Here's what happened when one beauty writer went on a beauty detox in a quest to green her beauty routine.
Hi, my name is Melanie Rud Chadwick, and I don't use natural beauty products. Whew, that feels better.
In all seriousness though, I admittedly have never gotten into the whole natural beauty thing. The irony (which isn't lost on me, by the way) is that in every other aspect of my life, I'm a green queen. I'm an organic food eating, nontoxic cleaning product using, Eastern medicine loving kind of girl. So, as to be expected, my friends and colleagues ask me all the time what my take is on natural beauty. And when I tell them that it's really not my thing, they're usually befuddled.
I know it doesn't make sense, but here's the thing: I've been a beauty editor for almost a decade. I've used pretty much every single product across every beauty category. I like what I like, and know what works for me. I'm by no means saying that I pooh-pooh natural beauty across the board—there's definitely been stuff that I've used and liked from natural brands—but I've just never been all too concerned about the ingredients in my beauty stash.
Until recently, that is. While I'm not pregnant, my husband and I are planning on starting a family, which was the motivation I needed to try to start cutting out potentially harmful chemicals from my beauty routine. There are also all the mildly unnerving statistics I've come across lately. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman uses 12 products day, containing 168 unique ingredients. And let's be real—I'm not the average woman. My last count was 18, and that was just on a normal day with simple skin care and makeup. EWG also says that one in 13 women are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable carcinogens in their personal care products every day. Given my increased exposure, I don't think those odds are in my favor.
So I decided to commit to greening my beauty routine for a few weeks. I clearly needed a little assistance, so I asked Annie Jackson, COO for Credo, to help guide me through the process. Check out her helpful tips—and the lessons I learned.
Beware of the term "natural."
Guilty as charged, since I've used it in this story already, but Jackson says to be wary of the word "natural" when it's slapped on a package. "'Natural' is a marketing term with no legal definition that anyone can use," she explains. There may be a plant-based ingredient in a product, but one that goes through a manufacturing process that turns it into a chemical compound; this doesn't necessarily make it bad for you, but it does make it hard to call it natural, she adds. Not to mention that even if there's one natural ingredient in something, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of chemicals as well. Instead of focusing on "natural," try thinking of it as "clean" or "nontoxic" beauty instead. Take your time to do some research, and read the ingredient label. To that point...
Pay attention to ingredients.
Of course, there are the big ones that everyone knows have a bad rap, like parabens, for example. Still, "there are lots of buzzy ingredients out there that won't be listed on the label as such, which means you really need to do some extra research," Jackson says. As a general rule, anything ending in –peg or –eth are good ones to look out for, she adds. Think of reading the ingredient label on a beauty product as you would on food; ingredients that you can't pronounce may be red flags. Still, Jackson also notes that often even natural ingredients are listed by their long and scary-sounding Latin name (the common name is typically in a parenthetical next to it). Confused? Resources like EWG's Skin Deep and the app Think Dirty are helpful tools.
Swap your stuff.
If you, like me, take a look at your beauty stash and realize, "Holy moly that's a lot of chemicals," one way to go green is to do a massive overhaul. Credo offers "clean beauty swaps" in its stores, online, or via phone or live chat; show or tell one of their (very helpful) store employees what you're currently using, and they'll help you find similar, cleaner alternatives. I chose the in-person option, during which I went through two massive bags of my daily essentials. The process wasn't quick, and at times admittedly a bit frustrating. For me, it was much easier to find replacements for certain products—cleanser, eye cream—than others. Complexion products, like foundation and concealer, were especially hard for me, as I found the shade selections to be limited and the textures not quite what I wanted. (To be fair, though, I am undoubtedly pickier than most, given what I do for a living.) But this direct head-to-head was super helpful for finding products that were similar in terms of benefits offered, formula, and texture, and made me feel less out of my element as I transitioned my routine.
Or just switch out one product at a time.
This complete overhaul is definitely overwhelming and can be expensive. Jackson's other suggestion? "Don't change everything at once. Do it one product at a time. Once you've used something up, try a new, cleaner option, instead." Good advice, and way more realistic for most people, I think.
Consider not just makeup and skin care, but body care, too.
"So many women come in and want a clean face cream, but at the same time, are using traditional stuff for their body," notes Jackson, who adds that the two are equally important. On that note, let's talk about nontoxic deodorants. "Deodorants are one of the categories that make a lot of noise, since knowledge about the health effects of aluminum in traditional antiperspirants is pretty mainstream," says Jackson. I totally agree; nearly all of my friends and colleagues—even those who aren't into clean beauty otherwise—are using nontoxic deodorants. I, personally, have not been able to get on the bandwagon. I'm not a particularly sweaty or smelly person, but I work out a ton and hate feeling like my pits are wet or sticky. (TMI?) I did get a clean deo during my Credo swap and went into my first day of using it with an open mind. Three hours later, I was over it. I felt like it left a weird residue, and I was convinced that I smelled. Still, I've been told that it's really a matter of trial and error to find one that you actually like, so I'm currently working through a stash of various options. The good news is that there's no shortage of clean choices out there, in all kinds of scents and formulas, so I'm feeling optimistic that my search will end well. At the very least, my plan is to get used to using a natural deodorant most of the time and reserve my standard antiperspirant for special occasions only. Baby steps. (See also: What Happened When I Tried an Armpit Detox)
Have realistic expectations.
All those chemicals in your non-clean products serve a function, so when you take them out, it's almost inevitable that certain things are going to change. Separation and how things look in the bottle is a big one, notes Jackson. "Even in the store, people will comment that the product in the testers has separated, but it's OK to shake things up or stir them," she explains. "When you're dealing with products that have plant-based ingredients, think of them as you would food—if your ice cream was too hard, you'd let it sit on the counter. If your foundation separates, shake it. Don't let that make you think that it's not working." Plus, the offerings from these clean brands are getting better and better, and previous issues like long-wearing capability and pigmentation are improving. I personally didn't have any problems like this with the clean goodies I used.
Here's my takeaway.
So what did the results of this beauty experiment show me? If nothing else, I'm very excited to continue to play and experiment with all of the many, many clean offerings out there. I'm still on the hunt for the right natural deodorant, but many of my new nontoxic products have earned a permanent place in my daily rotation. Current favorites include a W3LL People foundation stick ($29; credobeauty.com) I can't get enough of (even though it was hard to find) and a hyaluronic acid serum from Osea ($88; credobeauty.com) that feels and works exactly like my old one. TBH, I don't know if I'll ever go completely clean (there are simply too many products out there that I don't want to stop using), but I've definitely gone cleaner and that's something I can feel good about.