Clean Beauty: As Safe As The Wild West

Your skin is your largest organ and it is dynamic, responsive, and multifunctional.
It makes up 16% of your body mass; 24 pounds of skin, if you weigh 150 pounds.

Your skin regulates and maintains your metabolism.  When exposed to sunlight, your skin makes vitamin D.  It stores water and nutrients and, through sweat, facilitates the excretion of waste materials and regulates your body temperature.

Your skin is filled with blood vessels, small fiber nerves, and receptors for temperature, pressure, touch, and pain that enable you to sense and respond to your environment. 

Your skin protects you from microbes, abrupt changes in temperature, UV light and sunburn, and prevents dehydration.  (As heat waves become more frequent, having fully functional skin becomes more important than ever.)

Your skin gives you color and shape and creates your unique identity.  When you apply cosmetics (lotions, creams, sunscreens, deodorants, perfumes/colognes, makeup) to your skin, you are putting them on your largest organ.  And what you put ON your body frequently ends up IN your body.

In the US, the cosmetics industry is loosely regulated.  Anyone can put anything in a jar and legally sell it as skincare, and they often do.  Moreover, cosmetics manufacturers aren’t always qualified and do not always ensure the safety of their products before they get onto your skin and into your body.  (Read "Skin Care Is Health Care".)

Clean beauty is a response to the lax regulation of the beauty industry.  Consumers and companies want more, different, and better safety standards and sustainability.  Unfortunately, clean beauty is mostly unregulated.  Here’s how Goop defines clean beauty, “clean beauty means never compromising health for results.  We are committed to making safe, clean products that deliver real results, free of ingredients linked to harmful health effects like hormone disruption, cancer, and skin irritation. Beyond that, we care for the overall environment, prioritizing ingredients that are ethically sourced, of nonanimal origin, and cruelty-free; we use sustainable or renewable biobased sources wherever possible.

Natural, organic, safe, clean, non-toxic, wildcrafted, foraged, and plant-based are unregulated buzzwords often used by clean beauty to create an illusion of safety and sustainability.

Goop defines clean beauty products as “those made without ingredients shown or suspected to harm human health”.  Most clean beauty brands commonly substitute botanical ingredients in their formulations to drive their marketing claims of safety and sustainability.  But, as ChemFORWARD, a non-profit dedicated to safer chemistry in beauty products points out, these natural chemicals and botanical substitutions are frequently “regrettable substitutions” that may actually harm your health.  In fact, “The principal challenge posed by botanicals is that, in contrast to synthetic conventional chemicals, botanicals often contain dozens of compounds, which can vary with the source and are influenced by seasons, geography and extraction processes…Botanicals are often assumed to be safer than traditional chemicals, but that is not always the case.  Botanical materials can be potent skin sensitizers, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors.” (Bold text is for emphasis.)

So, while you may use natural, organic, wildcrafted, foraged, plant-based skincare products, they may not be as safe and sustainable as you are led to believe.  And the lack of consensus and official regulatory definitions for these buzzwords means that, to consumers, these buzzwords functionally mean nothing, despite their constant employ by charlatans.  Besides, petroleum, opiates, arsenic, strychnine, hemlock, poison ivy…botox, too, by the way…a whole lot of vile stuff…jellyfish phytotoxins, snail venom and mucus (Really.), blood, urine, excrement, various bodily fluids and forms of semen…(Sorry.), they all are natural and organic (but not always non-toxic), and, at some time or other, all of these natural and organic substances have been foisted upon a vain and gullible public as somehow beneficial, then beta-tested on duped patsies in the marketplace.

Then there’s the sleight of hand marketing trick.  Distract you with a list of harmful chemicals they DON’T have in their products, so you don’t focus on the harmful substances they DO have in their products.

Beautycounter, a clean beauty brand is, “committed to a health and safety standard that goes well beyond what is legally required in the United States.  The Never List™ is made up of more than 2,800 questionable or harmful chemicals that we never use as ingredients in our products.  Impressed, I looked for the list of 2,800 chemicals.  I couldn’t find it.  The Never List™ on the Beautycounter website only lists 17 chemicals.

Also, there’s no guarantee you won’t be exposed to trace levels of these 2,800 harmful chemicals, because, “At Beautycounter, we work incredibly hard to minimize—but unfortunately, can’t eliminate—the potential that a product may contain trace levels of a chemical from The Never List™. ”  (Bold text is for emphasis.)  So, Beautycounter never uses these harmful chemicals, but they can’t guarantee that trace levels won’t be found in their products.

Meanwhile, Beautycounter’s “Ingredients Glossary” lists peptides as “skin conditioning” or “hair conditioning” agents, omitting any mention of the lack of safety data surrounding peptides. (Read "Anti-aging, Peptides, and Health".)  The same is true for other ingredients they list.  The safety data, or lack thereof, is questionable, at best, yet these ingredients are still being used.

And this is not just a problem with Beautycounter.  The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, “Your guide to safer personal care products.  Backed by science.” rates skincare ingredients that have NO available hazard or safety data as a low hazard to your health.  Since when does a lack of data warrant any conclusion or rating other than “we don’t know”, especially when it comes to your health and safety?

Doesn’t it seem more than a little strange to knowingly, hopefully introduce any weird effluent to your largest organ, and stranger still, bizarre, even, to pay for the privilege of being a guinea pig, a bleary-eyed bunny, and blindly choosing to be some corporation’s toady and test subject, absent any scientific research or clinical trials on the shaky basis of some meaningless colloquial contrivance or fad, a passing fancy?

 A version of this blog post is published in my local newspaper, the Davis Enterprise.  There is no paywall to view my articles in the Davis Enterprise.  Simply click the X in the red circle to read my article 

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