In 2003 at a young age, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, it turned my whole world upside down and propelled me to change the way I worked, the food I ate and to begin looking at the products I was using both in my home and on my skin.
It was indeed a radical and fast, life-changing event.
However, back then no one was really looking closely at the ingredients contained in their personal care items, (apart from being told parabens in sunscreen should be avoided) so this was not a huge focus for me, it was just enough trying to understand the food ingredients I should be avoiding – and of course everyone I spoke to, including doctors had differing opinions.
It is estimated that by the time most women leave home for work each day, we have put onto our skin, at least a dozen body products and cosmetics, each of which contain a dozen or more chemical ingredients – from your toothpaste, to your body wash, moisturisers, make up, and deodorant - it’s a full and frightening morning chemical cocktail!
Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs up to 60% of what we put onto our skin, into our general blood circulation through our dermal layer, which contains a series of blood vessels, glands and tissue.
Many of the ingredients our products contain are not benign, and in fact many are now known endocrine disruptors. It is scary to think that we begin using these beauty products as teenagers and continue to use them well into our 70s, making the number of toxins that our bodies have had to process over our own lifetime, quite a phenomenal number!
You only need to check on the Environmental Working Group’s site to discover what’s really in each product. It makes for rather scary reading!
Fast forward to now - and the beauty industry has been given a shake up by the natural, organic and clean beauty advocates, creating waves of change globally, especially in the USA, where the FDA has only banned 11 toxic ingredients in contrast to the 1300 banned by the EU.
What does clean beauty actually mean and why is it important?
Words like natural, organic, non-toxic and clean don’t always mean what you think they mean.
There is no global standard, government or third party-certified definition stating what qualifies as “natural” beauty and skincare. The same goes for words like, “non-toxic”, “eco” and “green”. Some brands even use the phrase “chemical-free” as if that’s an indicator of safety, but remember: not all chemicals are bad. Water, for example is a chemical. And conversely not all natural ingredients are good, lead and arsenic to name a couple.
Confused? I think we are supposed to be!
This means that conventional cosmetics companies can use these terms along with pictures of green leaves and butterfly’s on the front of their products and these images don’t need to match what is on the ingredients list at the back. The company can market themselves as ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ when they in fact employ practices that actually harm the environment. This is termed ‘green washing’ and it’s super smart marketing.
‘Organic’ is the one term that must meet a defined standard issued by a specific organisation – such as USDA Organic, in France EcoCert, in NZ BioGro. It means that an organic skincare brand needs to be fully certified for a high proportion of their formulation before they can put the ‘certified organic’ label on the front of the product.
Are Organic Skincare products better?
But even the term, Organic isn’t necessarily a good standard for beauty, because organic ingredients on their own don’t ensure a product’s performance, or even safety. Products may contain a portion of certified organic ingredients formulated with other ingredients that may not even be beneficial for skincare.
Because there is no universal standard, a company can just determine their own definition of clean beauty. But consumer demand for safer more transparent products is stronger than ever right now, which we love, and people are starting to become more informed about what is on the back of a product label and holding companies to task on their claims. For so long we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes, but now with the creation of our universal community over social media we are more aware than ever of how companies operate and what ingredients they are using.
It has become important for many to know that what we put onto our skin is as good as the nutrition we put into our bodies. Over time, there seems to be a steady rise in health concerns, allergies and disease, so consuming toxic chemicals for so long, maybe a contributing factor.
How do you know what toxic ingredients to avoid?
If you are anything like me, you are a label reader at the supermarket and you know what ingredients in food you want to avoid such as sodium nitrate, palm oil and artificial sweeteners, to name just a few.
But we don’t usually take the same care to read the labels on the skincare we buy. Often the print is too tiny to even read, the scientific names are so long and obscure, and the ‘greenwashing’ labels so compelling – that we just buy what grabs our attention.
The list of ingredients to avoid is long…
Ingredients like phthalates (Pronounced THAL-ates) which are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer, have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union, but still remain prevalent in U.S. products. They are found in colour cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes, hair care products and nail polish.
The Endocrine Society wrote in a recent press release “Emerging evidence ties endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure to two of the biggest public health threats facing society, diabetes and obesity. Mounting evidence also indicates EDC exposure is connected to infertility, hormone-related cancers, neurological issues and other disorders."
Then there is Resorcinol, which is commonly used in hair dyes and acne medication. In higher doses it is toxic and can disrupt the function of the central nervous system and lead to respiratory problems. It has also been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, specifically thyroid function.
It can be found most commonly in hair dyes, shampoos, lotions, peels and in products used to treat acne, eczema and other dermatological issues.
Resorcinol is primarily used by the rubber industry, especially in the production of tires; it is also used in high quality wood bonding, dyes, and chemical fertilizers and in the manufacturing of certain chemicals. Do you want to be washing your hair with this?
Biddy + May uses the term “clean” because it takes into account human health and environmental health. To us clean skincare and makeup products made by transparent, ethical brands, do no harm. They use nutrient-dense ingredients that nourish and look after your skin and safe synthetics if absolutely necessary for preservation or effectiveness.
Biddy + May has a long No Go Ingredients list on our site, which all our brands must adhere to, this list took some researching and I believe it will continue to evolve over time.
But the term Clean Beauty is so much more than just a No Go List of ingredients, it is about best practise in skin care, by using real vitamins, minerals and nutrients that nourish your skin, that actually work better than their toxic counterparts – resulting in the ultimate goal of a healthier body and in turn healthier skin.
It is also about the whole – good food, exercise and great skincare.
