Green and Healthy Beauty Choices

At first blush, shopping for shampoo, conditioner, face cleanser or face lotion may not seem to have environmental or health benefits, but it can have both.

The reason we should care about our soaps and shampoos is not obvious, but consider this.

Covering our skin are pores, the very tiny holes that allow it to expel excess oils and regulate temperature with sweat and expansion to release heat. These pores also allow the soaps and creams we apply to our skin to penetrate the deeper layer, or dermis—from where they can enter the bloodstream.

Using simple soaps and creams made with natural and organic ingredients or, better yet, those certified to an organic standard by a third party, can partially eliminate exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

One such chemical is cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), a chemically modified form of coconut oil, used as a thickener or foaming agent in various products, and a known carcinogen. Many brands of shampoo carry this ingredient.

A trend in Japan is to use organic elements in locally made products, because they are environmentally friendly and seem to be natural. However, it is important to make sure that the accompanying ingredients are harmless. While this can be difficult, there are websites and apps that can help.

Two free iPhone apps that I find useful are Cosmetic Analyser Free and BioDictionary, an index to all the cosmetics chemicals listed in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) list.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) is widely regarded—by government bodies, European and international stakeholders, and the media—as the credible voice of a responsible UK industry.

Members include brand owners, manufacturers, distributors, ingredient suppliers, contract laboratories, retailers and all sizes of firms supplying the UK market. http://www.ctpa.org.uk/content.aspx?pageid=306

The European Commission also has a useful website: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/cosing/index_en.htm

The difficulty in establishing the origin of ingredients in certain products has resulted in a trend to produce certified organic and natural cosmetics.

Certification organisations in the UK turn to the standards of the Soil Association or Ecocert, for natural and organic cosmetics, as well as the COSMOS-standard, which is a combination of the former two standards. http://www.cosmos-standard.org/

Purchasing products that are certified to these standards will guarantee a level of compliance not available to uncertified or unverified products.

The standards include requirements for manufacturers in regard to water use and animal testing, both of which factors are controversial environmental topics. Manufacturers must employ low-energy methods and process water in a way that doesn’t adversely affect the environment.

Moreover, animal testing is prohibited, as are animal ingredients that result in the death of an animal. Thus, many traditional products can’t be used. Silk powder, for example, is forbidden, as the worm must be killed to obtain the highest quality silk. Packaging is also analysed and must be both recyclable and minimal.

If you have children or are chemically sensitive, certified organic products may provide you with a solution to worries about ingredients, as the processes and ingredients are the safest available.

In the end, we can’t escape using chemicals in cosmetics, toiletries and perfume if we want the convenience of an extended shelf life and product stability. But, we easily can choose safer and more ecologically friendly products.