I recently had the joy of sitting on a panel of natural cosmetics experts (of whom I was certainly the least qualified), to discuss the topic of ‘Conscious Beauty.’ Beside me were Imelda Burke, founder of Content Beauty, an online retail destination, with the most stringent control re ‘clean’ cosmetics I’ve thus far encountered (her bricks & mortar store in Marylebone, is a conscious beauty haven, too), and author of The Nature of Beauty – a practical guide for all of us seeking to make more informed and safer choices re our cosmetics; Helen Lynn, a health advisor to WEN, the Women’s Environmental Network, a phenomenal group who seek to inspire women to make environmentally sound and safe choices; and Dr Mark Smith who is also the Director General of NATRUE, and has an interdisciplinary PhD in chemistry and genetics. The discussion was chaired by Jayn Sterland, the MD of Weleda, a company that has championed ‘clean beauty’ since their birth in 1921 – based on the ‘beyond organic’ biodynamic principles of farming and creation of natural formulations.
Already, I have used some wooly terms. ‘Clean beauty,’ ‘green beauty,’ and ‘natural’. None of these are legal terms, which means that they are not very helpful in guiding us around the shelves and aisles. I do talk about natural, often, in my line of work – as Wellbeing Director at Psychologies magazine, and also as Creative Director of LEAF (www.leafcreate.com). But I also ask for percentages. A 100% natural product has become the benchmark for me, these days – and it is easily attainable; the natural beauty market is booming, and new products are launching each and every week. For those seeking to swap out their synthetic cosmetics in favour of all-natural alternatives, we also have other help at hand – the resources I most often turn to when seeking clarity on the ingredients within the products I choose to buy are EWG.org and their Skin Deep app, Skin Ninja (app) and Think Dirty (app). Simply scan a product’s barcode via the app, and get a clear picture of what goes into it, and if there is anything to be concerned about. When the product is not already listed within the inventory, you can add it yourself, or check out the individual ingredients, which are listed by hazard/toxicity level, in line with the most recent studies into said ingredients. EWG is particularly robust here, as it very regularly updates its ingredients inventory based on breakthrough research – but it is US based, so it is important to check the EU-versions of your purchases, if you have bought them in the EU. As a side note, US formulations are often markedly different from EU ones – mainly because in order to become an EU-compliant cosmetic, you must go through a very lengthly and cost-prohibitive compliance procedure, which roots out up to 1328 banned chemicals. The US, meanwhile, bans only 30 chemicals, in total (so, also worth bearing in mind if you’re in the habit of stockpiling while in the States, or importing US products yourself).
When it comes to consumer choice, then, consciousness is key. Each member of the panel was asked what ‘conscious beauty’ meant to them. Our answers all intersected and overlapped. For me, it is about a choice that chimes with my ethics and values. We are all of us, simply the product of the choices we make. I may choose to buy local, support independent business, buy fair trade, and avoid plastic. These choices are conscious on my part, because I do not wish to leave a lasting, muddy footprint on the earth I inhabit. I have two young daughters, and some understanding of the natural wisdom within our own bodies and cells, and the delicate balance at play within our many ‘biomes’ – from our gut, to our skin. I do not want to interfere, one bit, with what nature has already bestowed on us – healthy immunity, robust and clear skin, resilient bodies and vital organs.
Sadly, these beautiful bodies of ours are often testing grounds for dozens of questionable cosmetics. The average woman in the UK uses up to 17 products, every single day. It immediately sounds a lot – but consider: shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturiser, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, body cream, foundation, lipstick, mascara… you can see how it very quickly adds up. Much of what we use is based upon nothing other than habit. We begin, in our early teens, to become so very impressionable to marketing and messaging – very few of us actually stop to wonder if our young girls should ‘naturally’ want to wear make-up, apply perfume, scented body lotion and anti-perspirant. The prevalent beauty norm is one of artifice – concealing, contouring, layering, scenting and masking – beauty’s own language speaks volumes.
