Our simple guide to help you clean up your cosmetics…
The average woman uses 16 different beauty products every single day and when you consider that most beauty and skincare products are packed with chemicals, it’s shocking to think that we are overloading our sensitive skin with undesirable ingredients. What’s worse, our skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what it comes in to contact with – so all those nasties are actually entering our bodies.
Lucky, there is a vast selection of natural and organic skincare and beauty products available now. There’s a huge selection of natural beauty brands, all offering natural alternatives for mascaras, lipsticks, moisturisers, foundations and even nail polish. So, what should we look for when purchasing beauty products?
Seal of Approval
The word ‘natural’ is the most overused description in beauty, and shockingly, a product can be described as natural even if it has only one percent naturally-sourced, plant-based or mineral ingredients. The easiest way to ensure you are cutting your chemical load is to seek out products which are certified natural and/or organic.
There are two main certification logos in the UK, NATRUE and the Soil Association. NATRUE was the first internationally recognised quality seal for organic and natural products. They set a strict criteria that each product must meet in order to be labelled as a ‘natural cosmetic’, ‘natural cosmetic with organic portion’ or ‘organic cosmetic’ – the latter being that 95 percent of the natural ingredients are from a certified organic production.
The Soil Association is the UK’s leading food and farming charity and organic certification body. Along with four other European partners, it developed a Cosmetic Organic Standard (Cosmos). To receive Cosmos Organic certification, the product’s ingredients must be at least 95 percent organic.
Reputable brands often clearly state their natural percentage on packaging, so it’s worth keeping an eye out. You can also check that the product hasn’t been tested on animals by looking out for the leaping bunny logo and that it is certified vegan by checking for a Vegan Society logo, both of which indicate how the product has been made and with what ingredients. Some products will also wear the Fairtrade logo, this ensures that botanical extracts (such as coconut, argan and apricot) are bought at a fair price.
Check the Ingredients
The best way to know exactly what is in a product is to check the ingredient listing. In a natural product, the botanical (natural) ingredients should be listed first and any synthetic ingredients at the end – many products require some level of preservatives that are often synthetic, to extend their shelf life. The chemicals you ideally want to avoid, include:
Parabens (butyl-, propyl-, ethyl- or methylparaben): These are one of the most common preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. The problem is, parabens mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in the body. Studies have linked parabens to breast cancer, skin cancer and decreased sperm count.
Petrolatum (petroleum jelly): Derived from petroleum, petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is often used in personal care products as a moisturising agent. On application, it forms a water-repellent film on the skin, preventing the evaporation of the skin’s natural moisture. However, this clogs the skin and stops it from taking in oxygen and releasing toxins. This often causes acne and slows down normal cell development. It has also been to cancer as it can contain carcinogens.
Petrochemicals (propylene, ethylene, butadiene, benzene or xylene): These are petroleum-based chemicals which come from crude oil refining. Studies have found that petrochemicals are linked to cancer and a myriad of other conditions and illnesses.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES): These are added to products to increase their foaming action when used (such as shower gels and shampoos). Formerly an industrial greaser, sulphates dissolve your essential skin oils and cause irritated, dry skin. It is widely believed to be a major contributor to acne around the mouth and chin.
Synthetic fragrances: These are commonly used in cosmetics and skincare products, but a lot of synthetic fragrances come from petroleum. They can cause skin irritation and can contain hormone disruptors.
Phthalates: These are used in cosmetics and toiletries to control velocity, emulsify and bind fragrances. There are concerns about their ability to disrupt hormones and have been linked to cancer.
Choose Plant-based Products
To avoid using harsh chemicals on your skin, it’s best to choose natural and organic products. These products use natural plant-based ingredients, known as botanicals.
“According to the dictionary, botanicals are “substances obtained from plants and used in medicinal or cosmetic products”. However, as Weleda’s garden manager I’ve been growing herbs for well over 20 years and I can add that botanicals are derived from the most amazing and beneficial plants, which have so much to offer us in terms of our health and wellbeing,” comments Claire Hattersley, garden manager at Weleda UK.
She continues: “The beneficial effects for skin from botanicals are wide ranging and include anti-microbial properties, toning and astringency, calming and repairing, wound healing and anti-inflammatory actions.”
Obtained from natural sources, botanical ingredients can include herbs, fruits, seeds and plant oils. “These provide moisturising, healing, cleansing, protecting and nourishing properties to natural skincare products,” explains nutritionist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health.
Natural botanical ingredients have many beneficial properties which can revitalise and renew skin. “Combinations of these botanicals can help prevent tired, dull skin, dehydration and wrinkles. They can reduce the slowing down of cell renewal that can occur in ageing and help encourage brighter and more radiant complexion,” comments Holmes.
Our skin also absorbs botanical ingredients more easily. Hattersley explains: “Humans have a close affinity to the plant world; so plant-derived ingredients more closely match the complexity of our bodies and are more easily assimilated (or absorbed).” Seek out products which include botanical ingredients such as:
Coconut (cocos nucifera): Coconut oil is known for softening and moisturising the skin. It’s also antibacterial and antiviral and has antioxidant properties.
Cranberry: “Cranberry seed oil is rich in antioxidants, is super-absorbing and moisturising, and may protect the skin from environmental stressors. It contains omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids,” advises Holmes.
Chamomile (matricaria chamomilla): “Chamomile flowers possess gentle healing and anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Hattersley.
Sacha inchi (plukenetia volubilis): The oil from this star-shaped fruit is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids, which help fight against oxidative damage. It’s also rich in omega-3.
Rosehip (rosa moschata or rosa rubiginosa): “Rosehip seed oil is naturally rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C and E and naturally moisturises, helping to heal and fade post-surgical scars, acnes scars and stretch marks and prevent the advancement of premature ageing,” explains Holmes.
Manilkara (manilkara multinervis): “It helps to repair, protect and promote elasticity in the skin,” comments Holmes.
Calendula (calendula officinalis): “Calendula flowers have been used for centuries for their soothing, protective and healing effects on irritated or inflamed skin,” explains Hattersley.
Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary is well known for its revitalising, stimulating action. It increases the skin’s elasticity and contains anti-inflammatory compounds which help to minimise puffiness. It also has antiseptic properties which help to fight acne.
Shea butter (butyrospermum parkii): “Shea butter heals, soothes and protects skin,” comments Holmes.