We all want to make safe, healthy, responsible choices in everything we purchase right? At the supermarket, you can choose a conventional apple, a locally grown apple, an organic apple, or if you’re lucky, a locally grown organic apple. But buying beauty products can be infinitely more complicated if you don’t happen to be a cosmetic chemist with encyclopedic knowledge of ingredients and sources. I’m often asked by women looking to make more conscientious purchases, for a list of ingredients to avoid or to look for. Oh how I wish it were that simple!
In fact, I look at more than just ingredients when I make a purchase for Spirit Beauty Lounge. I think about where the product and ingredients are from, how it’s made, who makes it and even more complex issues like sustainability versus biodiversity (they’re not the same thing!) All this thinking and researching and interviewing manufacturers led to my developing a product evaluation system I like to call the “6Ps.”
Some of us tend to take for granted the concept of SYNTHETIC= BAD : NATURAL=GOOD. Well, just to quickly demonstrate how backward that can be, consider this; what could be wrong with a sustainably grown, nutrient-rich, organic rainforest plant ingredient from a company who “supports” the community where the plant is grown? Well what if in order to “sustainably” grow that organic plant, all of the other plants are clear-cut for thousands of acres, leaving the area’s former inhabitants – from animal to insect to plant and marine life, without a home? Yes, natural can be “bad” too – and that’s just one example.
While I highly regard, often reference and largely agree with the Dirty Thirty, the EWG Skin Deep Database and other lists, rather than vilify single ingredients based on their known or suspected toxicity, I’d like to encourage everyone to ask some of the questions I ask my vendors, of their own beauty product manufacturers. Try the “6Ps” for just one product and you may quickly understand why I saw the need for a place to shop online, where all of these things had already been considered.
The SBL prerequisites:
- Product packaging is 100% biodegradable, reusable or recyclable – Making landfill is unacceptable.
- Product is not tested on animals.
- Product does not contain animal ingredients. **Some exceptions, e.g. humane organic milk, beeswax.
- Product does not contain any of THESE ingredients.
Assuming all prerequisites are met, I’ll then proceed to evaluate products using my “6Ps”.” In order of importance (this may be different for you):
Performance The worst P.R. for the green beauty movement is products that don’t work! I especially look for products that perform not only as well as, but better than their conventional counterparts. They should be effective and a luxurious experience to use in their texture and aroma.
Purity I can’t tell you how many beautiful, organic formulations I’ve seen ruined by a synthetic preservative, fragrance or emulsifier. Think about “extracts” and ingredients “derived from” natural ingredients. You need to know how they’re extracted. Even the harmless sounding “vegetable emulsifying wax” can be tainted with PEGs. Determining the integrity of the ingredients is the manufacturers job. If they can’t explain the extraction methods to you, they need to do their homework too. *Add points here for USDA certified organic products.
Potency There are some lovely, clean, green products out there for very affordable prices. They may even tout the same natural active ingredients that higher priced products have in them. The question is; how much of the formulation is active and how much is filler? I like to see the active ingredients high on the list, not just in small doses toward the bottom. Also consider this when dosing and using products. It can be hard to get used to using less product when the product is highly concentrated. As with purity, potency too can be compromised by improper processing and handling. Natural ingredients have a limited shelf life and can lose potency when exposed to too much heat, air or chemicals. Ask how active ingredients are processed and filtered to preserve potency. Remember, higher potency is a win-win for you and the environment. Less filler means less waste.
Provenance Bamboo and recycled rubber, plastic and metal products are great but what about when they come from China? The benefit of a product made in China or anywhere other than your home country must outweigh the cost. Where that line is, is up to you. I have decided against purchasing many items made overseas when I was unable to verify labor conditions, or when those items could reasonably be made locally or Fair Trade. That being said, there are some items which the manufacturer had no choice but to make in China, but made sure to visit and audit the factory to ensure responsible practices were in place, which I have deemed acceptable.
Under Provenance is also where I’ll research factors like preservation of biodiversity. “Where is it from?” is an easy question to answer for an apple but for a moisturizer, you may need to investigate a dozen sources. *Add points here for products made and sourced entirely in your home country,** extra bonus points for home state.
Principles The company that manufactures the product should be independently owned, ethical, charitable, responsible and consistent. Although I love how many conventional product manufacturers now have added green products to their offerings, I prefer to support only companies who are dedicated to making safe, green, ethical products across the board.
Packaging Sadly, this one is often the deal-breaker. Of the few products that will make it this far, many will fall short only because of their poor packaging. It is prerequisite that the packaging be ecofriendly but it’s also important that it be pretty! Needless to say I am obsessed with all things beautiful inside and OUT. If a bottle doesn’t look pretty enough to leave out on the vanity or furnish the guest bathroom, ultimately I’m not going to use it. Spirit Beauty Lounge is all about attracting women to greener products and in order to attract, they have to look attractive! *Add points for airless packaging that allows products to be formulated with gentle or no preservatives.
It’s a lot to think about isn’t it? Not just toxins but sustainability, biodiversity, human rights, animal rights and of course, YOU and your enjoyment and enhancement of beauty! Well that’s exactly what I thought every time someone asked me how to decide what to avoid or look for. The Dirty Thirty is a great place to start but please, don’t stop there. It’s a full-time job figuring this all out and if you’re even trying, I commend you. Don’t get discouraged by or be afraid of all of the (often conflicting) information out there. Every time you think of even one of the “6Ps” before making a purchase, you’re being a conscious consumer and that is a step in the right direction.