There has been a huge furore recently in the press about the term ‘clean eating’. Bloggers, celebs and the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Deliciously Ella and The Hemsley sisters have been accused of fuelling a trend for fad diets and an increase in eating disorders, as all across the land young women go vegan, or start eating only mung beans and lettuce leaves in order to attain a shiny complexion and a well-toned figure. In response, the ‘Author-ities’ on the subject, Ella and the likes say they didn’t ever use the phrase and certainly not to mean ‘ditch proper food’ they meant ‘avoid the junk food and processed food’. All good then?
Well now it looks as if the hammer may come down on anyone who has dissed ‘dirty’ skincare and beauty products too, the phrase ‘clean beauty’ has also been bandied around and used as a headline for articles, and I for one have no issues with it, in fact if by reading about ‘clean beauty’ you become so inclined to ditch ALL of your conventional beauty and skincare products (perhaps not all at once, won’t be good for landfill..) and from here on in, only use natural, organic, ethical, plant based products or ingredients I say hurrah! I doubt there’s any danger whatsoever that you will have any adverse reaction to simplifying and making one hundred per cent natural your skincare regime. In fact, you will undoubtedly save money, and tick the eco box in the process.
‘Clean beauty’ refers to, in my book, skincare and beauty products that are not toxic, they don’t contain any synthetic chemicals that have been linked to toxicity. Many of us check the labels on food (yet we know the best food is the food that comes without a label at all, totally unprocessed), but with our skincare which is of course food for the skin, we should follow the same guidelines, avoid the heavily processed synthetic overload and opt for skincare / beauty / haircare products that ‘feeds the skin’ and nourishes us. Clean beauty also means less harm to the environment, more and more consumers now expect their natural skincare and beauty products to tick the eco box too.
It’s important for our health, and for the environment and it’s becoming more and more apparent that the accumulative effect of so many different chemicals is having an effect on health and wellbeing.
Of course, it’s no one bottle of cream or shampoo, it’s the fact that each product can contain hundreds of different synthetic chemicals, and anything that says ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ can mean several different chemicals, not just as one might think…one drop of an aroma. We are literally swimming in a kind of toxic soup, of course ingredients must be passed safe for use, but it’s when they combine that the problems can arise, no-one has done the equation of what can happen if you use – say twenty-five different products (which each contain hundreds of different chemicals) and then some are left in sunlight, it’s known that certain combinations can become carcinogenic. There has been a rise in respiratory problems, skin conditions, allergies, headaches and insomnia, of course not all down to our skincare and beauty but it’s without doubt a factor.
The demand and interest in natural and organic beauty has been growing for a while. When I wrote ‘Imperfectly Natural Woman’ my Amazon number one best seller ten years ago, I was ahead of my time, but I think it’s been building gradually, as more and more people become aware that ‘You Are What You Eat’ they are looking at ingredients and purity as well as sustainability and the eco picture.
People are realising that the holistic approach is important, and if you are becoming ‘clean’ in your eating it makes sense to follow that through to the personal care products that you choose. You are also what you put on your skin, as the skin is the largest organ of the body and what goes on, goes in, or at least a large percentage of it.
At one time, natural alternatives were seen as inferior and didn’t cater for those people who wanted effectiveness and luxury, but now it’s changed, there has been a huge rise in spending on natural and organic skincare and beauty and customers are becoming much more discerning, and choosing organic skincare over conventional – not just because they have allergies or are concerned about the environment but because they are better.
It’s not ‘green washing’ either, this is one eco argument that is here to stay. For the environment, it’s a huge problem when we wash off our creams and potions, they end up in the rivers and seas where they can of course harm aquatic life, plankton and insects. Chemicals in cosmetics have also been found in streams, lakes and the public water supply, it’s even thought they are found in household dust particles. Livestock can be affected if exposed to these too.
Sustainability is an issue too, even if the ingredients are natural, sometimes they aren’t sustainably sourced so it’s worth following the chain, buying from small companies often means you can see exactly how they have sourced their ingredients, from ‘farm to spa’ as it were. Opt for ingredients that are easily renewable.
There is also an impact with all the cheap packaging of skincare and beauty products, opt for brands who ensure their packaging is minimal, bio-degradable, or recyclable. Many products have a longer shelf life if they are in glass bottles for example but of course there is a cost to that.
I’m always being asked…What ingredients should I look for?
As a rule I’d say look for what’s NOT in a product, rather than what is… by that I mean a product may say it’s ‘natural, organic, contains tea tree oil etc.’ but it may also contain a huge number of chemical ingredients. Look for an organic certification from the Soil Association or similar, or for companies who make it clear on their packaging that they don’t contain the ‘scary’ ingredients.
It’s a good idea to avoid sodium laurel sulphate, it’s used as a detergent and surfactant, has been proven to cause irritation, and animals exposed to it have experienced breathing problems, eye damage and poor mood. It can be transformed into potential carcinogens when combined with other chemicals.
It’s a must to avoid synthetic fragrances, any one bottle can contain so many, it can cause insomnia, headaches, allergic reactions, and dizziness. It’s thought that fragrances can affect the central nervous system and cause irritability and depression.
Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial ingredient and it’s thought that during the manufacturing process it becomes dioxin which is a powerful hormone disrupting chemical, there is also of course, the rise in ‘antibiotic resistant’ bugs and this is a contributory factor.
Avoid petroleum based products such as mineral oil which can clog the pores and can slow down the skins natural sebum production. In addition, you should avoid parabens, preservatives and phthalates, which are also hormone disrupting. Avoid alcohol which can be drying to the skin and isopropyl which acts like a solvent and can cause headaches and depression. Avoid colour pigments too just as you would avoid colourants in food. Avoid Deet which can be highly toxic, and toluene which is found in nail polishes.
Where to start? When I wrote my first book a few people jokingly said …’You’ve cost me a fortune, I’ve just bought lots of the products you recommend’.
The best place to start is by finding something completely natural and preferably organic that is not just equally as effective but even better than its conventional rivals, that way you will feel encouraged that there is no need whatsoever to sacrifice in the name of beauty. My book ‘Look Great Naturally Without Ditching the Lipstick’ shows there is now a natural alternative to everything. Choose one product to replace and get started, I encourage people to start with perhaps a natural oil that has multi-purpose use, and one of the easiest things to switch is your cleanser, instead of your usually possibly ‘foaming harsh one’ opt for something completely natural, that might even be just a natural exfoliating sponge. You can add a tiny amount of oil based cleanser which can even remove makeup too. Don’t buy exfoliators either as the natural ones are so much better and don’t contain microbeads, it’s also easy to make your own. You should definitely ditch anything with artificial fragrance such as hairsprays and deodorants.
I’m frequently asked if natural and organic ‘clean beauty’ products are as effective – my answer is that natural recipes and products absolutely do the same job, in fact many are superior, there’s no real need for synthetics, and people are finding that the best natural products are effective, tick the eco box and look beautiful too. There is no need for compromise.
I also highly recommend having a go at making your own ‘DIY skincare’. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, people imagine that they will need a double boiler but actually you can create simple raw skincare recipes easily with no special equipment at all.
If you are simply making enough for yourself to use, then just make tiny amounts and remember it won’t have a long shelf life. It’s not expensive, most of the ingredients go a long way and you find you simplify how many ‘products’ you need so it’s more likely you’ll save a huge amount of money over time.
To get you started here’s a few key ingredients:
Raw organic extra virgin coconut oil is a must, it’s great on its own as a moisturiser; you can also use it as a deep intensive hair conditioner and in fact a tiny amount will even work as a cleanser. In addition, you can use it as a base for moisturiser (add essential oil), and a tiny amount works as a deodorant.
Shea Butter is great as it’s very nourishing, you can mix with coconut oil and it has antibacterial properties and is great for wound healing. It also has sun protective qualities as it has a natural SPF of about 5.
Good quality essential oils are important, choose fragrances that you like, perhaps lavender, which is a good all-purpose fragrance and it’s antibacterial. Rose is very uplifting, especially for hormonal issues, and tea tree oil which again is antibacterial and great for acne or for when you are feeling run down.
Raw cacao powder is great as you get all the indulgence without the guilt, it makes a great face or body mask.
Oatmeal or raw porridge oats act well as a gentle exfoliator or gentle mask, you can add a spoonful of oatmeal to water and use that to cleanse and exfoliate, add honey and you have a face mask.
A favourite DIY recipe:
Pore-Cleansing Coconut Oil Exfoliant
3 teaspoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon yoghurt
1 tablespoon dead sea salt
Mix to a paste apply, and then rinse off with water.
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