And because clean beauty brands use such fantastic, nutrient-dense ingredients, such as coconut oil, avocado butter, blue tansy, grape seed oil and kawakawa oil to name just a few - the experience of using clean products is just so much more pleasurable and gives us confidence that we are doing something for our own health and wellbeing.
It becomes a self-care ritual, of taking a moment at the beginning or end of the day to stop, breath, unwind. It’s about finding what works for you individually, rather than working to a prescribed regiment of skincare that you just have to have because it’s the latest marketing fad.
We believe our internal body needs an array of nutrients and vitamins to perform at optimal level and so does our skin.
Is clean beauty worth it?
Making the switch to clean beauty doesn’t have to be too painful or expensive!
I suggest starting out with one or two products that you use daily. For instance your body wash or soap, as these are used over the largest area of our bodies.
Then there is your lipstick and your deodorant – let’s face it we just can’t live without either!
During the 1500s in England, people believed that lipstick had magical powers: Queen Elizabeth was purportedly it’s biggest fan and was said to have been wearing over half an inch of lipstick at the time of her death! And she was slowly poisoned over a period of time from the lead in the heavy white make up she wore.
What’s lurking in your lipstick?
Lipstick can contain levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and manganese.
The faster the lipstick wears off, the bigger the health impact of these toxins on the health of the wearer. And in the majority of cases these lipsticks are still being tested on animals.
On average a woman may consume 1 to 4kgs of lipstick over her lifetime. And while this differs from one makeup wearer to another, it does affect everyone that wears lipstick - after all, lipsticks don’t evaporate; they get eaten!
What’s scarier than eating lipstick on a daily basis? Eating lipstick made with toxins on a daily basis... These harmful ingredients aren’t reserved for low quality brands either - they are found in most conventional lip products on the market, from high-end luxury brands to supermarket brands aimed at the teen market.
Have you ever picked up a lipstick in store and read the ingredients before buying? I’m guessing , no?
Firstly, where are the ingredients displayed? Secondly if they are, you need a magnifying glass to read them. And lastly we just don’t think about it – we are just super happy to have found the perfect lipstick shade that looks amazing and is long lasting!
I love lipstick and I’ve made it my mission to find clean brands that look amazing, feel amazing, actually stay on your lips and most importantly, do no harm.
Making the switch can feel difficult especially when you have a favourite lipstick brand on high rotation, so we suggest having a clean lipstick on standby in the wings that you can slowly move into center stage… there’s simply no excuse for ingesting all that nasty stuff anymore!
Natural DeodorantI spend a lot of time discussing deodorant with customers; this product seems to be the first clean switch that people gravitate towards and for good reason.
- Antiperspirants contain aluminium-based compounds that temporarily block sweat pores, thereby reducing the amount of perspiration that reaches your skin.
- Deodorants can eliminate odor but not perspiration. They're usually alcohol-based and turn your skin acidic, making it less attractive to bacteria. Deodorants often contain perfume fragrances intended to mask odor.
We all sweat, and sweat is an important function, it helps regulate our body temperature, and it is mostly odourless.
Armpit sweat, however is a different story as this sweat also contains fats and proteins that interact with bacteria on our skin, which can cause us to smell. The smell is what we are all paranoid about and try our best to avoid. We have long been conditioned to think we need a dry smell-free armpit. Reaching for the latest and greatest antiperspirant to help do the trick.
An antiperspirant is exactly that, it prevents sweat from happening by blocking our pores, so we may have dry armpits, but what serious toxins have we let into our body to allow this to happen?
As we you all probably know the active ingredient in antiperspirant is aluminum – this is on the Biddy + May No Go Ingredients list for very good reason.
It is concerning because it traps both our bodily toxins and other product-based toxins in our lymph nodes, near our breast tissue. It may also increase sweat as our bodies go into overdrive trying to push out the toxins through blocked sweat glands. There is relatively little known about the long-term effects of absorption of this ingredient close to our breasts and breast tissue. So we say play it safe by switching to a clean deodorant product. Our breasts are just too important to take the risk.
Do natural deodorants work?
It’s no big secret that many clean deodorants just don’t deliver, often they can make us smell worse!
I’ve trialed many natural deodorants over the past, 15 years and at Biddy + May we currently stock only two brands because they deliver great results. They are made with outstanding odor busting ingredients that are still gentle enough for sensitive and young skin. We changing to a clean deodorant for the first time, you’ll need to be patient. Read our guide here on what to expect.
I am just so passionate about clean beauty and health and love all the brands in the Biddy + May store. The products we stock have been made by incredible people making great advances in skin care who genuinely care about our health and looking after our planet. Discover organic skincare from New Zealand, cruelty free and vegan make up, zero-waste eye-shadow, natural hair care products, 10 free nail polish and so much more.
What this means for you as a consumer, is that you can shop with confidence knowing that we have done the hard work of reading and deciphering all the ingredients labels so that you don’t have to.
We don’t claim to be perfect and we are still learning too as more advances in this industry are made.
So to recap…
- Clean Beauty is a term encompassing products that contain safe ingredients, that do no harm to your health or the environment. The ingredients are ethically sourced and sustainable packaging solutions are at the forefront wherever possible.
- We suggest you keep a look out for any “greenwashing” labels, and start reading the ingredients list at the back of the bottle. You can also check out a reputable sources such as EWG.org, safecosmetics.org or the Think Dirty App and buy from a retailer that you trust has done the work for you, such as Biddy + May.
- Clean beauty doesn't have to be a major switch up in your life it literally just slots straight in. It's not about having to change your routine to incorporate a clean approach to skincare & beauty it's simply a matter of folding the clean brands into what you're currently doing.