Updated: Nov 15, 2019
(See the interview HERE)
Have you ever stopped and tried to decipher the ingredients list on your favourite beauty product? '...Sodium cocoyl isenthionate, decyl glucoside, sodium-coco-sulphate...' Ummmm... seriously! Does anyone know what these things mean??? Even the natural ingredients and botanical names are intimidating – with letters that don’t work together sitting side by side.
My advice? Don’t bother. If a company is proud of what they put IN their product, and what they put their product IN, they will be shouting it from the rooftops! Check out their packaging and website, and if you're unsure, contact them, ask them, pressure them! Your consumer voice is much more powerful that you realise. Ask why they use palm oil. Tell them that you wish they would use non-plastic-packaging. Explain that paraben free is important to you.
Now if you already know what is important to you, then that’s straight forward. But if, like most, you have heard all the terms like ‘parabens’, ‘petrochemicals’ and ‘palm oil’ but are not quite sure what they are actually all about, then that is going to be tricky. Which is where I’d like to help. I’ve spent the last while researching eco-friendly beauty and I want to share what I’ve found. Rather than give you a long list of (long worded) things to avoid, I’m going to suggest some things to LOOK FOR in your beauty products.
I've cut it down to what I consider to be the four most important factors to look for in eco-friendly products. There are a lot more (I've listed a few more to consider at the end), but this eco-friendly beauty business is very complicated and overwhelming (I know I was super-overwhelmed anyway) so I'm trying to make this a simplified (underwhelming??) version.
I’m focusing on environmentally-friendly, so I’m not talking about what you may or may not want to put on your skin – that’s a pretty personal issue and a whole other kettle of (microbead-infested?)fish. In saying that however, there is a fair bit of overlap in the low-tox and eco-friendly beauty departments.
So here we go… four things to look for when perusing the beauty aisles/markets/bulkstores/www-world.
1. Number one is pretty straight forward. What’s it packaged in? Look for companies who are making an effort to move away from plastic, or perhaps are using recycled plastic. Look for ‘home-compostable’, ‘refillable’, paper, glass, tins. Just not a plastic bottle, in a plastic casing, in a box, wrapped in plastic! One easy way to achieve this is by looking for solid beauty bars - these are basically shampoos, conditioners, face wash, moisteriser etc, without all the water, so they come in a bar form. They are generally packaged in fully home compostable packaging. The biggest company in NZ, who are now selling all over the world, is Ethique. Look out for smaller local businesses too, like Miabelle (I use and love their shampoo and conditioner), Dirty Hippie and Totally Balmy. Check out your local markets for awesome handmade beauty products too. Someone making products at home is not going to be using products like artificial fragrance or preservatives and are likely to have sourced ethical ingredients. Then your money is going straight to another person, or small business, as opposed to a big business that has more carbon emissions and is sourcing cheap ingredients. You may even be able to refill these products.
2. The next thing to look for is Palm Oil Free. No need to check the ingredient list. If they’re palm oil free they will let you know! The next best to this is sustainably sourced palm oil – certified by the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil – but there are still lots of loopholes and a long way to go to create an airtight, sustainable system – so definitely best to avoid it where possible.
3. Number three overwhelmed me to begin with, but I think I’ve cracked it! Look for Fragrance Free / Natural fragrance. This is another biggie. Historically, companies have never had to disclose what ingredients their ‘fragrance’ is made up of. Back in the day, this was to protect their secret recipes and blends of essential oils. Now however, it is a minefield where companies can hide a mucky mess of petrochemicals including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and phthalates. All of these are highly toxic, the latter is a known endocrine disruptor (interferes with hormone systems) and the others are potential carcinogens (capable of causing cancer in living tissues). In fact over 95% of chemicals found in ‘fragrance’ derive from petrochemicals. They pollute our waterways when they head down our drains, as the wastewater filtration doesn’t often remove synthetic fragrance compounds. That means thousands upon thousands of fragrance compounds are free-flowing into our rivers, lakes and into the sea!
Basically, the words ‘fragrance’, ‘parfum’ or ‘perfume’ are a free-for-all, and you have no idea what the actual ingredients are. Look for ‘fragrance-free’ or ‘natural fragrance’ and avoid the ambiguity that is synthetic fragrance. Look for products without any fragrance, or with natural fragrances - generally essential oils.
Cruelty-free – Looking after the planet means looking after the creatures than inhabit it too. Animal Testing is banned in NZ, but we still sell products that have been tested on animals. Lots of countries are moving away from animal testing – it is also banned in the EU and India. On the other hand, products being sold in China MUST be tested on animals. This means that if big companies want to get their share of the Chinese market they have to test their products on animals. L’oreal is an example of one of these. While they are encouraging the Chinese government to change this legislation, and are researching other means of testing products, they are not willing to give up their Chinese market.
Some other great things to look our for:
-NZ Made – By buying local, you are not only supporting fellow kiwis, but you are minimizing the carbon footprint of the products you buy.
-Microbead-free - Microbeads have been banned from selling in NZ so this would only be something to look out for when shopping online.
-Paraben-free - parabens are a type of preservative that are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. The negative effects of parabens on humans, and also on our environment (particularly our waterways) are the subject of ongoing research.
-Reef-friendly - this one particularly applies to sunscreen, and relates to some chemicals which have been proven to cause reef-bleaching. The Hawaiian Reef Bill focuses on two chemicals – oxybenzone and octinoxate – that are found in many sunscreens and are believed to be one of the causes of reef damage (rising water temperatures are the biggest cause). Sunscreen that state that they comply with the Hawaiian Reef Bill are not using these two ingredients.
-Authentic certifications - Be aware that labels such as ‘100% natural’, ‘no nasty chemicals’ or even ‘organic’ are self-proclaimed, and have not had to meet any set criteria to write this on their packaging. Look for B-corp – the ultimate certification for eco and social . Certified organic. Certified cruelty free. On the flip side though, be aware that for smaller brands, obtaining these certifications can be expensive, and therefore it is often not attainable.
Basically, you need to look for brands that take their commitment to the planet seriously, rather than using it as a marketing tool. These brands truly do exist, and they're amazing. Scroll down for a list of a few that I know.
OR... how about this for an idea... Make your own! – Check out Pumpkins in Trees for recipes for cleanser, moisturiser, exfoliator, face mask and toner. Go Native sell a huge range of eco-friendly ingredients like Jojoba Oil and vitamin e oil.
Here are some more brands that I know of that meet all, or at least nearly all, of these criteria. I know this is just a glimpse of what is out there - please comment (on this blog / instagram / facebook) with others you know, and I will keep the list updated...
Hair and Makeup:
Miabelle - 10% off with the code ECOCHALLENGE
Vixen and Lush Bellarose shampoo and conditioner
Sustainable Salons - a group of salons that helps feed the hungry, protect the planet and grow local communities.
A great website to check out a huge range of natural and eco-friendly products is Oh Natural - you can get 15% off storewide by using the code GREATECO.
With huge thanks to the five super-women who helped me in this crash-course on eco-friendly beauty: Brianne West from Ethique, Libby Whaley from Epsilon, Kate from Oh Natural, Michelle from Pumpkins in Trees, Rhi from Commonsense Organics.
Image from etsy / andthebee