Access expert advice by downloading the app "Think Dirty" or head to the Environmental Working Group's online database called the "Skindeep Cosmetics Database." These are great for beginning to learn about what is inside your daily products (Fair warning, both of these resources are a little more lax on what ingredients they deem safe in comparison to myself and other clean beauty advocates, mostly for a lack of abundance in data that they technically need to rule something harmful, even if it clearly is!).
Head to some websites of clean product brands have their own blogs where they talk about clean beauty, ingredients, and what to use/what to avoid. A few of these brands include Cocokind, 100 Percent Pure, and Herbivore Botanicals.
Take a little time to google a few clean beauty blogs/websites (like this one!) that you can access for help discerning healthy products from icky ones, all from average people with real-life experiences.
If you're looking for a retailer that will carry only/mostly clean products, several great ones are Credo Beauty, Detox Market, Follain, and Safe & Chic. The only downfall of these is that a fair amount of their recommended products can be fairly expensive. Don't worry, though, that's why I've provided more budget-friendly options on the next several pages.
Set aside some time to watch a documentary on clean beauty/toxic products If the subject of natural products interests you. There is a documentary called Toxic Beauty that came out in late 2019 that talks about how harmful products can be. It also details the company Johnson & Johnson's lawsuit that is an important topic in ridding the industry of toxins. The film is headed by Rose-Marie Swift, the founder of RMS Beauty, a popular clean makeup brand that I point to in my product recommendation tabs.
Read Up On Each Brand's Morals and Commitment to Clean Ingredients
It's too easy nowadays for companies to promise products that are made with ethics in mind when they themselves do not hold their products to the necessary moral standards. There are cases where not-so-clean companies make a few clean products, but for the majority of the time you'll know if a company is truly invested in the quality of its products by its mission statement and constant push to keep and continue making products that are clean. Even beyond ingredients themselves, you can suss out a company's validity by seeing if they uphold other notable standards, like making vegan, cruelty-free products or putting a strong focus on developing their products to be as sustainable as they can be.
Beware of Greenwashing!
Greenwashing is a word used to describe companies that take advantage of the growing desire of customers to purchase products labeled as "natural" and "organic" by using those buzzwords on their own products when they are not actually clean. Drugstore brands have recently started to do this as more consumers are opting for healthier products. Greenwashing can be super tricky when you're bombarded with products claiming they're good for you, but there are some ways to see through this shady technique.
Does the product/company find any and every way to scream that they are paraben free or phthalate free? If yes, this may be greenwashing. Parabens and phthalates are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cleaning up products, so having products that are free of them should not be something to boast about. The more ingredients the company lists that their products are free of, the better chance they are not greenwashing. Truly clean brands do not feel the need to shove their cleanliness in your face either, as they know their ingredient labels speak for themself.
Is the company considered a drugstore brand? Most of the time, but not all, this is a sure-fire way to tell that they are not actually a clean brand. There are some exceptions to this, like Burt's Bees.
Is the product a very cheap price for its category? (Ex: $4 for shampoo) As unfortunate as it is, natural products will almost always cost more than their chemical-ridden counterparts. Sometimes they are excessively priced at a high point but for the most part, it is simply because natural and truly clean ingredients cost more to source and produce than cheap ingredients like petroleum-dervied ingredients and parabens. Sadly, if a product is priced super low and markets itself as clean, it is probably too good to be true.
Can you Pronounce Those Ingredients?
Now, this is not an all-encompassing rule, but it is a general guideline that the more ingredients that are long and impossible to pronounce, the dirtier the product is. I know very well that some natural ingredients have weird-sounding names, but it's easy to spot those lengthy chemical names in an ingredient label. In addition to the length of the ingredient name, the length of the ingredient list can also hold some importance. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but if your ingredient label contains those lengthy chemical-sounding ingredients AND there are several paragraphs worth of those chemicals, then that's usually a dead giveaway that it's not a clean product. It's still important to remember that clean companies can have long ingredient lists (like the ultra natural brand 100 Percent Pure) and be clean or they can have some long chemical names and be perfectly safe. It's when there is a clear excess of both along with other revealing factors such as a brand's reputation as a drugstore brand or their claims (greenwashing!!) that it is a red flag.