For me, conscious beauty is about a return to the foundations of our own natural beauty, radiance and health. It is acceptance of our skin, our body, our essence – and the confidence that comes with that. I love a bright lipstick and do wear make-up several times a week, but my choices, now, are incredibly simple, all natural, and, I feel, empowering. The ritual behind the product, matters to me too. An all-natural body oil – brimming with vitamins, omegas, essential oils – is transporting and nourishing. Applying this, feels like the act of self-care it really is. I know that I would not feel that way if I were applying a synthetically fragranced petroleum-based oil. There is no affinity there – neither with spirit, nor skin. One is a stranger to the other.
So… what do I opt out of? What constitutes a conscious ‘cleaner’ choice for me?
I never, ever use anything with mineral oil in it. Petroleum/petrolatum/pariffinum liquidum – all incredibly cheap by-products of the dirty mineral oil and petrol industry, which sully my body and my ethics. They have no cosmetic benefits, other than those to the cost-cutting manufacturer – being inert and stable (so they will not ‘react’ at all – they can sit on a shelf for years), and very, very cheap.
I choose not to use antiperspirant, which blocks off a natural biological function with heavy metals – interfering not only with our sensitive bio-regulatory and thermostatic responses (we sweat for a reason!), but also builds up within our sweat glands – heavy metals, such as aluminium, the mainstay of commercial antiperspirant – which do not break down, wash away or excrete. All this, so close to our delicate breast tissue and lymph nodes… I find this deeply worrying, and stopped using anti-perspirant 15 years ago.
I choose not to use any synthetic body washes or lotions or creams. I oil my skin, twice a day, with raw virgin coconut oil if it needs cooling and soothing, or calendula oil if it needs cosseting and nourishing. Nothing more is needed. I wash, most often, with warm water – we do not need scented washes to refresh our parts, but if a wash is used, it is 100% natural, and always free of SLS and SLES – the foaming surfactants which are not only common skin irritants, but also non-biodegradable. They rinse down our plug holes and out into our waterways, rivers and seasides… creating a cumulative froth that rims our waterways, and will not be broken down any time soon.
I choose not to use anything containing PEGs (polyethylene glycols). PEGs have been regularly found to be contaminated with 1.4 Dioxane and Ethylene Oxide, which the International Agency for Cancer have labelled ‘possible human carcinogens.’ In a study of 100 products marketed as ‘natural’, 46 were found to be contaminated with 1.4 dioxane – SO, remember, always check that INCI list, and don’t let a ‘natural’ label fool you into thinking that you are buying a worry-free product. Ask for percentages, check ingredients, use your apps & websites, and if still in doubt, ask a certifying body, such as NATRUE, to check it out for you.
I choose to avoid parabens. In spite of some heated discussions with chemists re the fact that parabens can occur in nature, I take the line below – cautiously pessimistic, is my ethos when it comes to cosmetics! “The fact is that parabens do exist rarely in nature, but it is highly misleading to claim that they are a common constituent of fruits or vegetables.Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific evidence lends credence to health concerns from paraben exposure. Increasing evidence has drawn attention to their possible health risks, primarily their potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones,” say the Environmental Working Group.
I also, very rarely, paint my nails. If I do, I choose 10-free brands (although, to be honest, 10-free is a green-wash in parts, because it is already illegal to formulate products that contain known carcinogens formaldehyde and formaldehyde-resin (you’d hope so, wouldn’t you). I also avoid (like the plague) toulene, DBP (dibutyl pthalates) Triphenyl Phosphate and camphor (which, if inhaled, can make you feel nauseous). Kure Bazaar’s latest collection is 10-free, and 90 per cent natural (they have also removed benzophenone -1 and -3, the toxic chemical used to prevent colour fading).
