I am a “goo-collector”, I grew up rummaging in the medicine cabinets and vanity tables of the master bedroom covered with enough lotions, potions and jars of goop to play a very convincing pretend make-up artist. My vanity now rivals that of most R and D labs, but are the abundance of sticky spreads I could easily spend my entire paycheck on safe.
Cosmetic regulations in the US especially are less than rigorous and an abundance of the ingredients used are “Innocent until proven guilty” according to Donald Hirsh former Pharmaceutical product development chemist and professor of chemistry at TCNJ. If a chemical does not produce a sensitivity during the research and development phase of creation then it’s regarded as safe by most cosmetic companies.
The U.S. only bans 30 ingredients while the E.U. has over 1400. The states are severely lacking in any type of cosmetic regulation, the last bill passed concerning cosmetics was in 1938 according to Beautycounter.com (a cosmetic company and activist group).
The goal of most cosmetic testing is to find any acute irritation or sensitivities that the product could cause, studies on long term effects like cancer causing chemicals are under-studied because “ it’s difficult to prove the causality of an ingredient” , said Dr. Alexis Mrarz a Professor of Public health at The College of New Jersey specializing in environmental health and environmental microbiology.
“Your skin is your biggest organ” is something that natural brands tend to use as a justification for their mega price tags and curifiction of artificial ingredients ( like Osea’s 48 dollar body scrub). Until recently the slough of talk around clean beauty had convinced me my skin was drinking up every chemical I put on my skin and directly going into my bloodstream. The bit of hysteria surrounding ingredients absolutely has merit, but does that mean you should throw away everything in your makeup bag just because it’s not “clean.”The short answer is no, but do your research.
The optimists view (or rather the lobbyist’s) put faith in the companies creating these products to not want to harm its consumers, but since there’s little regulation they don’t have a reason to put long term safety first.
Considerations for what’s harmful are chemicals that are known to be toxic, hormone disrupting or EDC (endocrine disrupting chemicals), sensitizing (a high risk for allergic reaction or irritation), talc is also something to watch out for. It’s normally found in powder products, and is harmless in itself, but has purity issues that often cause it to contaminated with asbestos which cause mesothelioma. .
When judging a new product look at ingredient labels on cosmetic products are listed by weight, so while the specific concentration isn’t alway available you can still get a general idea of a product’s makeup. The higher up in the list the more of the ingredient is used.
But most ingredient lists have little meaning to the average buyer, the long winded names of complex molecules are nowhere in the mental recall of their brain exactly HEXYL CINNAMAL (a type of fragrance in Benefit Benetint) is. In truth most chemists have to look up ingredients to determine what the chemical consists of.
Finding out if your products are “clean” is still a major pain because you have to go through every ingredient on the label, and spend some time researching. Apps like “Think Dirty” and “Beautypedia” can scan the barcode of your product and run it against its database of chemicals, the only catch you might have to type in the ingredients by hand if your item isn’t super popular.
Links to some resources to judge your products yourself.
CodeCheck app on App Store or Google Play