Every year, thousands of people go on a "detox."
Whether it's the famous Goop cleanse or Beyoncé's lemonade diet, the idea is to eat much healthier for a few days—if you eat solid foods at all—in order to rid the body of harmful toxins and synthetic chemicals.
While I'm not convinced that it works (probably eating one of these every day is less risky and more effective), I DO believe in another kind of detox. Detoxing your beauty routine!
Why Detox Your Beauty Routine
By detoxing your beauty routine, I mean taking stock of all the products you use, and seeing where you can make safer, more natural choices.
I don't believe that everything natural is good—nor that everything chemical is bad.
BUT... the average woman puts 168 different chemicals on her body, every single day, according to the Environmental Working Group. Many things can affect the amount and rate of penetration and absorption, but there's no doubt that some of these ingredients accumulate in the body, and may be harmful and/or interact with each other.
Many chemicals in beauty products are allergens and skin and lung irritants. Even more disturbing is that some are estrogenic, actually disrupting our hormones (and may even be carcinogenic).
That being said, I'm not a purist. I would never suggest you throw away every non-natural beauty product you own (or give up beauty products altogether, hehe!). That's just not realistic, desirable or probably even necessary.
How To Do a Beauty Detox
As I outlined here, I personally use a mix of natural beauty brands and mainstream ones. On the whole, I'd rather use natural stuff if I can, but ONLY if there is an option I like that performs just as well as its synthetic counterpart. Fortunately, this has become much easier lately compared to when I first started in the beauty industry, as there are now more high-quality natural brands than ever before.
So how do you decide what to change, and what to keep using? My philosophy is to prioritize safety for the products that are covering the biggest surface area and/or have the most potential for harm. Basically, choosing natural where it counts—and I'm going to outline how to do that today.
Here's what to consider detoxing in your beauty routine, in order of importance:
1. Use a Safer Body Lotion.
I would start with body lotion. It's the product that you apply the most of—just think about all that surface area it has to cover!—and you probably use it every day. If you're anything like me, you're not that brand loyal. I mean... it's just body lotion.
These are some of the problematic ingredients your body lotion might contain:
- Petroleum derivatives: Also known as mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin wax and polyethylene glycol (PEG). I know there are people on Reddit forums who defend this stuff to death, and I honestly do not get it. The ONLY reason these industrial by-products are in your body lotion is because they are dirt cheap. Fun fact: mineral oil used to be called deodorized kerosene. I've summarized all the reasons to avoid petroleum and mineral oil, including that they block the skin's ability to eliminate toxins, may be contaminated with cancer-causing agents and only give the illusion of actually hydrating the skin. When alternatives exist, why not try them?
- Fragrance: The word "fragrance" is a catch-all for undisclosed chemicals that can be highly allergenic, including phthalates. The latter are stored in fat cells and are potential carcinogens. If the label says "fragrance-free," this might mean they added masking chemicals to hide the smell of the other ingredients.
- Preservatives: According to new research, parabens are definitely getting into your body through skincare products. I can understand wanting to avoid them, given their link to possible estrogenic activity. Phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative found in many so-called natural brands, but has been found to be an irritant and an allergen.
- Polyunsaturated oils (PUFAs): Think soybean oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, almond oil, apricot kernel oil... the list goes on. Even though these are "natural" oils, they are highly unstable. They suppress the immune system and cause hormonal imbalances and oxidative damage. I am confident they are the TRUE cause of skin aging.
So what to use instead? If you're used to rich creams, you'll love Dr Roebuck's Pure Body—it feels and smells so luxe, and banishes dryness with shea butter and macadamia oil (a MUFA, not a PUFA). At the drugstore, Ours by Cheryl Hickey EveryBody Lotion (reviewed here) and Nature Clean Moisturizing Lotion are both good lightweight options. And don't forget good old multi-purpose coconut oil, such as Jax Coco.
2. Cut Back on Chemical Perfume.
I love perfume as much as anyone else, but here's some food for thought: the average product contains 14 synthetic chemicals not listed on the label. In fact, the fragrance industry draws from 3,100 stock chemical ingredients to formulate its concoctions, and exactly which ones are in each bottle is almost always hidden from the consumer.
Here's why most perfumes are a problem:
- Synthetic fragrance chemicals: These are the number one biggest culprits behind adverse reactions to beauty products. Such ingredients can cause allergies, dermatitis, respiratory issues and even hormone disruption.
- Phthalates: These are cheap chemicals that are often used as carriers for the scent ingredients, to make them linger for longer. They are proven hormone disruptors, but you won't see them on the labels because they are protected as "trade secrets."
So here's what I would do. If there is a perfume you absolutely love and can't live without, maybe start by cutting back a bit? Save it for special occasions instead of wearing it every single day.
