We all want to look gorgeous – preferably without wearing makeup. In pursuit of this goal we have tried lots of skincare products – and makeup products if we felt that we needed to fake the glow until we found the holy grail products that would magically transform our skin. I’ve come to the conclusion that no product will transform your skin. If you want to truly transform your skin, working out regularly and eating healthy foods are far better bets. But skincare does have an effect and one that we shouldn’t discount. It cares for our skin – the largest organ we have.
Why to transition to green skincare
What holds for newborns, babies, and children holds for us adults, too: our skin is a sensitive organ that absorbs toxins, even though adult skin is thicker and has a higher barrier function than babies’ skin. The corollary is this: it matters what we put on our face. And to state it more provocatively: you’re cutting it short if you think that eating organic food is all you need to do. Using conventional, chemical-laden skincare and makeup has nothing to do with a healthy lifestyle.
I get it, we have established a routine with our conventional skincare and makeup. We have found products that work so the switching cost appear high. But in this post I want to make you aware that
- The products’ ingredients may be harmful to your health without you being able to directly notice it
- Once you are aware of the harms that lurk in your skincare switching to green products is no longer difficult, and
- There are great green products that actually work – you don’t need chemicals to achieve great results.
10 Ingredients To Avoid in Your Beauty Products
Many ingredients in conventional skincare and cosmetics are either harmful for our skin or in our body once they are absorbed through our skin. The most common effects of chemicals in our skincare and makeup are the higher risk of cancer and adverse effects on our hormone system. I don’t want this blog post to be a chemistry lecture or a research review with a gazillion of footnotes. But I do want this blog post to be a resource for you to educate yourself about potential harms in your bathroom – conveniently compiled in one place. Knowledge is power after all!
Clearly a once in a lifetime exposure will likely not have any adverse effects on your body and your health. But think about how often you put moisturizer on your skin, how religiously you use your sunscreen, and how much of your lipstick you even ingest…
Here are the 10 ingredients to avoid in beauty products:
Benzophenone and Oxybenzone
They can be found in a variety of products, from lip balm and moisturizers to sunscreens and haircare products. It’s used to protect the product (or our skin) from UV rays. Benzophenone, oxybenzone, and related substances are suspected to disrupt our hormonal system, especially sex hormones such as estrogen and androgen. They are also suspected to reduce both male and female fertility. Oxybenzone also permeates the skin into the blood stream and may build up in the kidneys and the liver.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
They are preservatives that are used in lip and hair products, suncreen, makeup, and creams. Research evidence is pretty conclusive that BHA is an endocrine disruptor and it is suspected to alter both male and female fertility. It is also suspected to cause cancer.
Are a group of chemicals (shortened to e.g., MEA, DEA, TEA) that are used in a variety of products, cleansing products such as soaps and shampoos, makeup such as mascara and blush, and sunscreens. Ethanolamines have been linked to liver cancer. DEA in particular has been shown to build up in the liver and the kidneys. DEA has also been linked to male factor reproductive issues, such as sperm morphology. In the EU DEA has been banned from use in cosmetics.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
These are most often found in shampoos (also baby shampoos!), hair-smoothing products and nail products. Formaldehyde can be added directly or can be released by other preservatives such as polyoxymethylene urea and bromopol. Formaldehyde can cause rashes, but the real issue is that it is known to promote cancer.
Parabens (e.g., methylpararben, ethylparaben, butylparaben)
They are most often found in shampoos, cleansers, and lotions, and makeup products. Parabens are suspected to act as endocrine disruptors because they mimic estrogen. For instance, methylparaben is suspected to act like estrogen and has been linked to breast cancer in women, while butylparaben has been linked to reduced sperm counts in men. Parabens are also suspected to act on the fetus in utero. And as if that wasn’t enough some parabens (especially methylparaben) make the skin more prone to damage from UV rays and may promote skin cancer in combination with other estrogenic chemicals.
Phthalates are mostly used in fragranced lotions, body washes, and haircare products. It’s considered an endocrine disruptor that was even found to alter the hormones of unborn fetuses (boys in particular) as well as breastfed boys. Phthalates seem to disrupt the male hormone system in particular which may lead to reproductive issues. In addition, phthalates have been found to promote breast cancer and to make certain tumor treatments less effective. Since the research on phthalates is quite conclusive, they have been banned from cosmetics in the EU, but they can still be found in U.S. products.
Polyacrylamide are mostly found in moisturizers and lotions. Polyacrylamide consists of several acrylamide molecules. Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen, for instance in the pancreas, breasts, and ovaries. Acrylamide is also suspected to lower male fertility and to negetively affect unborn babies.
