When you walk into the grocery store, it seems like every company is trying to market itself as being green and organic. (Almost) gone are the days of mystery additives, unnatural colors, and consumers who blindly trust that any food sitting on a store shelf must be good for you. But when you walk into Sephora (or any make-up store, for that matter), does it even cross your mind what went into making those products? Do you do prior research to see what companies still test on animals? Or which chemicals are harmful and which ones are safe?
Here’s the SparkNotes version of how cosmetics are regulated: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of regulating cosmetics through their Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, otherwise known as CFSAN. But the FDA doesn’t actually approve cosmetics, other than the color additives used. According to their website,”It is the responsibility of cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe when used as directed in their label or under customary conditions of use.”
In fact, the last time the FDA significantly regulated beauty ingredients was in 1938. Yep, 78 years ago. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president and Adolf Hitler was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” the last time any major changes were made to cosmetic regulations.
(At this point, it’s important to note that FDA regulated and FDA approved are two completely different things. Basically, regulated means that the FDA has certain guidelines that companies are supposed to follow, while approved means that the FDA literally has given their seal of approval to a certain product.)
All of this means that cosmetic manufacturers can put pretty much anything they want into your mascara, shampoo, and body lotion, so long as they have determined it is safe. For consumers, this translates into having to look at the ingredient labels on cosmetics in the same way you would look at the ingredient labels on foods. However, cosmetics contain so many chemicals that it can be difficult to determine which ones are okay, and which ones should be avoided.
To save yourself from some of the headaches from gaining the working knowledge of a chemist, shopping for organic, paraben-free products can act as a great alternative. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Just because something claims to be organic doesn’t mean its actually good for you.
When words like “organic”, “natural”, and “green” are plastered all over packaging, it can be easy to believe it at first glance, and marketing teams know it. Be a smart shopper. Still read through ingredient labels, research companies, and make sure you know what you’re actually paying for.
2. Know the basics.
While it may not be practical to learn every chemical that could ever possibly be in cosmetic products, there are a few that should be immediate red flags. These include aluminum, parfum (fragrance), and formaldehyde/ formaldehyde releasing ingredients.
3. Even if the ingredients aren’t harmful, they may be harmful to you.
Everyone is different. While certain organic products work better for some people, they can also trigger allergic reactions in others. Consult with your dermatologist/allergist to figure out which path is best for you. Your skin and your body will thank you for it.