on natural skincare: parabens and propylenes and sulfates, oh my!

sephora image


One of the reasons I went vegetarian/total whole-food-eater two years ago was because I was tired of worrying about what was in my food. With all of the books I read, documentaries I watched and news stories about the big bad food industry, I found myself confused and uneasy every time I walked into the grocery store. And since I’ve always considered grocery shopping the ultimate form of therapy, I was one whacked-out little lady. Until one day, I realized…what if I cut out all of the noise? What if I just ate things that didn’t have ingredient labels? Cue head exploding. By golly, I think I’ve got it.

Anyways, ever since that epiphany, I have completely changed my approach to food and my health. If the ingredient label scares me (or, if using one of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules,” if it has more than five ingredients) I try to use all my enlightened willpower put it back on the shelf. Well, okay…except for Multi-Grain Cheerios. And iced animal crackers. I HAVE AN ADDICTION, OKAY FOLKS?! BACK OFF.

So there I was, going along my veggie business, skipping through the produce aisle when one day, I came across an article on harmful ingredients in makeup products that could cause cancer, damage to nervous system, hormone mutation… say what?!?

I had an epiphany on top of my existing epiphany: if I don’t eat weird, unknown-to-me ingredients, why in the world am I still putting them on my face, in my hair and on my body?! They absorb into your system just the same – and yes, while I’m not pounding containers of toiletries on the reg, the daily amount used over the course of my lifetime – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, face lotion, concealer, blush, etc - adds up quick!

While I have never been much of a makeup junkie (it was my love for samples that lead me to be a Birchbox subscriber for five, er, eight months), quality skin care products have always been a great love of mine and a very bad friend of my bank account. Ironically, it all started with Mama Ro. While she would drive three miles out of the way to a different grocery store to buy bananas that were 10 cents cheaper, somehow she was a big proponent of investing in quality skin care products, whether it was face wash, lotion or cover-up. Which, at the time, worked out great for me, because guess who was buying my Clinique three-step skin care pack?! :) Damn you adulthood and your fiscal responsbilities!

That article on harmful cosmetic ingredients combined with my pre-existing charge for health, wellness and taking care of your skin has now made me a martyr for more natural, toxin-free beauty products. And because Sephora not only gives samples but also will take back products that you’ve tried but didn’t like without the bat of a fake eyelash…you might call me a product whore wiz. So, thought I would share some of my findings and favorites with y’all fine folks.

(Mind you, I am no expert on this stuff and failed chemistry (alright, and biology) in high school…I simply believe that you should take the time to educate yourself when deciding what we put into and onto our bodies. And after researching the ingredients below, I would much rather live my life without them. More room for Justin Timberlake, ya know?)

For starters, let’s talk ingredient labels. While there are many lists out there (including this one and this one) here are the top “aw hell no” ingredients I watch out for:

Parabens (includes methyl, butyl, ethyl and propyl): these were the first chemicals I learned about and are now the first things I look for. So much that by now, I will only pick up a product if it is labeled “paraben-free” on the front. These sneaky, toxic chemicals are used as preservatives, and are now in everything you can imagine, from shampoo to lotion to deodorant to cosmetics. They absorb quickly into skin and are believed to disrupt hormone function. They have been most prominently linked to breast cancer, as according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens “mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells. They also increase the expression of genes usually regulated by estradiol (a natural form of estrogen); these genes cause human breast cancer cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies.” Makes you want to stop using deodorant, right?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS): SLS is a detergent and foaming agent found in justttt about everything. While there have been many claims that SLS isn’t as harmful as it was made out to be in the 90s, it is still made up of carcinogens and is a factor in skin, eye and lung irritation. When I had some recent troubles with random breakouts on my skin, research (and friends with sensitive skin experience) suggested that SLS could be the reason. Plus it has ties to organ toxicity and reproductive development toxicity, which is why doctors tell pregnant ladies to stay away from it. So if they aren’t supposed to have it, I’m lead to believe that none of us should have it. Same goes for hot dogs.

Propylene Glycol: Used as a conditioning agent, the jury is out on the effects of propylene glycol. While it is only very harmful in high amounts, small doses daily can cause major skin irritation such as dermatitis. And since I’m now convinced that my recent allergic reaction was due to a new hair product that contained PG as one of its top ingredients, I’m trying to steer clear.

Phalates: Frequently used in cosmetics to preserve colors and scents, phalates are also a concern as they are found to disrupt hormone function, organ toxicity and the like. Like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, women who are preggers are told to stay away. Which again, is enough of a red flag for me.

Other notable mentions: synthetic colors or dyes (specifically FD&C Yellow 6), formaldehyde (seems like a given, no?), mineral oil, talc…the list goes on.

