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Understanding When Cosmetics Ingredients are Dangerous: A Beginners Guide


We need to reset the vocabulary friends! Chemonoia (fear of chemicals) has become a REAL part of the human experience and not without reason. There’s a lot of scary, health impacting ingredients then add fear mongering as a favored marketing tool leaves us in an emotionally vulnerable space. The reality is, this topic can’t be handled in just one article without me being part of the problem. So let’s focus on basics so you know how to advocate for your wants and needs with clear communication.

” I don’t use anything with chemicals, I ONLY want natural products”

I hear this in my skin consulting practice and retail store everyday, that’s why I was so motivated to demystify so we can all be liberated of the confusion and dispel as much fear as possible by looking at the key words that trip us up so we can be informed and intentional in our shopping.

Natural: Undefined when it comes to the beauty industry, yet presumes a lot from bleed over information of agriculture/food (pesticide use or “organic” for example) industry. Perception and “clean culture” poo poos lab made (synthetic) ingredients as toxic when nature can be toxic too. Asbestos, which is natural, contamination has been a problem with cosmetic talc for years simply because talc and asbestos naturally neighbor is nature. (I have attached this article if you want to dig deeper). Natural doesn’t mean it will not cause irritation or allergies. From pollens to animals and foods we eat, allergens and irritants are all around us. Natural overall means the chemicals (YUP! Chemicals!) come from the earth via plants, animals, mines, etc.

Synthetic / Manufactured: Some ingredients are manufactured or are based on or derived from natural ingredients in a lab. This means ingredients are consistent in composition and efficacy which can harness all of the positive aspects of a natural ingredient, while removing any known to cause reactions. This can be a more suitable option for reactive or allergic clients. This is where the chemicals aren’t bad conversation needs to happen. SInce most of us aren’t chemists, it’s confusing! Everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. I am a bunch of chemicals. They can be natural or synthetic and this doesn’t indicate safe or dangerous. I love this simple article from Science Learning Hub, it really explains how manufactured chemicals are ones that have been made by people. They are often called synthetic chemicals. Natural chemicals are ones that are found in nature (produced by plants and animals). Some people think there is a fundamental difference between manufactured chemicals and natural ones. Actually, if a chemical is found in nature and the same chemical is manufactured, there is no difference between them. Synthesizing nature is a great power. Like all powerful things, comes great responsibility and the very science of chemistry that can offer us safer options can also be used irresponsibly without full knowledge or disclosure of long term implications. This power has brought us plastics or ‘forever chemicals‘ (ie: pthalates and bisphenols/BPA) pesticides, PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are being called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans causing many health issues ). These chemicals are used in lots of industries including beauty and personal care to bring longer performance times and durability (“waterproof”, “long wearing”, “indelible” or “smudge proof” are commonly used marketing words). Check out out this article to learn more.

Toxicity: Putting chemicals into categories of harmful or harmless isn’t accurate since toxicity is a measure of the poisoning strength of a chemical. This can be especially complex since many or us are layering and using multiple products daily. Chemicals with low toxicity require large doses or amounts to cause poisoning. Even water has a point of toxicity if too much is consumed to quickly. Chemicals with high toxicity only need small doses to cause poisoning. Many essential oils are classified as high toxicity, especially when ingested (PLEASE stop ingesting them!). What makes toxicity such a burden is our bodies have to either effeciently break them down to less harmful chemicals or quickly remove them from the body. This means toxicity variables can be based on exposures, health, age and even gender.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Vitamin-C-_Science_Learning_Hub_diagram_v2.png
vitamin C from fruit is exactly the same as synthetically made vitamin C.

Hypoallergenic: by definition it means ‘relatively unlikely to cause a reaction’. This means the responsibility is still on you to know what is in a product and learning what you are sensitive or allergic to seek products and life style practices accordingly.

Health Canada regulations: Only ingredients that “do not present an unreasonable health and safety risk to Canadians, when used according to directions, are allowed in cosmetic products“. Health Canada maintains a Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist, this list of ingredients that are either prohibited or restricted in cosmetic products. Some points to consider. “Unreasonable health and safety risk” does not = supporting everyone’s best health and wellness. It’s saying “it’s probably won’t hurt you as long as you use it right”. The regulations are also based on one product at a time. Many people are using multiple products multiple times a day without caution on how that impacts the “unreasonable health and safety risk” measurement.

What about using EWG/Skin Deep Database as a resource?

This is always an awkward question for me because there was a time I used the database to research ingredients. In theory their easy 1-10, green, yellow, red rating system was created to make safe shopping easy. Unfortunately the EWG’s Skin Deep Database has come under major criticism for not only being biased, but because it is not backed by much science at all. This article from The Eco Well creates a great case for many things we need to consider as to whether it’s a resource offering the complete, unbiased information it claims to.

I really want to support you all as we wade through the oceans of information to find the space where each of us can find the best products for our unique needs and the power to REFUSE those that have no place in our lifestyle. SInce so many of us are committed to eliminating health damaging toxins from our lives, it IMPERATIVE that we understand that Mother Nature’s chemicals can be just as toxic as the irresponsible humans behind the businesses manufacturing toxic chemicals. We also need to hold ALL companies accountable for their choices that endangering us with incomplete information and false claims.

The Green Vanity represents learning the importance of appropiate, non toxic, ethical, cruelty-free and vegan products. This means proper conversations and discovery of reliable and safe products to ensure ALL of our clients, our planets and all it’s precious inhabitants and resources are respected.

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