It's also worth looking for natural alternatives, made with essential oils instead of chemicals. Sure, you'll have to re-apply more often, but isn't that part of the fun? If you like gourmand scents, Lavanila Vanilla Grapefruit is amazing and will get "you smell good!" compliments for sure. Tata Harper Aromatic Stress Treatment (reviewed here), Red Flower Guaiac (reviewed here) and Rich Hippie are all fresh, clean and earthy. Lotus Wei Infinite Love (reviewed here) and Province Apothecary No. 19 lean more floral and feminine. L'Artisan Parfumeur Jatamansi is great if you like unisex scents.
3. Try Natural Deodorant.
There's no consensus yet on how harmful antiperspirants are, but I am of the mind that people over-use them, regardless. Katherine Ashenberg writes about this in The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. Antiperspirants only became popular quite recently, because of marketing "whisper-speak"—the idea that you might offend someone without knowing it. Once you take a break from chemical antiperspirant, you might be surprised at how little body odour you actually have. I definitely was!
These are the main concerns with antiperspirants:
- Aluminum: The aluminum is what blocks your pores to stop you from sweating. Theoretically, some of it could absorb through your armpits and might accumulate in breast or brain tissue. (Chris Kresser has some good links on that here.)
- Preservatives: Like I said above, you may want to avoid parabens, which definitely absorb into the body, and can possibly interfere with hormones.
- Fragrances: It's anyone's guess what mix of allergenic (and possibly hormone-disrupting) synthetic chemicals could be hiding under the labels "fragrance" and "fragrance-free."
I was one of those people who was sure that natural deodorants did not work, until I tried the new generation of products—formulas made from coconut oil, baking soda and shea butter. These are different to first-gen natural deos because they usually come in a pot, in a cream texture that you rub over your underarms, and the ingredients are so much more effective at neutralizing odour. I like Primal Pit Paste (reviewed here) and Schmidt's (reviewed here), both of which now come in stick format as well. Consonant also came out with their own version a few months ago, and I'm sure it is equally great.
Note: This is just my personal theory, but I think there is also a transition period after using antiperspirant, where you might notice increased body odour as the product unclogs from your pores. If you can ride that out for a few days/weeks, I think your body WILL adjust and your sweat/body odour will normalize.
4. Use Gentler Cleansers.
When it comes to washing your skin and hair, the main questionable ingredients are:
- Sulfates: Sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, a.k.a. SLS, are what makes your shampoo, body and face washes produce a foam or lather for that "squeaky-clean" feeling. The problem is, sulfates can irritate your skin and eyes, and are linked to dermatitis and even cataracts. They are also penetration enhancers that help increase the amounts of other chemicals that get into the bloodstream. From a purely aesthetic perspective, they can seriously strip the skin barrier, making your complexion more sensitive, and cause hair colour to fade a lot more quickly.
- Triclosan: If you use antibacterial soap, it probably contains triclosan, an antibacterial agent and preservative that is linked to hormonal toxicity. It has also been found to promote bacterial resistance.
- Fragrance: Even though shampoos and body washes rinse out and wash down the drain, that may still be enough time for the fragrances they contain to irritate your skin and scalp.
- Petroleum and polyunsaturated oils: There's a new generation of "in-shower" body lotions and self-tanners that are designed to stay on your skin, even after rinsing. (Nivea In-Shower Body Lotion, Jergens Wet Skin Moisturizer and St. Tropez In Shower Gradual Tan are a few examples.) You're likely to find they contain petroleum derivatives, aging PUFA oils (such as sweet almond oil), or both—not to mention many other questionable chemicals.
Sulfates are fortunately pretty easy to avoid these days, with plenty of brands declaring "sulfate-free" or "SLS-free" right on the label. (Just make sure they're not pulling this trickery, where they call the shampoo "silicone-free" and the conditioner "sulfate-free." Like that is an accomplishment.)
Since I stopped using sulfates on my face, my skin definitely seems less sensitive. Derma E Purifying Gel Cleanser is one of my favourite face washes these days. I also quit sulfate shampoos, and the ends of my hair aren't getting nearly as dry. I swear by World Clean Hair & Skin Cleanser (reviewed here). For body wash, Neom (reviewed here) is at the luxe end of the category, while Live Clean Baby Bar Soap is a nice drugstore soap option. I also purchased The Soap Works Pure Glycerine Soap and plan to experiment with adding essential oils and honey!
5. Find Easy Makeup Swaps.
I think makeup is the number one hardest thing to go green with.
I will be the first to admit that most natural cosmetics have performance issues, from unflattering colours and textures to "off" scents and separation of ingredients. It's only in the last year or so that I've really felt comfortable using mostly non-chemical makeup, thanks to brands like RMS Beauty and Sappho.
