Don’t be fooled by cosmetic advertising: Myriad creams, lotions, and potions at the drugstore and cosmetics counter make promises they could never deliver on. (Trust us, all the fancy products in the world will never turn the tide of aging.) Eye creams, for instance, rarely vary in formulation from your basic facial moisturizer. Our recommendation is to keep it simple: All you need is a basic cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and broad-spectrum sunscreen to keep your skin in tip-top shape. Everything else is just dressing.
Make Sure “Natural” Is Really Natural
Toxic synthetic chemicals are the biggest issue in the beauty industry today, so it pays to hone a keen eye when it comes to examining product labels. For example, it’s counterintuitive, but unfortunately, the words “natural” and “all-natural” are not regulated labeling terms. Another great resource is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database site, which rates popular cosmetics and personal-care products with hazard scores on a scale of 0 to 10, depending on their toxicity.
For a true natural facial treatment that really works, try ReNude Turmeric Antioxidant Mask.
Say No to Fragrance
A loophole in federal law doesn’t require companies to declare any of the dozens of toxic chemicals that a single product’s fragrance mixture could contain. Artificial fragrances, which frequently contain phthalates, can also trigger allergic reactions and other health problems. Be mindful of the hidden dangers that “fragrance” or “parfum” listed on ingredients labels can pose, and always choose fragrance-free products.
Choose Nontoxic, Recyclable Packaging
You can never go wrong with glass because it’s recyclable and has no danger of leaching toxins into the product contained within. As far as plastics go, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), also known by the recycling code #1, and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), #2, are most frequently accepted by municipal curbside recycling programs and are considered safe; polycarbonate (#7), may leach the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A, or BPA. Polypropylene (#5), another food-safe plastic, is also a good alternative, though less easily recycled. Avoid containers that bear recycling code #3 and the letter “V”, which refers to polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Dubbed “the poison plastic,” PVC poses great environmental and health hazards from manufacture to disposal. In addition to releasing hydrochloric acid, cancer-causing dioxins, and other persistent pollutants into the air, water, and land during its production, PVC also contains additives and chemical stabilizers–such as lead, cadmium, and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (a suspected carcinogen that is known to cause a host of reproductive and developmental defects)–that can leach, flake, or off-gas from the plastic throughout its life.
Ask How Company Values Stack Up
A skincare company is more than the sum of its products. What about its philosophy and values? Visiting a website is always enlightening. Does the company test on animals, for example? Has it signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove harmful chemicals from ingredients lists and replace them with safer alternatives? How committed is it to reducing its impact on the environment?
Choose Organic Beauty and Grooming Products
Organic ingredients are those grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, which is healthier for the planet and healthier for our bodies. Better yet are botanicals grown using biodynamic farming methods, which go beyond organic by emphasizing an even more holistic relationship between the soil, plants, and animals. The USDA National Organic Program has been certifying personal-care products since 2003, and an increasing number of organic skincare products now bear the USDA organic seal. To tell if a product is biodynamic-certified, look for Demeter U.S.A.’s stamp of approval on the label.
Sidestep the Petrochemicals
Used to make emollients for face cream or found in the form of coal tar for scalp-treatment shampoos, petroleum byproducts can be contaminated by cancer-containing impurities. A nonrenewable and environmentally unfriendly resource, petroleum barely belongs in your car, let alone on your skin. Identify it on labels as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin.
Stay Beautiful Inside and Out by Being Healthy
You don’t have to resort to a flurry of potions and lotions, chemical peels, or surgical face-lifts to get fresh, glowing skin. Diet and exercise should play vital roles in your skincare regimen, as well. Besides working up a good sweat to keep nutrient-carrying blood circulating throughout your body, be sure to feed yourself plenty of protein, healthy fats (such as omega-3 fish oils or flaxseed oils), complex carbohydrates, and fruit. Drinking six to eight glasses of water is also a boon for flushing out toxins that might otherwise show up on your skin.
Don’t fall for exotic trends
Every now and then, a bizarre new trend promises to be the magic bullet for all your skin care woes but ends up being downright cruel, whether to you or the planet. The use of human and cow placenta extracts is at the top of our list for being kooky and just plain crazy, especially since they contain a raft of hormones that could potentially result in breast growth in toddlers, breast cancer, and other severe health issues. Another weird practice du jour is the fish pedicure, which involves having dozens of tiny nibbling carp exfoliate your feet in 94-degree Fahrenheit chemical-packed water, a procedure we’re sure is not PETA-approved.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also find our Glossary of Unsafe Cosmetic Additives useful.