invested in a compact magnifying glass, which I can keep in my purse and easily whip out at a moment's notice in the store.

There is a great media buzz right now about how some cosmetic companies are taking all the "bad" chemicals out of certain lines or how a particular nail polish brand is completely safe; however, these claims should be based on scientific evidence and often aren't. You will also read how many U.S. cosmetic companies are now pledging to make the necessary changes to make all their products "safe." Be very wary, though, because the regulations are not very tough and the loopholes are ridiculous.

Red Alert

The Environmental Working Group suggests that consumers should be on high alert for the following seven ingredients (listed in order of danger significance):

1. COAL TAR: Used in dandruff shampoos and anti-itch creams, coal tar is a known carcinogen. Coal tar–based dyes such as FD&C Blue 1, which are used in toothpastes, and FD&C Green 3, which is used in mouthwash, should be avoided.

2. FRAGRANCE: This ubiquitous term is used to mask hundreds of ingredients, including phthalates, which disrupt the endocrine system and could cause reproductive and developmental harm.

3. HYDROQUINONE: Commonly found in skin lighteners and facial moisturizers, it is a neurotoxin and is allergenic.

4. ALUMINUM: Often used in eye shadow as a color additive and also used in deodorants, it is listed as carcinogenic, toxic, and mutagenic.

5. TRICLOSAN: This chemical is used in almost all antibacterial products, including soap, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Triclosan is often contaminated with dioxins, which are highly carcinogenic and can also weaken your immune system, decrease fertility, and cause birth defects.

6. P-PHENYLENE DIAMINE: This is the chemical that has given a bad name to regular hair dye. It can damage your nervous system, cause lung irritation, and cause severe allergic reactions. It's also listed as 1,4­Benzenediamine; p-Phenyldiamine and 4­Phenylenediamine.

7. LEAD AND MERCURY: Lead could appear in toothpaste as a naturally occurring contaminant of hydrated silica. It is a neurotoxin that also appears as lead acetate in men's hair dye. Mercury is found in a cosmetic preservative called thimerosol.

Are they really that bad? Hello! Yes, these chemicals are terrible because they might contain impurities that are carcinogenic, and many of them are actually classified as neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. It gets pretty complicated when you do the research and discover that certain chemicals mixed with other chemicals become carcinogenic or another chemical in a particular formulation may cause liver and kidney abnormalities. I will spare you the gruesome details, but it's sufficient to know that if there is a long list of chemicals in a product, don't buy it. (These products should really be taken to your nearest hazardous waste disposal unit!) I had some really expensive potions that I just couldn't throw away, so I used them up quickly on larger areas of my body—namely my bottom! Yes, I admit it—my buns got a good coating of some ridiculously expensive eye gel, probably full of horrors that I had been gullible enough to buy.

Reading Your Bottles

Now that you know the worst seven chemicals, let's get started. It's important to prioritize with the following five products, as they tend to get the most daily usage:

1. Shampoo
2. Conditioner
3. Body wash
4. Lip products
5. Hand lotions and creams

Most of us use one or all of these products every day. I use hand cream every time I wash my hands. Living in a desert here in Los Angeles, lip balm is always at the ready. I also slather my entire body with lotion twice daily, so these items were the first up for scrutiny.

Place your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lip balm, and lotions in front of you on the table; make sure you find all your children's bottles, too. If a bottle contains any chemicals, move it to one side of the table. You are going to make three piles:

1. Chuck out immediately
2. Finish but don't buy again
3. Needs further investigation

The products containing any ingredients from the Red Alert list will obviously go in the "chuck out immediately" pile.

The "finish but don't buy again" pile works for all those products that are suspect on account of a gazillion unrecognizable ingredients but not dangerous. It can be pretty costly to start from scratch, so put them back in your cabinet and know that you can make better choices the next time.

Generally speaking, the more ingredients listed, the more wary you should be. It's likely that you will have thrown away the box that your face cream came in and the actual pot may not list the ingredients. If this is the case, put it in the "needs further investigation" pile until your next trip to the store.

