April 11, 2018

7 Things You Need to Know Now About the Safer Beauty Revolution

​Since the FDA virtually has no power to regulate the products we use on our skin every day, it’s time for you to become your own best advocate. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Start with your skin.
The skin is your body’s largest organ. Unlike your liver, heart, stomach, kidneys, or lungs, your skin is an organ you can actually touch. Your skin is an organ that can actually burn.

If you rolled your skin up tight, it’d be about the size of a bowling ball. If you stretched it out, your skin could cover a door frame.

Your skin absorbs what you put on it, whether that’s sunscreen, body lotion, or an expensive moisturizer that smells like magnolia flowers. If we are what we eat, then we are also definitely what we put on our skin.

2. Count ‘em up.
Homework time. Think of how many products you use on your body from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you’re headed out the door. Shampoo. Body wash. Eye cream. Toothpaste. Hand soap. Deodorant. Lip stick. Makeup. Tally them all up.

What number did you get?

The average adult uses 9 personal care products per day. But many women and men use at least 15 or more products daily. When it comes to environmental health and exposure, the higher number of products you use daily, the higher your exposure. If your number is sky high, start seeking out safer alternatives.

3. Recall a bit of history.
The last time a piece of legislation was passed regulating the personal care industry here in the United States was 1938. (For reference, the Golden Gate Bridge was finished in 1937. What an entirely different era!)

That piece of legislation—about one-and-a half pages long— is known as the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, which allows personal care product companies to self-police. That same piece of legislation is still in effect today.

4. Start reading labels.
If you’re a nutritionista, chances are you already read nutrition labels on food. If you’re ready to jump into the safer beauty revolution, it’s time to start decoding the small print on the back of your mascara, shaving gel, and detergent.

According to the Environmental Working Group, marketing claims on personal care products don’t mean diddly squat. They’re not defined under the law. Organic, natural, hypoallergenic, animal cruelty free, and fragrance free are buzzwords. They’re hype.  To ensure these claims hold up, turn the product around and make certain you can see for yourself.

5. Learn the big offenders—and avoid them like the plague.
Individuals too nervous to step a toe into the waters of the safer beauty revolution might feel like they need a chemistry degree before they can get started. What’s 1,4-dioxane? What’s hydroquinone? What’s ethylene dioxide?  Nitrosamines? PAHs? Acrylamide? Are these the good guys or the bad?

Start with the basics. Start avoiding these:

    •    Parabens
    •    Synthetic colors
    •    Fragrance
    •    Phthalates
    •    Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
    •    Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
    •    Formaldehyde
    •    Toluene
    •    Propylene glycol

6. Avoid the F-word.
Here, we’re talking “fragrance,” an easy word to spot on the back of your products.

Fragrance can trigger allergic reactions and be host to hundreds, even thousands, of chemicals that companies aren’t made to disclose. Since these alluring and enchanting scents are one-of-a-kind, they’re considered “trade secrets.” These (dirty little) “secrets” have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and can potentially affect the reproductive system.

Check product ingredients. If you see “fragrance,” work towards avoiding that product and swap it with something else.

7. What about the rest of the world?
Around the world, regulation of cosmetics operates under different legal frameworks. Some countries do have more stringent and health-protective laws in place, like the European Union. The EU has taken a precautionary approach to banning close to 1,400 ingredients and chemicals that are linked to cancer and birth defects.

Canada has put their foot down too. They’ve prohibited and restricted the use of 600 “hotlist” ingredients that are found to be harmful to human health and safety. ​

Here in the United States? This country has banned 30 ingredients.

One way to continue your own health-focused revolution is to keep the conversation going. Share this information with your friends and your family members. Do you check your beauty products? Have you ever made the connection that mascara and moisturizers could affect your health?


​About the Author

​Erin is a writer and a creative thinker. With her MFA from Columbia University and her B.A. from Warren Wilson College, she loves exploring process, uncovering how things work, and writing about what matters.

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