Ever notice how on ingredient labels some ingredients are always at the top whereas others are always toward the bottom of the list? This is because the ingredients on a label go in descending order of their percentage makeup of the product. For example, body scrubs will always have the main exfoliating component (sugar, salt, coffee grounds, etc) as their first or second ingredient because that is the active ingredient doing the work. Preservatives will (or should) go towards the end of the label because they make up a small percentage of the product. The issue with toxic products is that some of the most toxic ingredients are listed towards the top or middle of the ingredient label, meaning that they make up a large chunk of the product. In more natural-based products, you're likely to see any "conspicuous" ingredients at the end of the list because natural brands want to make sure there are as little questionable ingredients in their products as possible. Therefore, if you take a look at the no-no ingredients on the "Learn the Ingredients" tab and see where they line up on a chemical-based product, you'll probably see that they reside pretty high up on the label. This can go hand-in-hand with greenwashing, because more consumers are expressing a desire for natural ingredients in their products, so mainstream brands are trying to rebrand their products to contain some popular natural ingredients to grab those consumers' attention. A good way to discern whether a product is truly full of natural ingredients is to see where those active ingredients lie on the label. For example, if a drugstore brand is marketing that they have a natural moisturizer because it contains green tea, turn the product around and find where its name is on the label. Chances are, it's not even making the top ten or fifteen ingredients. That's a key way to know that 1. you're being greenwashed and 2. this brand is far from natural.
The Best Weapon of All - Know Your Ingredients and Read the Labels
Easier said than done, learning about all the ingredients found in your products is obviously the single best way to pick responsibly-made products. While I have brands that are my go-to's, I can almost never say that every single product from a brand meets my standards. I may like some products from a brand that also has products that contain phenoxyethanol, so it's still crucial to read every label. This is not an overnight process, so don't think that after one day you'll know everything there is you need to know- I'm still learning everyday!- but with some time, research, and open-mindedness to learning, you'll be surprised how simple it is to know your ingredients. A good way to start learning about ingredients is simply looking at your current products (a shampoo bottle, face wash, etc) and google each ingredient or look them up on the Skindeep Cosmetics Database. If you're using a mainstream brand, the search results will most likely be a horrific sight, but that's how you get started, and that's how you learn. I know learning every ingredient is not an easy feat in itself, but that's why I created a website with product recommendations and a list of no-no ingredients in order to simplify your process in selecting clean products. Ready to learn the bad ingredients? Head over to my "Learn the Ingredients" page!
Ready to Snag Some Clean Products? Take it Slow!
Eyeing a few natural products that you're ready to try? Awesome, but don't go crazy at first. If you've been using conventional products - and a lot of them - all of your life, you might go through a detox period. This detox period is commonly seen when transitioning to a non-aluminum deodorant, for example. This is completely normal, as it's your body's way of ridding itself of all those toxins and preparing to ingest all of the natural goodness in your new clean products. It's like being an addict; once you go into withdrawal from those harmful ingredients, your body will be a little confused and go into overtime on detoxing your body and figuring out what's going on. This detox period is different for everyone. Some people experience a heavy detox while others barely notice they've changed anything in their routine. I advise that everyone err on the side of caution with this specific task and introduce natural products into your routine one at a time for 1-2 weeks depending on if you notice any effects. While natural ingredients are amazing, people can still be allergic to those ingredients, so always do a patch test with products that you'll be using on your skin by applying some of the product to the inner part of your elbow and pay attention to see if the skin gets irritated or becomes red. Introducing products one at a time into your routine is good practice with any personal care product, as you want to be able to single out that item to see if it made a difference, whether that difference is good or bad.