When you next go shopping, take your Gorgeously Green Skincare Shopping Cheat Sheet that you can download from my Web site: gorgeouslygreen.com/cheatsheet. With this important information in hand, you can give the poor sales assistant a good grilling—chances are she won't know what you are on about, but it's within your rights to ask about all the dodgy chemicals.

Be Wary

Most products claim to be natural or say that they contain botanicals or plant extracts. This means absolutely nothing—they may well contain miniscule amounts of these ingredients but also a plethora of chemicals and additives. Also, watch out for "unscented" or "fragrance-free," which often means that synthetic ingredients have been added to mask the odor. Finally, watch out for "hypoallergenic." Although the most common irritants may have been left out, the product could still contain all the other ugly stuff. I know that it's exasperating not to be able to trust an ingredient list from a supposedly reputable company, but you can't and shouldn't! You also need to be discerning about the look of the label. You may see flowers, herbs, or a little cottage with roses around the front door—this doesn't mean it's safe or wholesome.

Be suspicious if you see the word organic in the name of the product. Some sneaky companies just put this word in the company name and trademark it so that it looks official. Sometimes these products don't contain one single organic ingredient!

Going Deeper

Having dealt with the worst offenders in our most-used products, it's now time to get out all your other products: face creams, eye gels, skin lighteners, shaving foam, hair dye—the lot! Repeat the task of sorting into three piles.

Hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised and won't have to chuck too much out; however, it's now time to go deeper. Since you've already got your potions out, you may want to repeat the process, checking them for Orange Alert ingredients.

Orange Alert

Some of the following chemicals can create the formation of carcinogenic chemicals called nitrosamines, so I strongly suggest avoiding them:

  • Cocamide DEH
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)

Mineral Oils

They coat the skin like plastic, so it cannot breathe. They can slow down the skin's natural functions and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Mineral oils can also be contaminated with PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon), which can be carcinogenic. They come in the form of petroleum distillates, which are human carcinogens that are prohibited in the European Union but are found in the United States in many products including mascara. It appears on labels as "petroleum" or "liquid paraffin."

Petroleum jelly, which, by the way, I touted as a cure-all as a younger girl, is now thought to be a carcinogen because of the way it is manufactured. Ugh—to think of all those years of slathering it all over my face and lips.

Parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl, butyl, isobutyl-)

Parabens are chemical preservatives that have been identified as estrogenic and disruptive of normal hormone function. Estrogenic chemicals mimic the function of the naturally occurring hormone estrogen, and exposure to external estrogens has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Enough said— I don't touch them with a barge pole. I have also put them in the Orange Alert list because they are very common, so squint at the small print whenever you see a long list of chemicals.

Phthalates

These horrid little synthetic chemicals are known to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive impairment in lab animals exposed during pregnancy and after birth. They are also hormone-mimicking chemicals, many of which disrupt normal hormone processes, raising concerns about implications for increased breast cancer risk. They are often hidden under the term "fragrance." Dibutyl and diethylhexyl have been banned in the European Union but not in the United States.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES)

This ingredient is a foaming agent that is derived from coconut oil. It is used in brake fluid and antifreeze and also in a huge variety of skin care products, including toothpaste, shampoo, bubble bath, and soap.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding SLS, as many feel that it is not only a proven skin irritant but also could be carcinogenic. The Environmental Working Group considers it to be a carcinogen; others say that it is prone to contamination by a probable carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane, which is used for its foaming ability. Many other groups blame the hype on the natural skin care industry, who want to make a buck or two flogging their SLS-free products.

I'm not a great risk taker when it comes to my health, so I'm choosing to go SLS-free for now.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

PEG is a potential carcinogen that is typically used as a grease-dissolving cleaner and a thickener for skin care products. These chemicals are deemed to be so toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency that workers have to wear protective clothing when handling them. They can easily penetrate your skin, causing brain, liver, and kidney malfunctions. Also look out for propylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, and butylene glycol.

Formaldehyde-Producing Preservatives

Some preservatives can become formaldehyde donors, in that they release small amounts of formaldehyde into the skin. Many preservatives are cellular toxins. Formaldehyde can cause many health issues including joint discomfort, chest pains, and chronic fatigue. Examples are hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and diazolidinyl urea.

