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6 things you didn’t know about your beauty products (but should)


Photo: Stocksy/Briana Morrison
Photo: Stocksy/Briana Morrison
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From the expansion of super-curated natural beauty stores meant to rival Sephora to a slew of clean brands lining the shelves at Target, interest in what’s actually inside beauty products is at an all-time high. For many shoppers, inspecting an ingredient list is no longer just relegated to the supermarket.

It’s a topic Well+Good co-founder and natural beauty expert Melisse Gelula passionately discussed at last week’s “The Future of Natural Beauty: What’s Hot Now, What’s Next” summit with Adina Grigore of S.W. Basics and Christy Coleman of BeautyCounter.

At the summit—which you can re-watch on Well+Good’s Facebook page—the experts talked about the current state of product regulation in personal care products, how to truly seek out what’s non-toxic, and their favorite trends in natural beauty (mists are a big one—you heard it here first).

As you would expect from three trailblazing beauty gurus, a lot of surprising facts were revealed—which all women should be aware of as clean beauty increasingly steps into the spotlight.

Read on for the 6 things you might not have known about skin care and cosmetics.

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1. There’s not much regulation in the realm of personal care products.

In Europe, roughly 1,300 toxic ingredients are banned from beauty products. In the U.S.? Only 11. And there’s little research being done by the government to expand that list, as only “ten percent of ingredients not banned in the U.S. have been tested for safety,” says Coleman.

The FDA is pretty open about the lack of oversight; on the agency’s website, they explain that the “FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetic products and ingredients (other than color additives) before they go on the market.” It’s easy to wonder why food ingredients would be so regulated, but what we put on our bodies gets a pass (even if other countries have ruled it to be unsafe).

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2. If a brand is marketed as natural, that might not mean it actually is.

It’s not just ingredients that are mostly unregulated; terms like “natural” or “herbal” aren’t either.

That’s important to remember when looking at marketing and packaging claims. Like with food, ingredients on a label are listed from highest to lowest concentration. So if a natural ingredient that’s being touted in a product’s name or packaging is near the end of the ingredient list, you can bet that there’s not actually a lot of it in the bottle or tube. (After all, natural ingredients cost more—so for big brands trying to make big margins, the bulk of the ingredients they use are actually cheaper derivatives and preservatives.) Here are some easy tips on label-reading.

“It’s ironic that traditional beauty brands want you to know they use [a drop of] natural ingredients in their products and will tell you all about argan or coconut oil, yet they’re also saying natural products don’t work,” says Gelula.

The same lack of oversight goes for products labeled as organic. “It takes a long time to get caught lying about being organic,” notes Grigore.

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3. It’s a good sign if you’re seeing Latin on a label.

“If an ingredient is natural, it’s typically written in Latin on the ingredient list,” says Grigore. Those super-long ingredient names that you can’t pronounce, on the other hand? They’re chemicals, and they could be on the Dirty Dozen list and linked to health issues.

So if you’re trying to find a, say, cleaner body moisturizer, look for plenty of Latin terms with the English word (often a plant or food you’ll recognize) in parenthesis—for example: Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) seed oil.

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4. A lot of the ingredients in drugstore and prestige beauty brands don’t actually do anything for your skin.

Have you ever wondered why the ingredient lists of drugstore and department store beauty products are so long? Could all of those ingredients actually be helping your skin? The answer is no. Many are just in there to keep the product shelf stable or give it a certain feel. “Emulsifiers help blend water and oils, dimethecone gives a moisturizer or hair care product a nice texture or slip, and preservatives keep the ingredients on the shelf longer, but none of these do anything for your skin,” says Gelula.

Of course, sometimes those are important parts of an ingredient list—especially when the product contains water, which naturally develops bacteria over time—but many synthetic options (like certain alcohols) can dry out your skin and strip it of its natural oils. Some can also have negative effects on your health (think: parabens). Doesn’t rosehip oil sounds more nourishing than methylhexyl-whatever, anyway?

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5. You have to be patient when switching to natural beauty.

Like transitioning to a healthy diet, results don’t come immediately. “You can’t eat salad one day and feel good tomorrow after eating burgers for 20 years,” says Grigore. “Kale doesn’t work overnight.”

It takes the epidermis (the top layer of your skin) about a month to completely renew itself, so that’s typically how long it will take to see true results.

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6. Natural ingredients are just as effective as chemical ones.

If you’re acne-prone, chances are you’ve tried products with benzoyl peroxide and other chemicals that make your skin peel. “Tea tree oil is just as effective,” insists Grigore.

She also mentions retinol, a potent (and potentially harsh-on-the-skin) way of getting vitamin A. Opt for plant-based versions of the nutrient, such as beta-carotene.

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7. The more we all buy clean beauty products, the more accessible they’ll become.

It may seem as though the most natural skin-care and beauty products cost an exorbitant amount when compared to your drugstore options. The truth is, there are plenty of affordable options out there to replace your Cetaphil and Pantene—you can even make your clean beauty swaps at Target. Even so, using natural ingredients just costs more than those cheap chemicals that fill so many bottles.

It’s something Grigore and Coleman are very familiar with. There’s hope though, and the fact that this clean beauty movement is happening is a good sign for the market. “The ingredients have to become more popular for their prices to go down,” says Grigore. When you start demanding clean products and stop buying the toxic options, it’ll be easier (and more affordable) for everyone to do what’s best for their body.

Who’s in on the clean beauty revolution? Gwyneth Paltrow’s one mega proponent. But even if you go natural—is it really possible to shrink your pores?