The cosmetic industry is keen on picking up societal trends, so it is no coincidence that the popularity of "clean" beauty has paralleled that of the health movement, opening the floodgates on greenwashed products... You know how it goes: pretty white packaging featuring images of plants and buzzwords, like "pure" and "natural".
The reality is that just looking for labels containing words like "green", "eco", "natural", "clean", and the worst culprit of all, "chemical-free", has no real indication of the components inside the bottle. Famous organic chemists, such as Robert Burns Woodward and Derek Barton, would be rolling over in their graves if they saw how often the phrase "chemical-free" is thrown around today... Because to those that know better, the phrase "chemical-free" resembles the irony of an oxymoron. Let us explain: nothing in this world is chemical-free, as everything from plants, to water, to our bodies are all made up of chemical structures.
Interestingly, none of these buzzwords are regulated either, so they don't hold much weight when it comes to truthful claims backed up by real data. In fact, the cosmetic industry goes largely unregulated, with the FDA having no hand in approving products before they hit the shelves (1). And while the FDA does have authority in regulating labels, the sheer volume of cosmetic products on the market make it near impossible for the FDA to truly protect consumers from all of the potentially harmful substances in their beauty products (2).
This has led to an interesting phenomenon, with a majority of consumers falling on one end of a very binary myth: You must either use "natural" products at the expense of efficacy or take a walk on the wild side with "synthetic" products that work well, but have the potential to jeopardize your long-term health.
The reality is that lab-developed ingredients can be just as safe or just as dangerous as earth-sourced ones. Take, for instance, lead, botulism, and mercury. These are all naturally occurring compounds that have deadly effects on humans. In contrast, many products that we rely on every day to protect us, such as UVA/UVB sunscreen, were born in the lab, with modern technology often offering the best shot at creating highly effective and safe products.
The trick is to avoid focusing on the source of the ingredients, but rather the safety of the ingredients. Companies that use novel, lab-conceived compounds in their skincare products should have data to back up their claims and safety profiles. Likewise, consumers should not be intimidated to turn that bottle around and analyze the ingredient list for themselves.
Ingredients listed closer to the top indicate those that make up a higher percentage of the product, and therefore, highlight the ingredients that consumers should be sure to do their research on. This sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? That's okay. If you don't have the time to research each and every ingredient on the label of each product you use, you can streamline your due diligence by finding a reliable skincare brand that you trust to continuously roll out products that are both safe and effective.
As we mentioned, the FDA simply does not have the resources to monitor every skincare brand out there, so it is important to understand which brands take the responsibility of holding themselves accountable through scientific integrity. In conducting this research, it is also important to keep in mind that highly effective products do not necessarily correlate to risky ones... don't let common myths based on fear factors drive you to pass on down right effective products.
We hope that by reading this post you feel a little more empowered to see past trendy labeling and identify safe and effective skincare products on your own. If you feel compelled to check out the ingredient lists on your skincare products, please keep your eyes out for the following ingredients, as they have been shown to exhibit certain toxicities, and should therefore be avoided (3).
As always, if you want to learn more about health, science, and longevity, check out our other posts and keep your eyes out for future ones. You can also subscribe to our email list at the top of the page to be notified when new posts hit our blog!
Apr 16, 2019
Last time we talked about the two biggest and most obvious culprits against skin health and came to two very familiar conclusions: wear sunscreen and don't smoke. This post will discuss some more... more about "How Lifestyle Can Affect Skin Health (Part 2)"