Embracing clean beauty is easy; it’s grounded in one simple principle: if a product is going to stay in the skin for long periods (say, sunblock) or if it’s meant to cover a large surface area (like body lotion), it’s best to look for cleaner alternatives. The clean beauty industry is growing, which means that it’ll be easy for anyone to find replacements for their daily sunblock, moisturizer, body lotion, and even deodorant — the options are limitless!
After finding a replacement, you can incorporate other cleaner beauty products into your regimen, like cleaner hair care (like shampoos and conditioners) and makeup. Without a doubt, clean beauty has evolved from being a buzzword into a revolutionary movement that’s slowly redefining skincare and beauty standards worldwide.
Just because products are labeled “clean” doesn’t mean you have to immediately add them to your shopping carts and skincare routine. Clean beauty is broad, and not all companies actually use “clean” ingredients in their products.
Even if you’re starting clean beauty on a budget, it’s important to learn which ingredients to avoid — no one wants to use products that will eventually cause health problems, right?
This section lists some of the clean beauty ingredients you should avoid and why they’re a big no-no in achieving the best, healthiest skin:
Ethoxylated agents cover different ingredients, such as oleth, sulfates, ceteareths, and polyethylene glycols. Olathe is a type of non-irritating fatty acid alcohol that acts as a cleansing agent and texture enhancer, while sulfates create lather and also function as a cleansing agent. Ceteareths stabilize and thicken products, and polyethylene glycols are used to increase moisture retention in the skin and hair.
The drawbacks: The risks of using clean products with ethoxylated agents outweigh the benefits. Olathe is a mild to moderate skin irritant, while different types of sulfates, like sodium Laureth sulfate, can strip off too much oil and wash off the skin’s protective barrier. This results in severe redness and dry skin.
Ceteareths are highly unsafe to use for individuals with damaged or irritated skin because it’s potentially contaminated with dioxane. According to the Food and Drug Administration, dioxane is a carcinogen that can cause cancer. When used in broken skin, polyethylene glycol can cause systematic toxicity and irritation.
Formaldehyde is present in cosmetic products and used as a preservative. It works by preventing spoilage and microbiological growth. This ingredient is used in different skin and hair care products, as well as nail polish, nail polish remover, and makeup.
The drawbacks: Although formaldehyde levels in most skin and hair care products are low, many are highly sensitive to the ingredient. Some will experience sensory irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin sensitization.
Long-term and frequent exposure to formaldehyde can also cause eye problems and irritation, respiratory tract problems (such as sore or itchy throat and wheezing), vomiting, and rashes. In worse cases, formaldehyde can also cause hair loss.
According to cancer.org, exposure to high levels of formaldehyde also causes different types of cancers, like leukemia and cancers of the nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, and nasopharynx. The longer your exposure is to this ingredient, the higher your risks are to these health problems.
Fragrances and phthalates work together to ensure that beauty products smell good for the longest time possible. Phthalates are also used to increase the lifespan of products and allow products to cling better and longer to the skin and hair.
The drawbacks: Skin and hair products that smell good contain phthalates. Countless studies have been published to show the effects of this ingredient. One study found phthalates to cause reproductive and genital defects, lower sperm count, and infertility, while another highlighted how exposure to phthalates could increase the risk of gestational diabetes and miscarriage among pregnant women.
Commonly used in skin lighteners, hydroquinone works by lightening the dark patches of the skin (also called freckles, liver spots, age spots, or hyperpigmentation), often caused by injury to the skin, pregnancy, hormone medicine, or birth control pills. This ingredient disrupts the process in the skin, which results in discoloration.
The drawbacks: Using beauty products that contain hydroquinone poses several risks. This ingredient is known to increase cancer risks as it works by decreasing the degradation of melanin pigments in the skin to darken light sports. This increases the skin’s exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can lead to skin cancer.
Hydroquinone can also be harmful when inhaled and irritate the throat, nose, and upper respiratory tract. One study on occupational exposure to hydroquinone showed that subjects exposed to the ingredient had a decreased lung capacity and a higher prevalence of cough compared to unexposed individuals.
Parabens are widely used in different beauty products. In fact, almost all beauty products sold in the market use parabens — from deodorants, shaving gels, and creams, to eye makeups and facial cleansers. This ingredient is used as a preservative in beauty products to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.
The drawbacks: Experts believe that parabens don’t belong in cosmetics because studies suggest that the ingredient can disrupt hormones in the body, affect fertility, and cause birth defects. Parabens are also known to increase the risk of cancer and trigger severe skin irritation.
Beauty products containing parabens are still being sold in the market today as the FDA doesn’t have any special rules that are specific to cosmetics. Aside from color additives, cosmetic products and their ingredients don’t need FDA approval before they’re sold to the public.
