Does this sound familiar? It’s 6:30am.  You leap out of bed, hop in the shower, slather on some berry scented shower gel, shampoo and condition your hair, wash your face, dry off, then moisturize your body and roll or spray on some anti-perspirant. Now to wake up with makeup–  splash on some toner, slap on some moisturizer, add sun block for safety, and last but not least, you top it all off with your favorite three-minute makeup routine followed by a spritz of perfume and it’s out the door.

Hold on a sec.

During this daily routine you’ve likely exposed yourself to hundreds of dangerous chemicals. Your skin is like a sponge – as the largest organ in your body it absorbs everything in and sends it straight into your bloodstream; to all your cells and organs. All those products you just lathered into and rubbed on your skin –they each have several dozen ingredients, most you can’t pronounce, and most of which you have no idea what they do. Sure, you’ve heard about the dangers of synthetic chemicals, but it’s all so confusing, impossible to keep track of everything, even more impossible to know all you need to know, and too time-consuming to scrutinize every single product. And what about the natural and organic options? Are they all that they say?  Are they better?  As effective?  We’ve all had these questions.  You aren’t alone.


Is Your Beauty Routine a Toxic Waste Dump?

Cosmetics and Chemicals

Hold on! Help is on the way!

Allow me to provide you with some easy to follow advice,  helpful resources, and great ideas for greening your beauty routine. We are going to examine the big offenders, the greenwashed fakes, my favorite resources, how to read labels, and how to shop for beauty and personal care without your head exploding..

The Ten Most NOT Wanted Ingredients:

Getting a little bit of knowledge will take you a long way. You gotta know who the enemy is and what you’re dealing with so you can navigate your way to better beauty purchases. Here is your list of the Ten Most Not Wanted:

Sodium Lauryl/laureth Sulfate is found in shampoos, body washes, facial cleansers, and toothpaste, and is a known skin irritant. This chemical is particularly nasty because it is absorbed through the skin and retained in the heart, liver and brain for long periods of time.  It can cause damage to the eyes, even when absorbed through the skin. Exposure can lead to coughing, headaches, nausea and vomiting. There is a reason it says to keep away from children!  It’s also the main component in engine degreaser and antifreeze.  It’s no wonder more women than ever before are complaining of hair loss.
Parabens are used to preserve cosmetics, and are known to cause irritation in sensitive skin. They have also been found to cause heart tissue problems over an extended time period, and are suspected to increase risk of hormone induced cancers such as ovarian, breast, and prostate, as they are hormone disruptors, namely they mimic estrogen. Studies have found high levels of parabens in breast tumors. As a result of hormone disruption, it can also be one factor in the rising infertility epidemic.
Phthalates are often listed as DBP and DEP in nail polishes, deodorants, shampoos, hair gels, hand lotions, and perfumes. Phthalate exposure in early childhood has been associated with altered hormone concentrations (affecting reproductive development), as well as allergies and eczema. Phthalates are often used as carriers for fragrance ingredients, and as a result of the FDA allowing  fragrance to be classified as a “trade secret”, phthalates are not listed on the ingredient label, showing  as simply “Fragrance”.
Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products as preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container. Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea. In a study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics on 28 children’s skin care products, 23 (82%) contained formaldehyde at levels between 54-610ppm. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, can cause allergies and has been banned from cosmetics in both Sweden and Japan and is being banned in much of the EU.
Lead is often found in lipstick and is a proven neurotoxin that has been linked to brain damage and miscarriages, as well as learning, language and behavioral problems. (Remember, autism and ADD is on the rise!) One third of the lipstick brands on the market exceed the FDA limit for lead in candy: 0.1 parts per million. Over the course of a lifetime, we swallow a large amount of lipstick – nine pounds according to the Environment Working Group. In August 2009, the FDA’s own study found lead in all 20 lipsticks it tested. Recent scientific research indicates there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Synthetic colors, also known as FD&C colors, are derived mostly from coal tar. The FDA has banned many from food because they are carcinogenic and toxic, yet still all them to remain in cosmetics.
Synthetic sunscreens contain chemicals that accumulate in body fats and leech into breast milk. These chemicals mimic estrogen and can cause hormonal changes within the body such as increasing the size of the uterus. These chemicals are found in big brand sunscreens and should absolutely be avoided, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The chemicals to avoid are: 4-Methyl-Benzylidencamphor (4-MBC) , Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-3, Octyl-methoyl-cinnamates (OMC) , Octyl-Dimethyl-Para-Amino-Benzoic Acid (OD-PABA), and Homosalate(HMS) .
Mineral Oil & Petroleum Jelly (Petrolatum): Mineral oil is a petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores. It blocks the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders, and slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Mineral oil and Petrolatum are used in many products – baby oil, cold creams, Vaseline, and Lubriderm just to name a few – and they can easily be contaminated with cancer causing PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is cheap and readily available.
Synthetic fragrance chemicals are responsible for causing most adverse reactions to personal care products. These irritants and allergens cause rashes, coughing, sneezing, and dizziness. Many skin care products that claim to be fragrance free contain masking fragrances to become neutral in scent, and still contain fragrances.
1,4-Dioxane is suspected to be a kidney toxin, neurotoxin, and respiratory toxin that is ever present in bath products for children as well as some of the the leading “natural” and “organic” brands. 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethyoxylation, which involves using ethylene oxide (a known breast carcinogen) to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh. For example, sodium laurel sulfate – notoriously harsh on the skin – is often converted to the gentler chemical sodium laureth sulfate by processing it with ethylene oxide – and this can result in 1,4-dioxane contamination. More than 56 cosmetic ingredients are associated with the contaminant 1,4-dioxane.
If you want more, SaffronRouge offers a great reference list called the Black List, a list of over 3000 chemical ingredients potentially linked to cancer and other illnesses and conditions. Many have been banned in Europe because of suspected toxicity. However, here is the rub – many big manufacturers reformulate without these chemicals for the European market, but continue to use these potentially dangerous chemicals here in the US because they can. The FDA has banned a handful of chemicals from cosmetics compared to the European Union, which has banned more than 1,000.