Here are some common ingredients found in makeup that you might want to skip:
- Silicones: Some of the silicones you'll see on makeup labels (and in skin creams!) include dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, phenyl trimethicone and methicone. Silicones are man-made polymers that form a slippery film on the skin, so that makeup will go on smoother and last longer. Since they sit on top of the skin and do not penetrate, they are generally considered safe—however, that doesn't mean they're doing your skin any favours. Basically, their smoothing effect is just temporary. Long-term, silicones can interfere with the way your skin regulates its own moisture levels and naturally exfoliates away dead skin cells, leading to a dull and dehydrated complexion. Many people have also reported getting breakouts from silicone products.
- Talc: Loose powders that contain talc are probably not a great idea, as you can easily inhale particles that could be toxic to your respiratory system. There is also a chance that talc could be contaminated with asbestos and other impurities. On the skin, talc can give you a dull, dry, chalky look that accentuates fine lines.
- Fragrances: Not sure why so many manufacturers put perfume in cosmetics—often extremely heavy scents. (Drives me insane! I've not been able to use many a foundation for this reason.) As I've mentioned, synthetic fragrance chemicals can cause allergic reactions and sensitivities.
- Petroleum and polyunsaturated oils: I'm not religious about avoiding these ingredients in makeup, but I try not to use them in products that are going on my skin (like foundation and blush, for example). Mascara and eyeliner? I'm not so picky.
Now, I totally get how hard it is to find your perfect foundation. But out of all your makeup, this is probably where I'd prioritize finding a cleaner formula, if possible, since it's going to affect your skin the most. The one that works for me—FAR better than Luminous Silk, which everyone raves about—is Sappho Organic Foundation (reviewed here). I also often use RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up as both a concealer and a foundation. I feel like these deliver more beautiful, natural-looking finishes than even mainstream cosmetics, believe it or not. And have made my skin better, too!
For powder, the best option is silica, a mineral powder that leaves no visible texture or colour on the skin. You can find it in RMS Beauty's "Un" Powder and Tinted "Un" Powder, as well as non-natural brands such as Make Up For Ever's HD Microfinish Powder. Don't forget your cheeks. For a safer blush, I love Gabriel Blush in Apricot and Petal. As for eyes, I will sometimes use the RMS Beauty Eye Polish, but for liner and mascara, I need my long-wearing formulas. RMS Beauty Lip Shine in Sublime and Zuzu Luxe Lip Gloss in Luscious are two lip colour faves!
6. DIY When Possible.
Finally, it's not a bad idea to think about where you can replace store-bought beauty products with homemade options. They'll definitely be cheaper, and you don't have to worry about ingredients you can't pronounce—you always know exactly what's going on your skin.
Coconut oil is probably my favourite wonder ingredient, as it has an insane number of uses. (Just a few include oil pulling, body moisturizer, deodorant and hair conditioner.) Aspirin works incredibly well as an exfoliator and skin brightener, similar to salicylic acid. All you do is crush down a couple of tablets, mix with water, aloe vera or honey, and apply as a mask. It has a pretty amazing rating based on 2,000+ reviews on Makeup Alley! For teeth, baking soda mixed with hydrogen peroxide is a very effective whitening and bacteria-killing paste.
I just bought the book Homemade Beauty: 150 Simple Beauty Recipes Made From All-Natural Ingredients by Annie Strole. It might take a bit more time to whip up your own beauty concoctions, but can be lots of fun. Most of her recipes use five ingredients or fewer!
Hopefully this article has got you thinking about where you could—easily, painlessly!—make some safer beauty choices.
Again, I'm not being alarmist and writing off all chemical products, nor am I saying that all natural ingredients are good for you. It really is about balance, and the process should start with reading your labels and understanding what's in there. After that, you can at least make an educated decision on whether you want to put a certain product on your body... or not.
For me, "detoxing" my beauty routine is based on frequency of use and what is covering the largest surface area. I don't stress too much about stuff that I'm only putting on a tiny spot or only applying occasionally.
No matter which products find a home in your routine, be VERY skeptical of the beauty industry. Let's face it—for decades now, beauty companies have been making wild promises, orchestrating elaborate marketing campaigns and designing luxe packaging to lure us in. But just because something is for sale in a store or featured in the pages of a magazine doesn't mean it's all that safe or beneficial.
I think Rose-Marie Swift says it best: "You have to remember that the cosmetic companies are making all this shit up like primers and stuff. And it’s for the shareholders. That is all they are doing. They are not really making women’s skin look beautiful."
Do you agree?
Have you "detoxed" your beauty routine?
Which natural beauty products do you love?