Clean Beauty

Label Reading 101

Yep, this is a candid picture of me, on my phone, trying to figure out whether or not the latest mascara drop really is as natural as it claims…

It’s time to get ahead of the clean- and greenwashing that seems to have taken over the beauty industry. I know I’ve mentioned resources such as the Think Dirty app and Environmental Working Group’s  (EWG) Skin Deep cosmetics database before, but as helpful as these tools are, they aren’t comprehensive. New products keep popping up and it’s not easy to always know if their claims can be trusted or not. This is why I’ve decided it’s time for me to learn how to read a label. Now, I’m not going back to chemistry class nor am I going back on my typical, #lazygirl ways; I’m going to do what I do best: Google! There are plenty of more qualified persons and companies than me who have outlined the best ways to read labels and I’m here to compile and share all of that fine information with you (always good to stick to your strengths)! Now, you have a one-stop shop to spruce up on your ingredient understanding and be your own best resource when seeking out new, clean beauty!

  1. Learn the difference between buzz words & certifications: One of the most important things that I learned while researching label reading is that there are a lot of words that have absolutely zero-meaning, yet seem so compelling. These words include: natural, organic, hypoallergenic, or non-toxic. How many times have these very words reassured you that you are making the right choice for you or your family? I certainly am swayed by these descriptors, but once you know that this is part of branding and nothing else, you can make more informed decisions. Michaela, the Mindful Momma goes in depth discussing these types of buzz words and on the flip side, explains what types of certifications are actually out there that can be very helpful in the decision-making process.
  2. Learn which ingredients to avoid: In the sea of unpronounceable names, it can be really overwhelming to look at each and every ingredient on the list of products you are interested in. I mean, I’m just trying to find a cute lipstick here! Sometimes, it’s easier to know how to recognize the bad, instead of knowing how to decipher the whole thing. According to EcoSalon, due to some brands following the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients), even the most benign and natural ingredients can look intimidating. Unless you are an expert in Latin, how are you expected to know that Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis is the INCI name for Sweet Almond Oil? The good news here is that the common name is often listen in parentheses. Check out these helpful EcoSalon and Byrdie articles that list ingredients to be wary of.
  3. Natural alternatives DO exist: Some ingredients are non-negotiable. Preservatives, for example, are necessary to ensure mold doesn’t start growing in any product that has water in it. But the thing to keep in mind is that not all preservatives are created equal! Parabens prevent bacterial growth, making them a popular beauty-product preservative, however, they have also been found to mimic and interfere with estrogen in the body. Now, even if one has an issue with these research findings (due to the other, fear-mongering, extreme side of green-/clean-washing), if alternative, less controversial and natural preservatives exist, why not give products containing those a try (read more here)? Check out Follain’s list of natural alternatives to common ingredients.
  4. “Fragrance” is a lot more than 1 ingredient: One of the most surprising findings I came across through this research is the deception associated with fragrance. First of all, when it comes to labeling, the current act (from 1970!) doesn’t require the ingredients within the fragrance to be listed. So this one ingredient could be actually made up of several hundred, potentially harmful ingredients and we would be none-the-wiser. Secondly, and this was very disappointing to read, even products marked as “unscented” may include fragrances to mask the natural scent (read more on these two points here). Not all fragrances are bad, however, and the takeaway from this (thanks to Byrdie) is to look for products containing fragrances sourced from natural ingredients or essential oils. Oftentimes, the cleaner the brand, the more transparent the ingredient label! This point struck a chord with me because my skin is sensitive to fragrance and very recently I stopped using perfumes as they may be a contributing factor to my “seasonal allergies” (complete speculation here). More on that another time…but, my parents have always been anti-added fragrance/perfumes and they are always right (reference).
  5. And if nothing else, here’s a great cheat method: EcoSalon has a great recommendation for those label-reading in a rush, peruse the FIRST and LAST 5 ingredients on the label. The first five are the in the highest concentration and will contain any active ingredients. The last five often include fragrance and any preservatives. If these ten ingredients “check out”, then the product is more than likely clean.

I hope this empowers us all to take a deeper dive into what we are applying to our bodies (other than just taking a product’s claims at face value) and ultimately, make us all better-educated consumers. There are a lot of eye-opening and thought-provoking articles linked here, so be sure to take a look and please feel free to share any awesome ones that I may have missed so we can all share in the knowledge!

Cheers!

Maneesha

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