Beauty is More Than Skin Deep: Choosing Safer Personal Care Products

A couple of years ago, I was still blindly slathering my body with products whose ingredients I could barely pronounce. When I learned the truth, that the FDA does not regulate the ingredients in beauty and personal care products, it rocked my world, and fueled the start of a personal revolution towards a more natural lifestyle.

Our skin, is after all the largest organ we have, so it’s a pretty good starting point for developing a healthier lifestyle. With a self-regulating industry, though, it can be difficult to know which products are actually safe. This is where the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database comes in.

About the Database

Built by the smart and caring Environmental Working Group, the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database is a place where you can search for any personal care product and see how it rates on the hazard scale, and learn about its ingredients.

It’s really simple. Zero is the safest and ten is the most hazardous score. Most products on the market are listed, and although it can be a bit tedious, you can actually list products that you don’t find, simply by copying information from the label onto a form on the website.

You can also search by category and see which products in that category have the safest ratings.

Ten Ways to Get Smart About Personal Care Products

1. Don’t trust the labels. I was most shocked when I started researching sunscreen, something that is supposed to protect our skin. Companies throw out words like “all natural,” or even “organic,” but don’t actually have to adhere to any standards for those claims. Instead of trusting trendy slogans and greenwashed labels, look for products that rate low on the database and have a low “data gap.”

2. Go straight to the ingredients. Since we can’t necessarily trust the labels or company claims, the best thing to do is educate ourselves on which ingredients are most toxic, such as parabens and pthalates. And at a glance, I look for products whose ingredients I can easily pronounce.

3. Research the products you have. This can be a very enlightening exercise. Take your favorite products to the database, and while you could be surprised what dangers are lurking within those bottle, maybe you’ve already been using something that’s actually quite safe.

4. Watch out for proprietary information. Possibly one of the more dangerous ingredients in these products, fragrance, is one that most labels only indicate very generally. Since it is considered “proprietary information,” the company doesn’t have to disclose exactly what that term refers to.

5. Be aware of hidden toxins. Some of the most dangerous compounds show up in laboratory tests but not on product labels. For example, 1,4 dioxane, a cancer-causing chemical, is formed when a common ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate is converted to the supposedly more gentle sodium laureth sulfate. In addition, when we use multiple products, we are exposed to more and higher amounts of toxins like carcinogens.

6. Focus on those most susceptible. The younger a person is, the least they can fight against toxins, and the more concentrated these toxins will be in their little bodies.  My favorite line of non-toxic products is called California Baby (and it’s even sold at Target!).

7. Pay now or pay later. If you’re afraid of the cost of starting over with safer products, consider that it’s probably worth the cost of a few really good products to avoid ingredients that could lead to costly medical procedures down the road. Also keep in mind that when we buy safer, quality products we are also voting with our dollars for better products.

8. Simplify.
Instead of an entire bathroom full of products, I’ve realized that what I actually need and use regularly makes up a pretty simple arsenal. Love the feeling of thinning out your wardrobe and getting rid of unused items? Try the same techniques with your beauty products, clearing out products that are expired or rate high on Skin Deep. A simpler beauty routine takes less time and money to keep up as well.

9. Stick to companies who have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. These companies commit to discontinue the use of dangerous toxins and adhere to the EU Cosmetic Directive. They might still be in transition to being fully compliant, but at least they’ll be more trustworthy than those who refuse to sign.

10. Skip buying products all together, and make your own. Some of the best ways to take care of our bodies require only a trip to the pantry or the health foods store. Here are a few resources and ideas:

Another great resource is the book Not Just a Pretty Face, which details the history of Skin Deep and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, along with information of various toxins and studies. And be sure to check out the Skin Deep Safer Shopping Tips as well.

Have you found Skin Deep to be useful? How else do you avoid toxins in the beauty and personal care products your family uses?

About Nicole

Nicole can be found blogging at her lifestyle blog, and is the editor of Simple Homemade. She loves to read, sew, make ice cream, take pictures, watch baseball and go for walks by the beach with her hubby and three little kiddos. She loves anything handmade and is affectionately known as a bit of a hippie among family and friends.


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