the best (safest) cosmetics: a list

The other week I posted about getting a toxic audit on my flat (cough, cough…I have to now move out, such is the dire state of my bedroom). And also about the toxic state of our beauty products. Since then I’ve studied further, and this Time magazine interview with the authors of the new book No More Dirty Looks popped into my inbox over the weekend. A few stats that might make you feel sick:

* Putting chemicals on your skin is actually far worse than ingesting them, because when you eat something the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help break it down and flush it out of your body. Cosmetics absorb directly.

* Women who use make-up on a daily basis can absorb almost 5 pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year.


A stack of you wanted to know what to buy, what to look for.So here’s some extra info:

1. The best advice I can give:

Use less products.


Check out Good Guide. And download their iphone app. The site surveys 16,000 products and lists the best in each category. And the worst. The FREE app allows you to scan barcodes and they give you a rating out of 10. If you live in the US, you should definitely use it. I spent an afternoon going through my products and not all of them are recognised.

Me, I’m not tossing the stuff I already have…that’s a waste. I’m using it up and will gradually replace with safer alternatives, researching as I go. Which I’m glad to read is also the No More Dirty Looks chicks’ approach. I’m working through my cosmetics stash, with my main approach being to use products with as FEW INGREDIENTS AS POSSIBLE. I do the same with food. So, Triology Rosehip oil and lavender oil (on my spots) are a good start. I’m also going to start using Natural Instinct products* – Australian made and totally committed to this kind of cause. My sister-in-law swears by it.

* Although update: see reader Vanessa’s comments below. Sigh…

2. Avoid fragrance, just avoid fragrance.

One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds—even thousands—of chemicals, and fragrances are a major cause of allergic reactions. When a product lists “fragrance” or “parfum” as an ingredient, run the other way. Companies are not obliged to tell you what exactly it is that’s making it smelly… it’s Russian roulette. And, yes, this applies to perfumes…they are stenchy endocrine disruptors. Not convinced? Read this.

3. Read the label and avoid these ingredients:


  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. This is a really good starting point. Anything with SLS…high-tail from it – it’s a common ingredient in anti-freeze and engine degreasers. For a full rundown,see Dr Mercola‘s site.
  • Paraben, a chemical found in underarm deodorants and other cosmetics that has been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen and can drive the growth of human breast tumors.
  • Phthalates, plasticizing ingredients (present in nearly three-quarters of 72 products tested by the US Environmental Working Group), which have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys and lower sperm-motility in adult men.
  • Talc, which has been linked to ovarian cancer
  • Musks, used as fragrances, can accumulate in your body, and have been linked to skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer in laboratory studies.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), a chemical used in shampoo to prevent bacteria from developing, which may have detrimental effects on your nervous system.
  • Toluene, made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus.
  • Mineral Oil, Paraffin, and Petrolatum, these products coat your skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins. They also slow cellular development, which can cause you to show earlier signs of aging, and are a suspected cause of cancer and disruption to hormonal activity.

4. Here’s how to avoid toxins in your sunscreen.

* Essentially, avoid spray or powder suntan lotions with nano-scale zinc oxide (it can be inhaled; much of Europe is currently phasing it out). My sister-in-law Chrissie provides this link for finding out if your sun cream is nano-free.

* Avoid oxybenzone (absorbed through skin; causes hormone disruption; links to cell damage, and cancer).

* Make sure it has at least 7 percent zinc oxide to replace oxybenzone (Zinc isn’t absorbed into the skin; it remains on the surface). Check out Invisible Zinc. And Lavera Sun Block SPF 40 Neutral.

5. Here’s how to avoid toxins in your shampoo.

Know this: When you put shampoo or conditioner onto your scalp, the 20 blood vessels, 650 sweat glands, and 1,000 nerve endings soak in the toxins.

6. Here’s a great “what’s in your cosmetics” quiz by treehugger.

7. Here’s the deal on mascara

Someone asked about mascara…The Good Guide rates the safest mascara as (wait for it): Loreal Paris Voluminous (R) Waterproof Mascara Black and Maybelline Fresh Lash Waterproof Mascara, Dark Brown

The most unsafe: Clinique Long Pretty Lashes Mascara, Black.

Interestingly, Loreal’s products rate quite well (probably because they have so many, some are bound to make it into the “good” list). Miessence products seem to rate really well. Here’s a list of the best and worst cosmetics for some afternoon reading.

