Figuring out how pure your skin and hair care products are can be a mouthful. Below we will go through different types of beauty products – from conventional products to certified organic products.
Conventional beauty products.
The biggest issues with some conventional beauty products are related to some of the ingredients used as well as their compositions. The problem is the ingredients’ potential effects leading to allergies, irritated skin, respirational, hormonal and immune system disturbances and other serious conditions. This is not to say that all conventional products will lead to the above. However, the following ingredients can be found in conventional products and are some of the ingredients that can have really harmful effects; parabens, formalhyde and formalhyde releasing preservatives, synthetic colors and fragrances, (SLS) and (SLES), Triclosan, sunscreen chemicals, (TEA), Urea and Lanolin.
Parabens are synthetic preservatives used to prevent bacteria and fungi and can be found in a wide range of product groups – beauty products are no exception. They can easily be spotted on the INCI list as they end with –paraben. Parabens can disturb the immune system, effect homonal balances ad lead to allergies.
Formalhyde and formalhyde releasing preservatives are chemical preservatives used to inhibit bacteria growth. Formalhyde has been associated with e.g. skin irritation, allergies and disturbance of the immune system.
Synthetic colors and fragrances are used in many conventional products and associated with skin irritation and allergies and synthetic fragrances are even related to distressed respiration, dermatitis and can also effect our reproductive capabilities. Synthetic fragrances are often hidden behind a secret formula, for which reason the actual content is unknown. On the INCI it will say fragrance or perfume. A little remark to this is the often-misunderstood perception that only synthetic fragrances can cause perfume allergy. Any kind of fragrance, synthetic or natural, can basically lead to perfume allergy.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are surfactants used in most conventional products and associated with skin, eye and lung irritation.
Phthalates, e.g. dibutyl, diethyl and dimethyl, are softening chemicals used in many conventional beauty products. Phthalates have been associated with birth abnormalities and premature breast development amongst girls.
Triclosan is a chemical used to inhibit bacterial contamination and is associated with several hormonal disruptions as well as skin irritation.
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a water-soluble liquid, often as a skin-conditioning agent, that irritates and penetrate the skin and has been related to dermatitis as well as rashes.
Benzophenone, avobenzone, homosalate, ethoxycinnmate and PABA are sunscreen chemicals used in many sunscreen products. They are associated with hormonal and cellular disruptions.
Triethanolamine (TEA) is a pH adjuster known to be allergenic causing e.g. skin and eye irritations. If the level of TEA absorbed into the body is too high it can turn toxic.
Urea is often used as an absorption enhancer and a moisture preservative ingredient. It stems from mammal urine, yes urine, but in cosmetics it is a synthetic ingredient. Opinions about the use of urea in cosmetics differ a bit. However, it has been associated with severe skin irritation and it is also an ingredient that can escalate the concentration of other chemicals through the skin.
Lanolin is the natural oil or fat from sheeps’ wool. Like with Urea there are also many different opinions about lanolin in cosmetic products. Lanolin has been associated with skin irritation and allergies.
Beauty products with statements like “Contains organic ingredients”
are no guarantee that the products are natural and pure. The rest of the product might consist of harsh chemicals etc. damaging to your health and the environment.
Beauty products with statements like “Free from …”
are similar to the above-mentioned argumentation. It simply states that a certain ingredient is not in the product while all the other harmful chemicals might be present.
Vegan beauty products
simply states that a product has no ingredients or derivatives thereof from animals. The product can still be full of unwanted chemicals.
Natural beauty products
is a general phrase and is not measured against any standards of natural pure cosmetics. The products might hold a percentage of ingredients of natural origin, none might be organic, and this still allows for numerous problematic chemicals and synthetics.
Certified organic beauty products
is likely the closest you get to a guarantee. There are however, several certification bodies stating different standards. The most advanced and well known certification body, ECOCERT, has organized, structured and well regulated standards for certified organic cosmetics. ECOCERT requires:
- The absence of GMO, parabens, phenoxyethanol, nanoparticles, silicon, PEG, synthetic perfumes and dyes, animal-derived ingredients (unless naturally produced by them: milk, honey, etc.).The biodegradable or recyclable nature of packaging.
- A minimum of 95% of all plant-based ingredients in the formula and a minimum of 10% of all ingredients by weight must come from organic farming.
An often-misunderstood perception, and one widely and deceivingly used by marketers within the beauty industry, is the idea or statement of close-to or 100% certified organic beauty products (hair, skin & body care). For as good as any beauty product this is not possible. For example, almost all beauty products consist of at least 30-60% water, and often more, – the catch is just that water cannot be certified organic. If you look at the INCI of a product you will most often see that water/aqua is listed first, which means that it is the ingredient, by weight, of highest representation. It is a bit of a jungle, we know!
So how do you know…?
A good advice is to look for ECOCERT certified organic beauty products and further to look for the percentages of ingredients from organic farming – the higher % of ingredients from organic farming, the more organic and pure beauty products. Furthermore, look for environmentally friendly sourcing of ingredients, e.g. locally sourced ingredients and/or easily renewable ingredients, as this will give you an even better indication of how green a product is.
Ultimately, the more transparent a beauty company is about their use of ingredients, sources of ingredients, production processes, packaging and transportation, the better.