I have been procrastinating writing this post for so long! While it is something I am SO passionate about, it’s intimidating and scary to write an informative post. I’m not a doctor or a scientist. I am a consumer who became concerned about my beauty and personal care products and has been working to replace products with harmful ingredients for three years. I am not a purist. I believe that taking some positive steps is better than taking none. So today I am here to share why clean beauty matters to me and how I changed the way I think about products I buy.
How I got started
Did you know that the European Union bans about 1,300 ingredients from personal care products and the United States only bans 11? I was in a small group of women three years ago and someone stated this fact. It bothered me so much, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
One of the key factors in my early interest in clean beauty was fear. In this same time period I also had a lot of blog comments telling me that nail polish was one of the most toxic things we put on our bodies and that the face wipes and suncreen I was using were full of artificial and toxic ingredients. Was it true? How could I learn more? I was so frustrated because I had always tried to buy products that I thought were “more natural” based on the brands marketing and all of the sudden I found out the brands I was buying were just as “bad” as anything else.
I don’t believe in living in fear or making decisions out of fear, so I sought out to educate myself and try to gain more control over what was in my products. I started to read everything I could on natural beauty and began to get more familiar with brands that make clean products. It was a whole new world to me!
I will admit to you that it was discouraging at first. I spent a couple hundred dollars replacing all my “essentials” from makeup to body wash and a lot of the new products I tried I didn’t love. I quickly realized that to replace everything it was going to be a long-term project that could literally take years. After that initial experience, I began only replacing things as I used them up.
Three years later, I can go on and ON about clean brands I love. But it took time, trial and error. If you are serious about wanting to swap to clean beauty, it is very important to realize it is a long-term goal. Sure, there are cheat sheets (I give my friends lists of 5-10 brands to buy from all the time to get started), but to truly understand clean beauty and ingredients in general is a continual process. It became a hobby for me!
Think of it like you think of food labels
The best advice I was given and that I can offer now is to think of learning about beauty ingredients EXACTLY like you think of food ingredients. If you’ve ever been on a special diet or tried to cut out processed food you know how important it is to read the labels and understand what you are reading. If you are trying to give up sugar, you have to know all the other ingredients that are still sugar going by different names.
The other parallel is how marketing factors into the products we buy. In the grocery aisle, you can buy something called “Veggie Chips” that has the same nutrition, calories and pretty much the same ingredients as “Potato Chips.” The only difference is how it is marketed. We all know that food labels can be deceiving. It can say “made with real kale” but be just as bad for you as conventional options, right? That’s marketing.
The exact same thing happens in beauty, only it’s even MORE frustrating because beauty brands are not required to print the ingredients on their packaging. So even if you know what to watch out for, you have to google things constantly. I will share the resources I use below to search, but I will say up front it that learning to research each product is absolutely necessary. You cannot trust any marketing claims. Terms like “all natural” and “free and clear” can be used by anyone and have no meaning. And when you see Organic* on a package, it might only mean there is one organic ingredient in that product. Learn to completely ignore claims on the front of bottles. It is very common for conventional brands to highlight one healthy sounding ingredient on the front of a package just like on food packaging.
When I first swapped over to clean beauty, I was horrified to learn that all my go-to brands were marketed as clean, but were actually just as dirty as any other conventional brand. I felt very betrayed! As a consumer who had been paying extra for brands that looked and sounded “better for you” since my early 20s, I felt kind of ripped off. A lot of people do.
Resources that helped
There are two resources that changed my life. The first is a book, Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore. This book is a must read! It completely changed how I thought about beauty, aging and skin health. About half the book is focused on food and can be summed up as drink more water and eat less sugar and you will have better skin (which I can confirm because every time I give up alcohol and sugar everyone starts complimenting my skin—it’s so annoying because I LOVE sugar and alcohol … ugh). The second half of the book is about what you don’t need in your skin care and all the information you need to get started in clean beauty. It’s a very easy read—highly recommend. I have read it twice now.
The second is an app, Think Dirty. I use this to look up products. It is not a perfect app (we’ve caught errors on it before, but it’s still so useful in the big picture!), but it is always improving, and I use it to get a general sense of brands when I am shopping. Here are the three main ways I use the app.
1. To check brands
Simply by searching “Neutrogena,” “Mrs. Meyer’s” or any other brand you aren’t sure about will pull up a bunch of products. You can quickly scroll through and see if their scores are generally high or generally low (anything above 5 I consider high and try to avoid—if it’s a lot of 8s and 9s, stay away!).
The database is not complete and it is imperfect, but most brands you see at Sephora or Target as well as many smaller brands will be included. I still think it’s important to research individual products before you buy them, but this can be a helpful way to check how clean a company is overall.
2. To check categories
When I first started looking for sunscreen and bath products for Nova, I would just type in what I was looking for “bubble bath” or “sunscreen” and find the products with lower scores to buy. It’s that easy!
Kids bubble bath and sunscreen can be horrifically dirty—it’s shocking. But, it was also SO EASY to find clean brands that I could purchase in regular drugstores— even at the grocery store.
After doing this for three years, I can honestly say that it does not have to be more expensive to buy clean bath products (beauty products are maybe a different story, but it’s still worth it to me).
3. To see the ingredients list
The last thing I love about Think Dirty is that if a product is in the database, it will show the ingredients list and it will color code them (green for clean, yellow for “half n’ half” and red for dirty). This is another good way to learn about ingredients. Common dirty ingredients are fragrance or “parfum” and preservatives that have long, hard-to-pronounce names.
EWG also has a database and a scoring calculator that we use to score the products we are considering for our beauty box. It’s a little more technical, but it’s a great resource because you can score anything. The scoring system is a bit different from Think Dirty because it averages instead of defaulting to the highest scoring ingredient. Both are useful resources that we trust and use often. Keely uses EWG to score every single item that we consider putting in our beauty box.
I have learned over time that the best way (for me!) to find products I love is not to stroll through the beauty store at Whole Foods, but rather to ask my friends who love clean beauty for personal recommendations. For example, I recently discovered my perfect-for-me foundation from my friend Sammie. For this reason, I love sharing products I try and love and this is also why we started our beauty box!
Here are a few helpful posts that I have published …
I’d be happy to chat more in the comments and would LOVE to hear about your experiences with clean beauty as well! xx – Elsie