SKIN SERIES | The Case for Green Beauty

SKIN SERIES | The Case for Green Beauty


Because you have spent much of your life using certain products, the reasons why you should ditch those beloved products aren’t exactly intuitive. They’ve been working so far, right? Or at least it seems that way. It might surprise you to know that the majority of ingredients in your products serve no beneficial purpose for your skin. Most of those indecipherable ingredients are fillers – responsible for your moisturizer’s creamy texture or your foaming cleansers, well, foam. I don’t know about you, but I find this to be really frustrating. Why are products touting the healing benefits of avocado oil or argan oil when those oils appear three-fourths of the way down the ingredient list below useless emulsifiers, preservatives, and petroleum derivatives? That feels like a scam to me. On the other hand, natural beauty products contain only those healing oils and nothing else. Isn’t that really what you were paying for?

And it gets much worse. The multi-billion dollar beauty industry is almost entirely self-regulated, which may explain why there are only 11 cosmetic ingredients banned in the US, while over 1,328 ingredients have been banned in the EU. That’s incredibly scary. You may think that the EU is being overly cautious, but considering that only 11% of ingredients have even been tested for safety in the US, how can you be sure? Those studies that have been performed link common cosmetic ingredients to cancer, kidney failure, reproductive toxicity, rashes, irritation, and much more. Cosmetic companies hide behind the common adage that the dose makes the poison. And I’m willing to admit that I agree. Except that it’s not just about the effects of one Lancôme serum or one Estée Lauder eye shadow. It’s about the combined effects of the 20 plus personal care products that women use on a daily basis.

You might be wondering, beyond rashes and irritation, what does this mean for your skin? Many conventional cosmetic ingredients like parabens and phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they alter hormonal function. So if messy hormones are a part of your skin story, then you definitely, definitely need to remove these ingredients. I’m not saying that parabens are the primary cause of your hormonal dysfunction, but they aren’t helping the situation. Additionally, parabens and other preservatives, like sodium benzoate and phenoxyethanol, disrupt the skin’s delicate microbiome. More and more research is suggesting that annihilating our skin’s symbiotic organisms worsens inflammatory conditions like acne and leads to increased sensitivity overall. If preservatives can disrupt the microbiome, imagine what happens when you break out the big acne-fighting guns (think: benzoyl peroxide). Perhaps most simply, ingredients like mineral oil and wax can clog pores.    

So which ingredients should you avoid? I’m glad you asked. The following list is by no means comprehensive; it’s simply the ones that I personally look out for.

Aluminum Salts – You’ll find these in your deodorant, which may explain why they’ve been linked to breast cancer. Don’t believe the nonsense that natural deodorants don’t work. They do. The trial and error process might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  

Chemical Sunscreen – Common chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, homosalate, and octicrylene. Oxybenzone, in particular, has been linked to endocrine disruption, but I’m not a fan of any of them. Stick with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Fragrance – Avoid fragrance in your products at all costs. A product’s fragrance is protected by trade secret and often hides phthalates, known hormone disruptors, and other irritants. Some natural beauty companies use the term “fragrance” or “parfum” in their ingredient list so just be sure that it’s entirely comprised of essential oils or the like.

Hydroquinine – This skin lightener has been linked to cancer and banned in numerous countries. If your dermatologist recommends a product containing hydroquinine, it might be time to find a new dermatologist. There are a number of lightening alternatives, including Vitamin C and helichrysum essential oil.

DEA, TEA, MEA, ETA – These harmless-seeming initialisms have been linked to cancer. Plus, they act as nothing more than emulsifiers and foaming agents.

Parabens – As mentioned above, parabens mimic estrogen AND disrupt your skin’s natural microbiome. That’s bad. Avoid them.

Sulfates – Sulfates are responsible for your shampoo’s rich and luxurious lather. Sadly, sulfates are irritants that can leave behind nasty rashes on your scalp.

PEGs, Propylene Glycol – These penetration enhancers are not as risky as some other ingredients, but they are often contaminated with 1, 4-dioxane and heavy metals (both known carcinogens). Once again, they don’t provide any real benefit to my skin so I avoid them.

Phenoxyethanol – This is a common preservative used by some natural beauty companies. Studies have connected it with reproductive and developmental toxicity. And it’s not friendly to your skin’s microbiome. Proceed with caution.

Mineral Oil – This oil clogs pores. Leave it alone.

Silicone – Often referred to as “Saran Wrap for the skin,” silicone builds up on the skin over time leading to clogged pores. More importantly, silicone’s harmful effects on the environment outweigh its silky benefits. Broccoli seed oil is a great silicone dupe! 

Triclosan – This antimicrobial agent is found in (surprise) antibacterial soap. The reasons I don’t like it are two-fold: 1) some exposure to germs is good, and 2) it’s no more effective than traditional soap and water.

Let the above list provide you with a starting place to evaluate the personal care products you are currently using. Remember that your skin absorbs 60% of what you put on it. It is vital that you arm yourself with information about cosmetic ingredients so that you can decide for yourself what goes into your body. And if you are scared to ditch your current products, know that there are amazing artisanal, small-batch lines making highly effective, environmentally conscious products that perform just as well, if not better, than their conventional counterparts.