7. And here’s a list of suggestions from some very generous readers and twitterers and Facebookers:

Vanessa helpfully provided this: An update on mascara: I just got the Jane Iredale Longest Lash mascara and it’s really good, no smudges and a soft, lush look. I know Good Guide says the L’Oreal Voluminous mascara is the ‘best’, but it does have parabens in it (propylparaben) and scores a ‘moderate hazard’ four on the Skin Deep database. The Jane Iredale scores ‘low hazard’. So, you know…

Also: I hate to be a downer, but DO NOT buy Natural Instinct products. The ACCC hammered them last year for not disclosing that they use toxic chemicals in their products, including sodium laureth sulphate (article here). It was on a few beauty and baby forums. At very least, steer clear of the foaming-type products (foaming cleanser, shampoo, soap et al.). I’m still using up their sunscreen, but have so little confidence in the company now that I won’t buy it again. Dodgy brothers!

A writer on Treehugger swears by Argan oil.

AJ: Try BBE boutique for outstanding body products, using only the finest Australian ingredients.

Sharni: Tania Louise products on facebook

A few years ago I decided to develop my own all-natural shaving oil called OSCAR. It’s now in Coles, Priceline and more and more pharmacies and health food stores. When my teenage daughter developed an adverse reaction to using VEET on her legs, I decided to bring out a natural shaving oil for Women, called BRAZILIA. It’s now available from Priceline and we’re donating $0.50 for every bottle sold to the McGrath Foundation.

Jo W: Good organic shampoos and conditioners are really hard to find, my fav is JASON Biotin but it’s increasingly hard to find. Moisturiser/ face care – Dr. Hauschka moisturising day cream is great. Their steaming-with-muslin face care tecnique with their cleansing creme (it’s a bit like peanut butter…) is really great, speak to one of their staff for help before trying. The ‘Yes to Carrots’ range (in Oz) is cheap and cheerful and is a great fill-in for when you can’t get your hands on your favourites.

Emma: 12 months ago I switched to Moo Goo and use their chapstick, face moisturiser, body cream, body wash which I use as my face cleanser and milk soaps. For around the house I use eco store plant based products from NZ. They’re available in Coles & Woolworths now and cost the same as most other brands.

Tania Louise: I am a cancer patient and have proved that certain chemicals are killing us slowly… During my treatment and the subsequent isolation period (with large amounts of thinking time), I started getting cross about the chemicals I had in my toiletry bag (imported also). So TANIA LOUISE was born, my boutique facebook gift store, stocking aussie handmade mineral makeup, skincare, beauty products and cleaning products all aussie made and with top grade ingredients.

Nat: Akin Rosehip Oil.

Charlie: There is a shop called Ovvio in Paddington. Anthia who is a naturopath, and organic lifestyle educator, teaches clients and patients a no nonsense, fad free, honest and informative approach to achieving health and happiness, she has a shop in Paddington where you can buy tea, herbs, household cleaning products, beauty products including shampoo, toothpaste, make up, nail polish.

Kimia: if you’re looking for diversity, some great blogs to check out are:

Nadine: Grown products

Jenny: I’m in the US and I’ve just started buying most of my beauty products on I’ve totally stopped using any hair products that come in plastic bottles, and I only use all natural bar shampoo, conditioner, body soap and face soap. And most people on Etsy list ingredients so you know whats in it!
steph says: I use Dr Hauschka and Living Nature for makeup and Jurlique for skincare. They have a great range especially Hauschka, which is natural and organic but the real deal, they have been around for a while, longer than Juriique. Bare minerals is good also. I get Dr Hauschka at DJ’s or health stores, Lavera is more affordable and at most health stores.

Vanessa: I use Trilogy cream cleanser, followed by Trilogy rosehip oil (my FAVOURITE discovery!), Natural Instinct sunscreen, and occasional exfoliation with a slice of lemon or a bicarb paste. Then I use Trilogy Everything Balm for, well, everything: lips, hands, body, and even on my face if it’s very dry….I’ve heard good things about Jane Iredale mascara, however.Err, can I also add: OPI nail polish is toluene- and formaldehyde-free, and Spa Radiance make a formaldehyde-free nail hardener that works.

Monica: MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield, SPF 15; Kiss My Face body lotion; Organic Wear makeup and Eau de Zum essential oil fragrance — not “fragrance.”

Chrissie: The best high end brand for chemical free, organic cosmetics and toiletries is Jurlique, although it’s pretty expensive. Many Australian pharmacies now stock Natural Instinct which is great, and cheap, and even uses ethically sourced palm oil, so you’re not harming any orang-utans while washing your hair!

Feel free to add more ideas, if you haven’t already…x

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