A Close Look at My Cosmetics

I don't wear much makeup or use many beauty products on a daily basis. I never have, except on rare and special occasions like my wedding, when I called in a pro to do my hair and makeup for me.

But when I look in my drawers and cupboards and medicine cabinet, I don't feel like the beauty product minimalist I think I am.

And when I start to think about the ingredients in those beauty products, I realize it's quite a contradiction that I'm a proponent of natural cleaning products and growing your own food and buying local and battling to make our air and water cleaner when I slather my body and cover my face in some really nasty chemicals every single day.

And a whole lot of those products have been linked to health threats from cancer and infertility to birth defects, according to the World Health Organization and the CDC.

I'm not saying all of this to make you panic or convince you to throw everything in your medicine cabinet and beauty bag away. Cosmetics and beauty products are generally safe, but they could be better, particularly because they usually aren't regulated much, if at all.

Rather, I'm saying all of this because I am trying to sort out what is in my beauty products to identify any dangerous offenders I should get rid of.

Perhaps you'll be motivated to do the same. Perhaps you won't. Either way, I think it's worth thinking about, no matter your age or sex.

So the other day I bopped on over to the Cosmetic Safety Database created by the Environmental Working Group to get an idea of what's in my beauty products. Skin Deep, the name of the EWG's online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products, integrates personal care product listings with toxicity and regulatory databases to give you an idea of just how safe or unsafe thousands of products are. 

I wouldn't say it should be the only source of information on which you base your beauty supply purchases, because I'm not so sure their methods are 100 percent on target, but it is a good starting place if you're interested in learning more about what’s in products before you make purchases.

It's super easy to navigate—all you do is type in a product name to search for it. Instantly, you'll know the product hazard score and can click a link for more detailed info about what hazards the ingredients have been linked to.

If you were to take a peek at my beauty supplies, you’d see quite a few things that are fragrance-free (like the good ol’ Aveeno Moisturizing Lotion I’ve been using for years), a lot of things that are touted as natural or better-for-you alternatives (like Burt’s Bees and Jason), and then some standard brands that are pretty common in any drug store.

(And yes, I know, and you should too, that terms like "natural" aren't regulated and so can be a whole lot of hooey. But still, I'm a sucker for the occasional green marketing ploy just like the next person.)

Here’s the rundown on where the things I use daily or almost daily stand:

Burt's Bees Radiance Night Cream - 5 (moderate hazard)

Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer - 3 (moderate hazard)

Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm - 2 (low hazard)

Burt's Bees Body Wash - 3 (moderate hazard)

Burt's Bees Herbal Blemish Stick - 1 (low hazard)

Jason Natural Cosmetics Tea Tree Normalizing Shampoo - 7 (high hazard)

Jason Natural Cosmetics Aloe Vera Conditioner - 5 (moderate hazard)

Aveeno Positively Smooth Shower & Shave Cream - 4 (moderate hazard)

Almay Intense i-Color Eye Shadow for Brown - 8 (high hazard)

Maybelline Full 'N Soft Mascara - 7 (high hazard)

Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Loose Talc-Free Powder - 5 (moderate hazard)

Crystal Body Deodorant Stick - 0!

Mentadent Advanced Whitening Flouride Toothpaste with Baking Soda & Peroxide – 6 (moderate hazard)

Petroleum Jelly – 3 (moderate hazard)

So there you have it. My Burt's Bees Radiance face wash wasn't included on the site, but given the other Radiance ratings it's probably a 5 or 6—not as low as I’d like. I thought Burt's ratings would be lower. Still, it's better than my old Cetaphil facial cleanser I got rid of recently, which was an 8.

I thought the Jason hair products would have lower ratings as well, but then when I randomly searched for other hair products I used in the past I realized the Jason products are quite a bit lower than the alternatives.

Now what? Switching to products that aren’t high-hazard is a top priority for me. I’m not tossing anything right now, but as I run out of products with ratings that are too high for my taste, I’ll shop around for alternatives that are low-risk—or, perhaps at the very least, 5 or below.

In general, with most things in life, simple is better—fewer products, fewer ingredients listed on those products I do buy. For that reason, I’ll read labels more closely. In particular, I plan to keep an eye out for parabens, petrochemicals and their byproducts, mercury, lead, dioxane, and phthalates. Those are some of the nastiest culprits I’d rather do without.

OK, now let the hippie comments begin.

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