Petroleum and petroleum by-products are found in many shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, foundations, anti-aging creams, and even nail polishes. This ingredient acts as a moisturizing agent that locks in moisture to the skin.
The drawbacks: One of the biggest health concerns with beauty products containing refined petroleum is that they generate dioxane, which, as mentioned, contributes to some forms of cancer. Some petroleum products disrupt the hormone in the body, while others can have contaminants that can clog the pores and cause severe acne and blackheads.
In worse cases, long-term exposure to petroleum-derived products can cause the skin to absorb the chemicals, which then enter the bloodstream. This is highly dangerous for everyone, but the risks are higher for children and pregnant women.
Silica has become an essential ingredient in beauty products as it provides natural exfoliation and absorbs oil and sweat. It’s commonly found in skincare and makeup products.
The drawbacks: Silica has been linked to lung issues as the silica dust particles can get trapped in the lung tissue and cause scarring and inflammation. Over time, these particles can also disrupt the capacity of the lungs to take in oxygen, resulting in silicosis. Some of the most common symptoms of this health condition are chronic dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and lung problems. When left untreated, silicosis can cause permanent lung damage and can sometimes become fatal.
Talc is an ingredient used in many beauty products, namely blush and baby powders. Talc is a mineral substance that absorbs moisture, prevents caking, softens products, and makes makeup more opaque.
The drawback: Talc is one of the most controversial ingredients in the beauty industry. Studies show that infants inhaling talc-containing baby powders showed severe respiratory distress. The International Agency for Research on Cancer also lists talc as a possible carcinogenic as long-term use, and exposure to this ingredient has been linked to ovarian and endometrial cancer. Individuals who apply talc-containing products in their pelvic areas, such as feminine hygiene products, are at higher risk of developing these cancers.
In October 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in the talc-based baby powders produced and sold by Johnson & Johnson. Asbestos is regulated at different levels of government because it’s known to cause ovarian and larynx cancer. Since 2016, the brand has been facing class action lawsuits for denying any asbestos content on their baby powders. Countless plaintiffs have blamed the brand for causing different types of cancer.
Used as a preservative, triclosan works by protecting cosmetic products from spoilage. It’s also used as an antibacterial agent to ensure the cleanliness of the product. This ingredient is essential in making hand wash, body wash, mouth wash, and toothpaste.
The drawbacks: There is evidence that triclosan has been found in the umbilical cord of infants. This raises concerns for the fetus during periods of development. Studies also show that triclosan interferes with the body’s natural thyroid hormone metabolism. Children with long-term and frequent exposure to the ingredient also have a higher risk of developing asthma, allergies, and eczema.
You’ll find countless varieties when you look up products produced by a clean beauty company. You’ll come across terms like cruelty-free, organic, and clean. Clean beauty definition is not yet regulated by the DFA, which is why it has become subjective from one company to another. This makes it challenging for us to determine the best and cleanest beauty brands to patronize.
Listed below are some common buzzwords used in the clean beauty industry to better clarify things.
In the clean beauty industry, clean means that the product has considered environmental and human health and uses nontoxic ingredients for active results. These products are created without any synthetic ingredients or chemicals that can harm the body or cause irritation to the skin.
As the name suggests, cruelty-free products are those that use ingredients that are already proven safe instead of conducting new tests on animals. Brands behind these products don’t play a role in testing their products on animals or harming them in any way.
Generally speaking, “green” beauty is an umbrella term that talks about natural skincare made from naturally derived ingredients or ingredients that don’t harm the environment. One example of a green product is reef-safe sunscreen with biodegradable packaging.
Skin and hair products labeled nontoxic don’t contain ingredients linked to toxic responses, such as cancer and hormone disruption. Aside from being safer, nontoxic products are packed with beneficial nutrients and are easier on the skin.
Organic skincare products are made with ingredients grown without any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or genetic enhancements. Organic skincare products are produced with ingredients that meet the same standards as organic food — free from chemical ingredients and cheap fillers.
The concept behind sustainable beauty products is choosing products that meet beauty standards without negatively impacting the people or the environment. Sustainable beauty products are produced from renewable raw materials, and using them contributes to a cleaner, healthier, and more liveable environment.
Vegan skincare products are created without using ingredients derived from animals and animal by-products. Vegan beauty products are not only eco-friendly and good for the skin but also for your health because they’re chemical-free. This will give you peace of mind knowing that what you’re applying to your face and body will not induce health problems like cancer or irritation.
Hopping into the clean beauty movement will not only improve your skin; patronizing products from a clean beauty company also warrants your health and safety, and helps protect the environment. It’s a win-win for everyone!
So, now that you know what clean beauty is, what ingredients to avoid, and what common buzzwords mean, start creating a skincare routine with clean beauty brands. Making the switch will require costs and a little bit of adjustment but the results will be worth it!
My goal is to inspire you to curate all aspects of your life, while helping you walk a little more mindful on the planet.