Natural Skincare 101: Transitioning to Natural Skincare (part 1)

 

Did you know the average woman puts approximately 500 different chemicals on her body per day?

 

Most of you are here because you in some way, shape or form, you are interested in healthy living. For many of us, our first point of entry into healthy living is cleaning up our diet. The idea of eating healthier has permeated our culture on so many levels we are inundated daily with "healthy living messages." 

My own journey towards a healthier lifestyle started with food and the story is fairly cliche: My health was failing (read: I felt like shit most of the time) and I was fed up. I had digestive issues, hives, bouts of water retention that rivaled pregnancy edema in the 3rd trimester (I once gained 17 pounds overnight). Doctors couldn't figure it out so the researcher in me took my health into my own hands. I pulled out the juicer my husband bought me two Christmases earlier and I juiced, I cleansed, I went plant-based–even raw for a stint–and took my family with me.the rest is history.

I’ve been fortunate enough to never have any real skin issues but when I changed my diet, my skin became even clearer, brighter and more radiant than ever before. This prompted my move towards natural skincare and makeup. Just like changing the way I ate and moving towards a more plant-based diet, choosing to use majority natural and organic personal care products was a major lifestyle change. 

I’m sure you can see the benefits in implementing a natural skincare regimen even if you don’t deal with skin issues. That doesn’t mean you use them or are even all onboard with the idea. We are women and creatures of habit. Additionally, we tend to be pretty loyal to our beauty products because finding the right beauty regimen that keeps our skin happy & balanced can take years. There’s also a misconception natural products aren't as affective. Additionally, for me and my other yellow, olive and brown-skinned beauties, the lack of natural options, makes the struggle even more real. SPFs that give off a white cast or foundations that leave us looking sickly or like our face belongs on a different body altogether, complicate the process.  Why would we want to mess with the formula when it took us half our lives to figure it out in the first place? Well, I’m glad you asked.

What are the benefits of natural skincare?

Our skin is our body's biggest organ and it certainly can absorb some of what is applied to it but not everything. It’s really not as simple as “60% of products applied to the skin are absorbed” because there are a bunch of factors that enter into the equation–size of chemical particles, part of body to which it's being applied, skin temperature, etc. Regardless, chemicals can enter our bloodstreams in lots of other ways–we lick our lips and lipstick or face products can be ingested, we inhale perfumes from products or they get on our hands and we touch our mouths…you get the idea. My goal right now is helping you understand the chemicals in your products that are most pressing to eliminate–phthalates (which can enter the skin), parabens and sulfates to name a few. Chemicals like the ones I just mentioned can cause everything from hormonal disruptions to cancer. The verdict is still out on just how detrimental the effects can be but I think we can all agree adding more plant-based and natural ingredients to our skin and beauty regimen can't hurt.

How can I start the transition towards a natural skincare regimen?

You are paying anywhere from $10 to $100 upwards for anti-aging serums, eye creams, tightening, brightening, smoothing, hydrating and everything else products that are full of potentially harmful ingredients. We haven't even gotten to makeup or haircare products yet. So what can we do right now to start the transition towards a more natural (but effective!) skincare regimen?

I’m not crazy enough to suggest you throw away all your beauty products at once (though this works really well for some folks) but instead try replacing a product or two at a time. Another option is to start buying products that exclude 5 of the most potentially harmful ingredients and then step it up.
You probably won't love every product you try. This is no different than any other personal care product; you try them until you find what works for you. It's trial and error and takes time. Also, moving towards a more natural skin care regimen doesn’t mean all or nothing for everyone. Only you can determine the level of commitment that works for you.

