Since educating myself on the ingredients in the beauty products I have been slathering all over my face, hair and body for the past several years, I have come up with a list of ingredients I consider “non-negotiable” when it comes to my beauty products (or any products, really). When making lifestyle changes based on ingredients in products, everyone has to draw the line for themselves. Whether you want to go totally green and use 100% naturally-derived, organic products, or you only want to cut out a few extra nasties, it’s totally okay. What matters is that you are educating yourself and making changes that will ultimately lead you to a healthier lifestyle!
I did a lot of research and a LOT of reading the backs of bottles and boxes and tubes (oh, my! haha). The whole process of clearing out my huge stash of beauty products took me weeks and I ended up going over and revising my bad ingredients list several times to figure out what I should be getting rid of. In the end, I came up with a “non-negotiable” ingredients list. While this isn’t the be all and end all list of bad ingredients that may be in your beauty products, it’s a list that works for me and the changes I’m wanting to make right now. That’s what this green living journey is all about!
Alright, so what’s on my non-negotiable ingredients list?
- BHA and BHT – these are two preservatives used widely in both cosmetics and food. They are quite controversial in that they’ve been linked to both and increase and decrease in the risk of cancer in animals, which is sketchy all around and I’d rather just steer clear. I don’t think I’ve ever come across BHA, but have found BHT in many makeup items I owned (most especially in lip products).
- Formaldehyde releasers – Formaldehyde is classified as a “probable human carcinogen”, meaning exposure to formaldehyde may cause certain types of cancers. While formaldehyde generally isn’t just added into products as straight up formaldehyde, it’s sneakily added in via formaldehyde releasers. According to EWG, “these are chemicals that, when added to water, will decompose slowly over time to form molecules of formaldehyde.” No. Thank. You. I found several drugstore shampoos to contain formaldehyde releasers (specifically DMDM hydantoin) and did also find them in other products as well. Here are the main culprits to avoid:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
- Dibutyl phthalate – phthalates are most often used in nail products (because they’re a plasticizer that keeps your polish from becoming brittle) and fragrances (though you won’t see them on the ingredients list if they’re in a fragrance, more on that in a minute!). This is a really special ingredient that may cause birth defects, hormone disruption and immunotoxicity. Nice one!
- Hydroquinone – I’ve only ever come across this once in a Murad brightening serum, but due to limited evidence of carcinogenicity and organ system toxicity, I’m just going to go ahead and not ever use products containing this ingredient.
- Methylisothiazolinone – talk about a mouthful! This is a preservative that I have found in a ton of hair products (as well as other beauty products). According to EWG, there have been lab studies done on the brain cells of mammals that suggest this ingredient may be neurotoxic. Do I really want to take the chance and lather up my head with products that contain a potentially neurotoxic ingredient? Heck to the no.
- Chemical UV filters (active sunscreen ingredients) – who knew that trying to protect our skin from the sun may actually have been detrimental to our health this whole time? There are a variety of active ingredients approved for use in sunscreens and some of the most common are the worst. I now look for mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a safer option. Read this article from EWG for more details and then get to work avoiding these baddies (in order of terribleness from top to bottom):
- Octinoxate (octylmethoxycinnamate)
- Parabens – these are extremely commonly used preservatives in beauty products that I am avoiding at all costs. Studies show that they may be linked to hormone disruption and breast cancer, so these are definite non-negotiables for me. I found these in a TON of products, both drugstore and high-end (and, much to my surprise, several LUSH products contained them as well which was very disappointing to learn). You may have heard that some parabens occur naturally, but I urge you to have a look at this article by EWG to learn more about where those claims come from.
- Sodium laureth sulfate – this one is the real culprit to avoid when it comes to sulfates, as it can be contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane (which, disturbingly enough, contaminates up to 46% of personal care products according to studies done in 2008). It’s in pretty much everything that lathers well- face washes, shampoos, body wash, etc.
- Petroleum – also found on labels as paraffin wax, mineral oil and petroleum, this ingredient is usually used as a moisturizing agent (everyone has heard of petroleum jelly!). When petrolatum has been refined properly, it doesn’t have any known health concerns. Unfortunately, it’s often not fully refined in the US because there aren’t any requirements set on refinement, and therefore it can be contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), a probable carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. Hard pass on that one!