Talc

Found in baby products, underam deodorants, and cosmetic powder products, talc contains a chemical that is similar to asbestos and can increase the risk of certain ovarian cancers.

Acrylates and Methacrylates

Found in nail products, these products can cause contact dermatitis.

Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)

This additive is very common in cosmetics. It is a drying agent that strips off the outer layers of skin, exposing you to bacteria and other toxins. It can also promote brown spots and even accelerates aging —ugh!

Tocopherol Acetate

This may sound innocent, but it is a synthetic version of vitamin E, which is a suspected carcinogen and causes dermatitis.

Phenonip

This is a preservative blend that contains the aforementioned parabens: phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, proylparaben, and isobutylparaben.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)

The oddly named "Quats" are used as preservatives. They are the primary cause of contact dermatitis. They will be listed on your ingredient list as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, quaternium-15, and quaternium 1-­29.

Cationic Surfactants

These little guys can be found in your hair conditioner. They were originally used in the paper industry but, ironically, can make you hair dry and brittle after long-term use. They are also allergenic and toxic. Look out for these ingredients: stearalkonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium chloride, cetalkonium chloride, and lauryl dimonium hydrolyzed collagen.

Benzyl Alcohol

Look out for this on your ingredient list, as it is a petrochemical that can be a severe irritant to your eyes and your respiratory system.

Silicone Derived Emollients

These chemicals coat your skin like plastic wrap—and even worse, can accumulate in your liver and lymph nodes, which can promote the tumor growth. These emollients include: dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, and cyclomethicone.

Carbomer 934, 940, 941, 960, 961C

This chemical is used as a stabilizer and thickener in creams, cosmetics, toothpaste, and bath products. It is a known allergen that causes eye irritation.

Weeding Out the Bad Stuff

The really great news is that with so much media awareness, many of the really cool products will tell you on their labels that they do not contain parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, or mineral oil. So remember my suggestion to get rid of the Red Alert products and put the Orange Alert products in your "use up but don't buy again" pile. With your newfound knowledge, you can make better choices when you next run out.

Confused?

If you are in doubt or confused by a particular product you own or have thrown out the box, you can go to a fabulous Web site at safecosmetics.org from a company called Safe Cosmetics and actually type in the product to get the safety scoop on it. Using Skin Deep, the company's cosmetic safety database, Safe Cosmetics rates the product from 0 through 10 (0 being the safest and 10 having the most dodgy chemicals). I avoid products with a rating of 5 or higher. Safe Cosmetics is an offshoot of the Environmental Working Group. I often refer to this nonprofit research organization that is based in Washington, D.C. If your product isn't listed and you are concerned about a particular chemical, go to scorecard.org and click on "Chemical Profiles." You can check your air, water, home, and general environment for toxic concerns. This site is quite addictive. You can type in your zip code and see exactly where all the most offensive polluters are located. You can also see how your area stacks up, toxicity-wise, against every other area in the United States. Plan to put aside some time for this one.

Don't Forget the Packaging

Remember that the packaging in which any of your goodies arrive will just sit in a landfill unless it is fully biodegradable or reusable. Try to look for packaging that is made with recycled materials. It will clearly say so if this is the case. I love a cosmetics company called Suki. Their cute yellow and black boxes are made of recycled materials and labeled with vegetable nontoxic ink. We can only hope that many will follow in their footsteps. If the plastic bottles have a number 1 or 2 on the bottom (in the chasing arrows), it means you can always put them in your recycling bin. Every city differs in which plastic numbers they accept, so contact your local bureau of sanitation to get the scoop.


Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life by Sophie Uliano

From Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life by Sophie Uliano Copyright © 2008 HarperCollins Publishers. Republished with permission.

 

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Comments

jenboda
jenboda's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 12/03/2008

Thanks for such an in depth and amazing article. My stomach literally churned when I read about all the chemicals that I am putting into my body. We so often think that because we are not physically ingesting the stuff that it is not hurting us, but when I read that skin is the largest organ in the body and that it is so sensitive, it really hit home. Now all I need is a list of several companies that I can count on to make safe beauty products so that I don't have to read every ingredients list? Is there something like this available?

jh
 

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