For me, the majority of my products are 95% all natural with my mascara being the last "dirty" beauty product in my makeup bag because I love the one I use, haven’t found a comparable replacement and don’t think it will be the end of the world if my eyelashes fall out (sort of). Actually, now that I think about it, I would probably be devastated. I just mean, I am ok with a dirty mascara and I won’t lose any sleep over it. Goop.com actually suggested mascara as one of the first things to replace because it's near your eyes. Other clean beauty sources recommend replacing your lipsticks/balms/glosses first because you are ingesting them all day. We all have our “thing,” so choose to start with what will help you feel like you are making moves in the right direction. I'll be discussing skincare and makeup options later in the series and don't worry, I'm a high low kind of girl. I love my Target brands just as much as Sephora and Nordstrom. I also love to support small, woman-owned beauty business like BeauTeaBar

My transition has taken place over the course of the last 5 years so remember–be patient with yourself and think about what is most important to you and what you want to achieve by going natural with your beauty regimen. I personally don’t miss any of the products I’ve replaced except my foundation. Finding something with enough yellow that is not too light and not too dark has been my biggest challenge. As far as the rest, I don't miss any of it but do find it more difficult to find replacements in a pinch because for many, I can’t just run out to the pharmacy to re-up.

What are some good resources to help me through the natural skincare process?

For those of you interested in making some changes, below are a few of the ingredients to avoid but by no means is it an exhaustive list.  Check your current products and eliminate these ingredients as you begin replacing them. Hopefully, most of you are already looking at the ingredients on your food packaging. Now start turning your bottles and jars over in your beauty cabinet to look at your skincare and cosmetic ingredients and eventually it will be second nature. Words like diathanolamine will start to roll right off your tongue like NARS and MAC. It’s really important to do this because a lot of companies greenwash their labels by saying things like “natural ingredients” and unless you read the actual ingredients and know what you are reading, it’s very deceptive. They can make the products sound natural however they can’t lie on the ingredient label. 

So use the list below and websites and apps like The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Think Dirty to check your products. EWG is my favorite resource. It is filled with a wealth of credible knowledge and you can literally spend hours on this site learning more about protecting your health and the environment. Additionally, The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep is a database that rates ingredients based on scientific research and studies. You can also search products and see how clean they rate. (You might be surprised by the score on your favorite “natural” lip balm). I've also added a few resources to get you started.

The Think Dirty app scans products for you so you can "learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products. Just scan the product barcode and Think Dirty will give you easy-to-understand info on the product, its ingredients, and shop cleaner options!" I’m not going to do a full review but the Think Dirty app is a good start but tends to be a bit biased, possibly because of their relationships with sponsor brands.

I hope I've given you a few things to think about as we dig into the skincare series over the next week or two. As always, please feel free to email me with questions or concerns you would like to see addressed! I'm loving all the feedback so far!

Ingredients to Avoid:

Phthalates–linked to breast cancer, congenital disorders, mental and behavioral developmental issues.

Parabens– a catch-all name for a variety of preservatives and anti-bacterial agents. They are restricted in Europe and have been linked to breast tumor tissues. 

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) & Sodium laureth sulphate (SLES)–a foaming agent used in skincare, cosmetic and hair products that can be rapidly absorbed. It's an endocrine disruptor and can cause organ failure, eye issues like cataracts and affect brain function. It's also said to be a major contributor to acne.

Fragrance–another catch-all name under which over 4,000 toxic ingredients are listed. It works so well because by listing "fragrance" companies are not required to let any of the ingredient in their fragrance mixtures. They are found in skincare, cosmetics, most personal care and house hold products. They are regulated in Europe and are linked to a plethora of issues including allergies, depression, respiratory issues and hyperactivity.

DEA (Diathanolamine)–an emulsifier and powerful carcinogen found in shampoos and cosmetics. It is linked to stomach, liver, gall bladder and esophagus cancer.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)–another carcinogen. It can cause skin depigmentation, liver damage, stomach cancer. It canals interfere with normal thyroid function and cause reproductive issues. 

Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol–Retinol products (often found in anti-aging products) have the opposite intended effect and become carcinogenic in sunlight, making it extra important to only use them at night and to avoid any sunscreens containing retinol-derived ingredients.

Oxybenzone–is one of the highest-risk chemicals found in sunscreen. It acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. Look for sunscreens with zinc oxide instead.

Sources:

Hello Glow–12 Ingredients to Avoid in Natural Skincare Products
Environmental Working Group–Skin Deep
Environmental Working Group–Myths on Cosmetics Safety
Mind Body Green–12 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid
FDA.org–How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics
CDC.org–National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (there is a comprehensive database of all the chemicals found in personal care and cleaning products. Learn from a trusted source how they can affect your health and how to use them safely.)