Beware of Greenwashing

Ok, so  you go to the store and find a product that says “natural” or “organic”. That’s a better choice, right? If only it were that easy. Unlike the food industry, there are few to no legal standards for organic or natural personal care products sold in the United States. Large corporations with even larger corporate marketing budgets with slick packaging and RAMs crammed with psychographic data that would make Jung cringe. If the toxins don’t make you want to read labels then this fact surely will: the largely unregulated cosmetics industry has publicly assessed only 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients in personal care products.

Here is one of hundreds of possible examples that there is no truth in advertising for the big brands – Clairol Herbal Essences claimed until a few years ago to offer an “organic experience.” However, there isn’t much about this product that is either herbal or organic; it contains more than a dozen synthetic petrochemicals and has a moderate toxicity rating in Skin Deep database.

Stress-free Shopping

But wait, I hear you say, how do I find products that are truly organic/natural AND work? We may switch household cleaners with little risk of nothing more than having to clean that mess again. But if our makeup doesn’t perform, it’s tragedy. We want and expect organic products to work as well as their toxic counterparts. So how do you find them? I’ve got a strategy for you:

Use the Skin Deep cosmetics database at to do your homework before you buy. This searchable database works by matching the ingredients in more than 25,000 personal care products with 50 toxicity and regulatory databases. Here you can research the products already in your home or find safer products before you hit the store.
Make sure a product you buy is certified through the USDA’s National Organic Program, Soil Association, or other EU certifying body such as EcoCert. To be certified, a product cannot contain petrochemicals and must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.

I will, in the weeks to come, be listing each of my favorite organic brands (and linking them back to this post for reference) and telling you why I love them, what they do, and generally, why you should buy them.  Stay tuned.   Click on over t0 Nurtured Beauty for some fabulous recommendations on organic and natural skincare.
What now?

I realize all of this is a little much for most of you.  You have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars, euros and/or pounds on your beauty stash.  Although I would love for you to give it all up in one go, (your body would too) make small changes, take baby steps.  If I had to pick two products for you to switch up in your routine, it would be your lipstick (because you eat it!) and your shampoo (because your scalp absorbs more than you think!).

How are some of the ways you might start greening your routine today?