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate is most often found in soaps, shampoos, and cleansers. It damages the lipid barrier of the skin, i.e. the skin’s protective barrier, which makes it more susceptible to absorb other toxins. On its own SLS can cause inflammation and rashes and has been found to build up in the body’s tissue.
Sodium laureth sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate is most often found in soaps, shampoos, bath foams, and toothpaste, basically most conventional products that lather up. It damages the proteins in the skin and makes it more susceptible to absorb other toxins. SLES is also suspected to affect our hormones.
Triclosan is used in many soaps and detergents for its antimicrobial properties. It can also be found in many deodorants and toothpaste. Aside from the threat that bacteria become resistant to triclosan, there is evidence that triclosan disrupts our hormone system and in particular thyroid function. What is even more scary is that triclosan accumulates in fatty tissue and has been found in breast milk and in umbilical cord blood.
If you want to dive deeper – because unfortunately there are more substances that can be found in our personal care products that really shouldn’t be in there – you can keep on reading here (you’ll also find links to studies there).
How to transition from conventional to green skincare
Once I had researched conventional skin care, making the transition no longer felt difficult. I wanted to change what I put on my skin. As with every change – be it a diet or a workout regime – you need to be motivated to actually change something.
When I started the transition to green skin care in 2015 I switched my skincare completely from one day to the next to green natural products. For makeup the transition took longer, but since 2015 the eco-beauty-industry has come a long way and in my experience the makeup products now perform equally well as conventional cosmetics. I wish I could give you a game plan, of “first change this, then change that”, but I don’t think that that plan would be helpful to you.
You yourself know which of your skincare products you have more anxiety about parting ways. And you yourself can check the labels of your products (or use the databases by Skin Deep or GoodGuide) and determine which products you want to part with first, because of their ingredients.
Some tips to get you started:
Change your views about price
I used to spend 50€ and more on a tiny tube of skincare – yes, I even once bought the Creme de la Mer moisturizer for eyewatering 190€. I’ve been there. I used to think that the high price said something about the quality of the product. Except that it doesn’t. It says something about the marketing value of the brand, think Creme de la Mer, Chanel, Estée Lauder. Natural skincare, however, does not have to be that expensive. The Weleda cream I use now costs less than $20, it’s certified natural skincare, I can pronounce all the ingredients, and don’t have to worry about my skincare.
Buy the alternative product while you still have your conventional product
You are used to a certain performance and if you don’t like the new green product you still have the conventional product as a fall-back option in your drawer. Keeping the conventional product is just a little mind trick to make the transition easier for you. I never went back to the conventional product, even if I realized after a week of using the new green product that I wasn’t in love with that particular product.
And my five cents on when to toss the conventional product
While I’m not a fan of throwing half-used products in the trash, I have done it in the past myself, because once I googled the ingredients of some of the products I used on my skin, I wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible and no longer put this cocktail of carcinogen, irritating, and hormone disrupting substances on my face. Economically speaking, the damage (= your cost) has been done when you purchased the product.
When you keep using it, because you feel obligated to since you spent your money on it, you are in fact incurring more cost because you deprive yourself of the opportunity to use a better, more enjoyable product – in addition to putting chemicals on your skin that you want to get rid off (it’s called sunk cost – and now you have a hint on what I studied). So while all the budgeters out there will probably scream in anguish, I say: throw the conventional product out whenever you’re ready – not whenever the tube’s empty!
My green skincare products
Weleda Almond Soothing Facial Lotion for combination skin
I LOVE this moisturizer (and I am not ashamed to proclaim this repeatedly). For my skin this moisturizer has just the right amount of richness without being heavy. It’s a basic moisturizer, it doesn’t promise anything fancy (such as no more fine lines, brighter and more even skin tone,…), but it does it’s job – moisturize my skin – so so well. I have used this cream since early 2013 and never felt the urge that I wanted to try a new moisturizer. Yes, this moisturizer is that good!
Alternatives: Dr. Hauschka Revitalizing Day Cream. It’s good and I’ve used it for over a year before I switched to the Weleda Almond Cream. For my skin, however, I’ve found the Weleda Almond Cream to be superior – a little richer, without being heavy.
Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Eyecream
This is a great eyecream without bells and whistles – no heavy-duty lifting and plumping action going on. I’m still in the mindset that I will get the heavy-duty eyecreams when I’m in my 30s, but right now, I want my eyecream to primarily moisturize and keep everything looking smooth. A few dark circles and a few fine lines around the eyes come with being a mom… 😉 This is an eyecream for you if you are looking for nothing fancy – just like I am currently. The cream itself has a rather light consistency, which is great for the undereye area as you don’t want to put something too heavy on the delicate skin. As all Weleda products it is only very lightly scented. You only need a tiny amount so the 10ml tube will last you for several months.
Alternatives: LilyAna Naturals Eye Cream. I like to switch every once in a while between the Welede and the LilyAna, as I found both to be quite similar in performance.
Antipodes Juliet Brightening Cleanser
This is a cleanser I have used for years and I don’t see me stopping any time soon. It’s just great. I love the consistency, it get’s the job done beautifully, and you need a tiny amount so the bottle will last a long time. It’s a gel cleanser, perfect for the morning cleanse and the second cleanse after I have taken off my makeup.
Lavera basis sensitiv Facial Cleansing Gel
This is a great, truly gentle, cleanser that takes off all my makeup without being harsh or irritating. I can even take off my eyemakeup with this cleanser – but bear in mind that I don’t use mascara on a daily basis. The cleanser leaves my skin feeling clean, but not tight.
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Apparently the product has been quite the rave ever since it came out. I bought it a few months ago, as my skincare addition for the winter months and I am absolutely in love. It has helped as a boost to my moisturizer so my skin isn’t affected by the cold winter air outside and the dry heated air inside. It’s also great as a treatment overnight.
Alternatives: Pure Skin Food Beauty Oil was an equally great treatment product before I bought the Pai Oil. I will say though that I currently prefer the Pai for its regenerating, healing properties. The Pure Skin Food Oil is more nourishing in my experience. Antipodes Apostle Brightening Serum is another great treatment product, but with a completely different purpose compared to the two oils. As you will have expected by the name it’s a brightening serum that is supposed to even out your skintone and it truly does that. I bought it before my wedding and had great results with it. But the effect is less noticable once you use it regularly (more than one bottle), which is why I decided to no longer spend the (gasp) $70.
Antipodes Aura Manuka Honey Mask
Unfortunately, I don’t have too many opportunities as a working mom to pamper my skin. But when I do, this mask is what I use. Manuka honey is a powerful ingredient that has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. The mask deeply cleanes the skin, while at the same time leaving it feeling moisturized and plump. Sounds too good to be true – but in my experience it’s really that good!
Alternatives: Andalou Naturals Pumpkin Honey Glycolic Mask is a great mask that performes really well in terms of leaving the skin clean but hydrated. It’s not as outstanding as the Antipodes Aura Mask, but at a lower price point the Andalou offers a great value. If I have time on hand and I really want to deep clean my skin (those to events probably coincide about once in half a year?) I make a DIY mask with silica, honey, and cinnamon.
My skincare routine
My routine is fairly simple – just as the products I like to use.
AM: I use the Antipodes cleanser, my eyecream and my Weleda Almond moisturizer mixed with 3 drops of the Pai oil. The oil just gives the moisturizer a little extra boost. That’s it as far as skincare is concerned.
PM: I double cleanse with the Lavera and the Antipodes cleanser – I really want to get my makeup and the city’s pollutants off my face. On 5 days per week my evening routine stops there. Yes, you read that right. On those 5 days per week I follow the Dr. Hauschka philosophy of leaving the skin bare at night. The idea is to not leave any products on your face in the evening so your skin can breathe and replenish its natural oils. While the concept runs completely counter the advice of most (all other?) skincare companies, it makes intuitive sense.
When we put oils on our skin, our skin gets the feedback that it should produce less oils because aparently there is plenty of oil. This feedback can lead to drier skin. While I was skeptical when I first started following this philosophy back in 2012, I haven’t looked back since. The only adjustment I make (primarily during the winter months) is that twice per week I use a few drops of my Pai face oil over night.
Keep it simple
I’ve been there: wanting to try product after product in the hope that something even better might be out there. I’ve been there for years. Let me tell you: I rarely found a product that was dramatically better than the one I happily used before. After years of trying out products, I have now settled in a routine that rarely changes. There are a few things such as masks or oils that I sometimes try out new products but overall my routine stays the same. Because it works. Because I realized that a gazillion products don’t make my skin glow. Because in skincare less is more, as in so many other aspects of life.
If you have switched to green skincare and makeup, what are your favorite products?
If you haven’t made the switch yet, what do you think is holding you back and what would help you to transition to green skincare and makeup?