Since I posted about environmental hazards I’ve began searching for safer, less chemically filled cosmetics for myself and da family. As stupid as it may sound, it had never even occurred to me that this was a really important aspect to your health and exposure, since 1-your skin is a very large surface to absorb chemicals, 2-just think in terms of sheer volume: I’ve been using make-up and skincare products almost every day and night for twenty years, and 3-what you put on your head may matter more than anywhere else due to the sheer number of veins and capillaries that can be found in your head (something we discovered not without some panic recently, when LP fell on his head and his tiny cut started bleeding like crazy). Thanks to blogger Marya who gave me the link to the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database, which I used to have bookmarked but had lost.
And ohhhh… It’s really easy to get lost/discouraged/confused… A few principles I ended up stumbling upon: the main things to avoid are phthalates, which are thought to be endocrine disruptors, as well as parabens, which are widely used as preservatives and controversial (the industry says they’re safe, some say they could be carcinogenic). I’m not saying this to cry wolf and scare anyone, and I haven’t decided to join the Amish. I just want to use the precautionary stance, for one, and also this has become part of my more general process of questioning and rethinking what we eat and how we live.
Bad news for me, the sucker for all things nicely scented: artificial fragrances usually go hand in hand with parabens, and are usually associated with higher toxicity (oi!). Simpler products such as body lotions or moisturizers are usually less toxic than products with more complex or specific purposes, such as acne treatment, anti-aging, or sun protection. And also, many more products than I first thought about should be evaluated for toxicity, including the lip balm I apply compulsively all day long, antiperspirant, saline solution for contacts, toothpaste…
The Skin Deep database (which is quite comprehensive and hence a little confusing and even intimidating sometimes), rates the toxicity of products from 0 (no concern) to 10 (very high hazard). Each product is precisely labeled, sometimes even by skin type, formulation, and specific fragrance or color, so you almost need to have the product on hand in order to be sure that you’re looking at the correct one. In terms of science, it seems pretty thorough, with each ingredient listed as well as its related health/environmental concern, if any.
In terms of skincare/make-up routine, I’ve been using products from Clinique for about ten years. I expected the worst when I looked them up, but probably because they’re unscented, they were generally ranking on the “moderate hazard” range… A lot of their products I use daily, like the facial soap (3), cleanser (3), and eye make-up remover (4), have overall acceptable scores, and so I will probably keep them (for now, at least).
One aspect that appalled me was the toxicity of bath/shower products, especially the ones we used for LP… While the overall highest score for baby/childcare is 7, I found that two of the products I’ve been using ( L’Oreal Kids and Gerber Grins and Giggles), both 6, were among the most toxic! In fact, a lot of widespread brands with a “clean and gentle” image, including Aveeno and (expensive, renowned French brand) Mustela ranked extremely poorly!
Exactly like it is for organic/natural food, I know this transition will not be easy… For instance, I tried looking up brands that I perceived to be more natural, like Aveda, Origins, and Kiehl’s, but they had very similar results than Clinique's… I ended up finding an interesting selection of products at my local Loblaws (a supermarket), which I find a little ironic, but all the better. For LP especially, we found a lavender body wash (Earth’s Best Organics, 3) and an orange oil shampoo (Kiss my Face Kids, 2) that make easy replacements without sacrificing the scents I like. We’re still largely on a trial and error basis though, since I was a little pis*ed off to realize that the expensive Nature’s Gate Organic Blends shampoo I got still ranked at 6, which does not make it any better than the methylparaben-containing Garnier Fructis one M likes… Good lesson there: organic ingredients can apparently coexist with chemicals; get to know your stuff!
It seems next to impossible to fully eliminate artificial, potentially harmful chemicals in what goes onto your skin… I plan to continue searching and prioritizing: it probably matters less, for instance, if my eye liner or blush rank higher than say, my foundation or night cream. Still, everyday, there are a lot of better choices you can make, even among the range of mass-distributed products. Here are some comparisons which I believe are no-brainers:
Sunscreen (kids): California Baby (2), versus Coppertone Water Babies (6)
Sunscreen (adults): Ombrelle (4), versus Nivea Visage (8)
Antiperspirant: Secret Platinum (unscented) (2), versus Dove Invisible Solid (powder scent) (8)
Hand lotion: Neutrogena (3), versus Vaseline Intensive Care (10!)
Saline solution: Opti-Free (1), versus Bausch & Lomb (4)
Mascara: L’Oreal Voluminous (3), versus Cover Girl Professional (8*)
Nail Polish: L’Oreal Pro Manicure (2), versus Maybelline Express Finish (7*)
At-home hair-dyeing kits: Nice & Easy (2), versus Herbal Essence (10!*)
*this rating can vary slightly from color to color.