I avoid chemical sunscreens – the nastiest of which, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, have now been banned by Hawaii, who proved that both have had devastating effects on the marine environments around this tropical US state. A study in 2015, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found the chemicals have a range of effects on coral, including mortality in developing coral, bleaching of coral and genetic damage to coral and other organisms. It also found both chemicals can induce feminisation in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal. The chemicals can also induce neurological behavioural changes in fish and have possible impact on the many endangered species found in Hawaii’s waters, including sea turtles. The study found oxybenzone had a toxic effect at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – equivalent to one drop in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools. Do we want to be putting this on our bodies? My goodness.
I avoid commercial toothpastes. Most contain SLS, for that foaming action once again, and some even contain triclosan – a synthetic antibacterial agent, which can be found in household cleaning products and hand sanitisers. Given the delicacy of our gums and sub-lingual system – where anything that comes into contact with that area, which contains small enough particles, is absorbed into the bloodstream, it seems a sensible move. I also avoid fluoride – based, once again, on this report published by EWG. “During the last 15-20 years there has been a revolution in our understanding of fluoride’s effects on teeth. It is now well-established that fluoride exposure is directly and proportionately related to dental fluorosis, a range of adverse health effect that includes mottling, pitting, and weakening of the teeth (Fejerskov 1994; Heller 1997; NRC 2006). At the same time, fluoride helps prevent tooth decay (Aoba 2002; Featherstone 2000). Fluoride is believed to have contributed to the decline of tooth decay (cavities, also called dental caries) in many developed countries (CDC 2008; Kumar 2008). On the other hand, early exposure to fluoride poses undeniable health risks to children (NRC 2006; Sohn 2008). In the U.S. and worldwide, about 30 percent of children who drink fluoridated water experience dental fluorosis (Brunelle 1987; Heller 1997; Khan 2005). Strong concerns have been also raised about fluoride exposure and the risk of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), adverse effects on the thyroid function, and lowered IQ in children (NRC 2006). The risks of fluoride are especially high for infants, prompting the American Dental Association (ADA) to issue an “Interim Guidance on Fluoride Intake for Infants and Young Children. ADA recommended that in areas where fluoride is added to tap water, parents should consider using fluoride-free bottled water to reconstitute concentrated or powdered infant formula (ADA 2006).” So, from the water we drink at home (I use a Berkey Water Filter), to the toothpaste we choose (Weleda Calendula or Salt; Comvita Propolis and Tea Tree; Kingfisher Mint), this is what informs our choices.
Sadly… the list of what I choose to avoid goes on… but, the list of what I choose to trust, is, hearteningly, short. 100% natural products, preferably certified by Demeter (the Biodynamic certification), NATRUE, Cosmos or Ecocert. I also trust those simplest things that I make at home, or buy in their wholly untampered states – cold-pressed organic base oils, such as sunflower, coconut, almond, grapeseed – do all from condition hair, to remove make-up.
Secondly, and as an editor of 15 years who has always focused on naturals, there is also the relationship that can blossom between brand and consumer – and which can go on to inform those choices we make, in a way that feels as though we are welcoming things into our family (because they have almost become part of the family). There are brands I trust, inherently. I know how they operate, I am familiar with their sustainability models, I love what the stand for and how they give back. I also love how they formulate, and the clarity, transparency and purity of their products. I have included a top 20 list of them below – but you can also find many more at my favourite reputable ‘clean beauty’ destinations, Content Beauty Love Lula, Glow Organic, and A Beautiful World.
Brands I Trust
Therapie Roques O’Neil
Neal’s Yard Remedies
MV Organic Skincare
Root & Flower
Note from Eminé
If you too would like to share your #cleanerbeauty journey, why not think about entering Weleda’s exciting competition? Weleda is searching for THE MOST INSPIRING CLEANER BEAUTY POST in a Blogger Competition designed to help spread the word about the benefits of cleaner beauty. The DEADLINE is FRIDAY 20th JULY. And you can learn more about it here: https://www.weleda.co.uk/2018-blogger-competition