Those are the main ingredients that I’m 100% avoiding right now. If I think of any others I’m missing (or if I change my mind on any that I’m currently using), I’ll be sure to come back and add it to this list. I also want to mention a few other ingredients that are not currently make or break for me, but do play a role in decision making of whether to keep or purchase a product.
- Talc – talc is a mined, naturally occurring chemical in pretty much everything powdery (as well as some other products). It helps absorb moisture, prevent cakiness and to make a product smoother and softer. Unfortunately, talc can also be contaminated with the carcinogen asbestos because of their close proximity in the earth. Pretty much every eyeshadow palette I have contains talc, but I haven’t been able to part with all of them thus far. This is where drawing a line for yourself comes in. I may slowly replace my eyeshadow palettes with talc-free options, but I won’t be chucking them all in the garbage at once. I don’t use eyeshadow super often, so it’s one of those things that I’m not going to part with just yet. However, I will aim to only buy talc-free products in the future.
- Fragrance – did you know that companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients that make up the fragrance/parfum listed on their products labels because they are considered “trade secrets”? Kinda messed up, huh? I think it’s pretty unfair that we, as consumers, aren’t necessarily being given the option of knowing exactly what we are purchasing. Hiding under the fragrance/parfum label on an ingredients list can be any sort of chemical concoction that can cause allergies, skin irritations, respiratory distress and possibly even mess with your reproductive system. This isn’t on my non-negotiable list simply because fragrance is in absolutely everything. It would be insane for me to throw out 99.9% of what I own and spend a ton of money to start fresh and synthetic fragrance-free, so instead, I got rid of anything that had a very strong fragrance, had fragrance quite high up in the ingredients list (because ingredients are listed in order of predominance), and am aiming to purchase fragrance-free products/products that are naturally scented (ie. with essential oils) from here on out. I did, however, get rid of all of my perfumes/body sprays. It’s interesting to me how easily I can detect (and be bothered by) synthetic fragrance now that I’ve not been using anything strongly scented for a few months!
- Phenoxyethanol – this ingredient is used as both a preservative in cosmetics and stabilizer in perfumes and soaps. Some people are allergic to phenoxyethanol, causing reactions like eczema or hives. Studies also show that infants shouldn’t be exposed to phenoxyethanol as it can affect their nervous system function. I avoid this ingredient if it’s high up in the ingredients list, but most often I have found it’s the last ingredient on the list and therefore I haven’t made this a non-negotiable. I am also still purchasing products that contain phenoxyethanol at the bottom of the ingredient list.
Keep in mind that I’m not a scientist and everything I have learned has been through online sources such as Safe Cosmetics and EWG, who back their information with research and studies. It’s important that you don’t believe the first thing you read, because not only are new studies being released all the time providing new data and evidence, but some sources’ claims are not necessarily backed by any actual research or evidence (or they are potentially based on biased studies)- so just remember that when you’re doing your own research!
Also, I can’t stress enough that you do NOT need to go totally green/natural if that’s not what works for your lifestyle/budget/whatever. Don’t feel pressured to change everything about your life at once just because you have an interest in going more green. Little changes here and there can really make a difference in both your health and the ecosystem, so don’t kick yourself if you can’t change (or don’t want to change) everything at once.
For example, I started out by replacing all of our cleaning products with green options (do some ingredient research here, because there are many brands that “greenwash” and aren’t actually the best for you). Around that same time, we started eating a lot more organic produce (everyone has their opinion on buying organic and each to their own, but it’s something that is important to me) and paying a bit more attention to what was actually in the food we were eating (there’s BHT in my beloved Life cereal, :( so bye bye to that). I then did a huge purge of my skincare, body care and haircare products. Lastly, I went through all of my makeup… and here I am!
I honestly feel SO empowered to know what is in the products I’m spending my money on and using on a daily basis. While I am certainly not “perfect” and haven’t cut out every single bad ingredient that there is, it feel amazing to have learned enough to be able to go into a store, look at an ingredients label and make an educated decision on whether a product a) contains awful ingredients and b) lives up to it’s claims (do you know how many products boast being natural/good for you when they contain absolute junk?!). I hope that by sharing my journey and my knowledge thus far (and in future), I can inspire you to take a look at what’s in the products you are using and make better, healthier decisions for yourself and your family!