While sometimes it is impossible to avoid all of these ingredients, (especially at once) it is always a great idea to research a product on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. They have done the research for you and have given products scores from 1-7 based on their hazards as well as research availability.

Skin deep database

Along my journey to more natural skin care, I have found many products that are, for the most part, free from harmful ingredients and full of amazing, harm-free goodness. While some of these are more “natural” than others, here are a few of my favorites:

Korres: I can give nothing but glowing reviews of its Wild Rose Face and Eye Serum and Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizing & Brightening Cream. (Get it? Glowing?!)

Juice Beauty: touted by Alicia Silverstone, I’m a fan of its Nutrient Moisturizer as well as the Green Apple Peel. I need to admit that I would totally have bought this again if they sold it at Sephora. I know, I know, it is ridiculous but…girl needs her Beauty Insider points, yo!

Caudalie: I bought a gift set once that included its Vinosource Moisturizing Sorbet, Vinoperfect Radience Serum and Grape Water. My skin loved it; my wallet hated it.

Burt’s Bees: we all know my chapstick obsession, but I really liked BB’s Milk and Honey body lotion and am head over heels for its Radiance Body Lotion – especially in the summer! Also known to roll on their Herbal Blemish Stick here and there. Anddddd bring it on a plane and have it crack and spill in my purse.

Trader Joe’s: Three words: Coconut.Body.Butter. Not only does it turn my skin into silk, I’m sometimes tempted to eat it because it smells so damn good.

But my very top pick? Josie Maran

I want to give this gorgeous lady a running-start bear hug/tackle. I love her. I FREAKING LOVE HER. She has taken the a lot of the guessing out of the skin care game with her line of 100 percent pure argan oil and argan oil-infused products. The oil, referred to as “liquid gold” by many, is native to Morocco and has been used for centuries to moisturize skin, combat acne and nourish hair. Josie Maran products use 100 percent pure, fair trade argan oil, harvested by co-ops of Moroccan woman who make a living wage AND are packaged in environmentally friendly containers. So it is good for your body, good for the world and good for the environment. Win-win-win-skin! (And hair.) Honestly, it is the one beauty line that I can feel 100 percent confident in. Therefore you will always find me lurking in the Josie Maran section of Sephora, obsessing over every product she comes out with.

Hey Josie…you hiring?

josie maran

I use her Pure Argan Oil daily on rough patches of skin (I’m looking at you, heels) as well on the ends of my hair for some locked-in moisture. (I just started putting some drops on my hands and scrunching my hair as I would curl product, and it actually works to tame frizz and define curls! But then I went overboard and ended up looking like a Mafia wife. Moderation is key.) I also am on my second tube of her Argan Infinity Cream, which I use mainly as a face moisturizer in the morning and at night and on wherever else needs some nourishing – under my eyes, smeared on my lips, massaged on my cuticles, etc. I am also currently crushing on her Argan Oil Daily Moisturizer with SPF 47. Thattttt might have to happen this week.

However, here is the kicker ladies and gents: Using products as simple as Josie Maran’s has made me take my natural skin care mentality to the next level…do I even need to buy all of these skin-saving products? Or are the ingredients I’m seeking found in my cupboard? Due to that dang recent skin reaction to a new curl product I had used since April (it only took me three months to figure out the culprit…good thing that childhood dream of becoming a detective didn’t pan out), I decided to stop using pretty much every product in my medicine cabinet besides my beloved argan oil products. And now that my skin is finally clearing up, I feel like my brain is, too…should I just follow my vegetarian lead, throw all confusion out the door and make my own products, using real, whole, natural ingredients? 

After Googling the heck out of “chemicals in hair products that cause breakouts” a few weeks ago, I came across a comment feed where one woman stated that she washes her face in lemon juice and water, uses apple cider vinegar as a toner (which I had already been doing and LOVING it) and spritzed rose water on her face at the very end to lock in moisture. Others commented below her, praising her regimen and stating that they, too have used all-natural, DIY products to smooth skin sailing success. My new BFFs?!

So now…I’m going to hippie town. At least dip my feet in the shared bath water. While I don’t think I’ll ever fully give up store-bought products (I love spending money too much, and oh, the pretty packaging!) I really want to give it all a fair shot, from face wash to exfoliating masks to lotions and shampoo. As I type this, my Amazon cart is filling itself up with a tub of rose water, two blocks of beeswax, a teeny bottle of jojoba oil and a big ol’ bar of castile soap. (Sorry Matt!)

Of course I plan on documenting this little all-natural skin care trial here on the blog, so you’re coming to hippie town too, maaaaaan. But before I completely jump ship into a Volkswagon van, what are your favorite beauty products and/or skin care regimens? I would love to hear what other people have found, as well as any hits or misses when it comes to DIY skin care. Especially before I burn my skin off with witch hazel. Hopefully argan oil will heal that, too!