3 Steps to Natural Beauty

red-haired model in drugstore aisle looking at a labelGot a minute? Take a look at your bathroom shelves. If you’re like most women, you’re using about 12 different beauty products each day.

Now flip to the ingredients panel of your favorite product—a lotion, perhaps, or sunscreen—and settle in for a good read. Do the ingredients number a dozen or more? Probably. Can you pronounce them? Probably not.

Yet those 12 beauty products deliver an average 168 potentially toxic ingredients to your body each and every day. 

The Fragrance Connection

The word “fragrance” can contain more that 3,000 different chemicals—none of which are required to be listed on the label.

But even if you do read ingredients on your label, it might only show a fraction of what’s actually in the product. In the United States, companies aren’t required to list ingredients on their labels because of “trade secret” concerns. For example, the word “fragrance” can contain more that 3,000 different chemicals—none of which are required to be listed on the label.

A 2010 study by the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that top-selling perfumes contain, on average, 14 different hazardous chemicals that aren’t listed on their labels.

Many of these perfumes contain toxic chemicals like diethyl phthalate, which has been linked to hormone disruption. Typically, perfumes also include paraben preservatives, which have been found in breast cancer tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In 2013, Women’s Voices for the Earth released a report on the widespread impact of fragrance allergies, which affect 11 percent of people in the United States—rates are as much as three times higher for women—and most often manifest as skin rashes.

Is International Beauty Better?

So what, exactly, does the United States regulate, when it comes to cosmetics? Not much. The FDA restricts a mere 11 ingredients from product manufacturing, compared to the European Union, which has outright banned 1,300.

Which means that if you’re making a cosmetic for the proverbial American woman, you can put pretty much anything you want into it: The FDA doesn’t require companies to test products or ingredients for safety, nor does it review products or ingredients before they go on sale.

According to the EWG, “More than 500 products sold in the United States contain ingredients that are banned in Japan, Canada or the European Union…and as many as 100 contain ingredients considered unsafe by the International Fragrance Association.”

Add It Up

Yes, the cosmetics industry will argue that small amounts of toxic ingredients can’t hurt you. But the industry isn’t required to study how those 168 ingredients in the average woman’s 12 beauty products—or 85 ingredients for men, and 61 for children—interact with each other.

The EU has banned 1,300 ingredients from cosmetics. The US? 11.

You breathe them, you eat them when they’re put on your lips, and they’re absorbed by your skin. What happens when they’re inside your body? Nobody really knows, for sure.

The problem gets even bigger when you realize that beauty products don’t just stop at our skin: They wash down the drain, into the water system and up the food chain.

Make the Switch

So why don’t we all just switch to natural beauty products–or even start making our own, so we know exactly what’s in them? It all comes down to allegiance. Once you graduate from that cheap-o drugstore brand mascara you shoplifted during high school and settle on a department store, cosmetics-counter special, you’re pretty much sold for life—until you find out there’s mercury in it.

Natural beauty brands have also been criticized as hard to find or expensive. But today, you don’t have to spend a fortune or drive for miles—you can buy natural beauty at supermarkets and drug stores.

Given that these natural beauty products typically perform as well as, or better than, their conventional counterparts, maybe it’s time your routine got a natural beauty makeover.

Buyer Beware

But before you overhaul your makeup bag, remember that just because it says “natural” on the label, that doesn’t mean it’s chemical free. Until natural beauty gets better regulated, you still need to do a little bit of homework to make sure your products are safe—by your standards.

  1. Do your research.
  2. Ask questions of manufacturers.
  3. For a quick solution, look for USDA Certified Organic and/or EcoCert on labels, which means the product is government certified as containing at least 95 percent food-grade organic ingredients—zero chemicals or synthetics in its manufacturing or ingredients—in America and Europe, respectively.

Want to take it one product at a time? Click through to this short list of what to avoid. Where you find these chemicals, more are likely to follow, so use these as your red flags for products to put back on the shelf—and out of your life.



  1. Hi Rachel,
    My friend just became a “beauty counter ” rep, based in Santa Monica. Just wondering if you recommend their products ? She wants me to host a beauty counter “party” but I haven ‘t tried their products yet. They are supposed to be very safe and super clean ingredients, nothing on the “bad list ”
    Any advice?

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      Yes, I met their founder before they launched and she is the real deal! I haven’t tried the products but I would guess from talking with her that they are really clean. Let me know what you think!

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