Would you believe me if I told you that the average woman slathers between 200 to 500 chemicals on her body each day? Or that lipsticks and deodorant contain heavy metals, nail polish is formulated with plasticisers or that moisturiser and fake tan are riddled with synthetic fragrances and petrochemicals?
Until a few years ago I gave very little thought to what I put on my body, face or lips. I worked in magazines and for me, it was all about long-lasting and highly pigmented products from a roster of favourites. Formulations, chemicals, animal testing or recyclable packaging couldn’t have been further from my mind. As long as that red lippie and foundation worked hard and stayed put from day to night, what was a little toxic ingredient here or there? Surely they’d been tested for safety, right?
And then I had a baby...Suddenly I was paying attention to the ingredients in all those products I was putting on a tiny body. And then it hit me, why didn’t I care about these things when it came to my own skin and personal care products? It was a true light bulb moment and one which not only completely altered my behaviour as a consumer but also my career.
Before long I was wading through scientific studies, watching documentaries on endocrine disruptors and becoming more and more enraged the deeper I delved. I discovered that according to the Australian government’s chemical inventory list there are over 40,000 chemicals that can be used in beauty products in Australia, and 80,000 chemicals used worldwide. And the word ‘fragrance’ can mean a myriad of sketchy ingredients that needn’t be disclosed to consumers.
I was shocked to learn certain preservatives - like parabens - can mimic estrogen production (the jury is still out as to whether they cause breast cancer) and that in the US, talcum powder had been contaminated with asbestos, leaving manufacturer Johnson & Johnston with a hefty $6 billion class-action bill.
As I began to audit everything on my bathroom shelf, parabens, synthetic fragrance and phthalates became enemy number one. These are now my non-negotiables when I look for beauty and personal care products. If they contain any of them, they stay on the shelf.
To begin with, I swapped one product at a time, starting with my body moisturiser on the basis that it covered most of me and it sinks into the skin. Next, I focused on changing my deodorant, then sunscreen, tinted moisturisers and foundation. It’s been six years, and my makeup and skincare are now completely streamlined, fuss-free and probably 90 percent natural (I’m yet to part with my trusty Benefit brow products).
What I learned throughout this time is that there’s simply no need to throw out everything to start from scratch. Replace things as they run out; remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Experiment with different brands, it’s ok if it takes a while to find something you like. And if there’s something you just in your heart of hearts cant live without that’s ok too.
Jenny Ringland and Erica Watson, of Green + Simple, are marie claire’s new sustainability experts. Each week they’ll be posting weekly stories on the best green, clean fashion, beauty and lifestyle products, as well as interviewing industry game-changers and experts. Learn more here.