Walk into a drugstore these days and you’d think every shampoo and body wash on shelves was plucked directly from the lushest patch of nature the world’s ever seen. Sure they’ve got a little ylang ylang or aloe extract somewhere in there, but otherwise, their ingredients read like an advanced chemistry student’s shopping list.
Truth is, the beauty industry is a bit of a Wild West with no sheriff in sight. Anyone can call a product natural even if a tube of lipstick is 100% synthetic. That means lotions and potions packaged with pretty green leaves on the front and the word “nature” or “herbal” in their name can and, unfortunately, often do contribute to your daily chemical bath. The average woman slathers over 125 chemicals onto her scalp, body, face and lips each day (next time you’re getting ready in the morning scan ingredient lists and do your own count!).
That wouldn’t be such a big deal if they were all cleared by health officials, but only 11% of the 10,500 chemical ingredients that go into personal care products are actually tested for safety.
Here are some quick tips for picking out the greenest goods for your body:
* Put on your reading glasses: Start flipping products over and reading those tiny ingredient lists. Making sense of what’s on there shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to decode Sanskrit! Reach for beauty products with pronounceable ingredients (you can generally spot chemical names pretty easily though some natural ingredients might be written in Latin).
* Crack the certified organic code: Not all organic products are created equal. You’ll find the USDA organic seal on goods that are at least 95% certified organic (the purest of the pure). If a product is 70-94% organic it will say “made with organic ingredients.” And the rest? Well, keep in mind that plenty of beauty blends advertise two or three certified organic ingredients while the rest of their contents are totally synthetic.
* Look for the Natural Seal of approval: The Natural Products Association recently kicked off a new certification system for beauty products that are at least 95% natural. The seal doesn’t signal the ingredients are in any way organic (i.e. farmed without pesticides), but it does tell you that a lip balm, eye shadow or foot cream is largely plant- or mineral-based.
* Know your Score: Punch any product name into Environmental Working Group’s ranking of tens of thousands of personal care products and you’ll see just how it ranks on the group’s safety scale. These guys cover everything from mascara to your man’s after shave and cross check the ingredients against toxicity databases. At the click of a mouse, you’ll get a good sense of which beauty concoctions are truly clean and green so you can start lathering up peacefully.
Bottom line, don’t sink your dollar into just any products labeled “natural” or “organic” (even many health store brands aren’t as pure as you’d think!). Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services takes the guesswork out of shopping by filling you in on all the purest and best performing eco beauty products on the market — brand by brand.
Adria Vasil is the author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products, and Services. She is a best-selling author and journalist for Canada’s NOW, where she has been writing the “Ecoholic” column for five years. She lives in Toronto. For more information please visit www.ecoholicnation.com.
Contributed by Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic