As a second-generation skincare expert, I am often asked to clear up confusion around definitions of green lifestyle choices because my company is 100% focused on making our world a healthier and more peaceful place to live, one touch at a time. In this Green Q&A we talk about the essentials of living green but not giving up our delight in good skincare practices and products.
Define ‘green beauty.’
There is a lot of confusion about what it means to be ‘green.’
For me, being green goes beyond using a few natural or organic ingredients. Green incorporates the business and manufacturing practices of the companies behind the products. It refers to the adoption of a whole body, whole planet philosophy and making conscientious purchasing decisions that support those values.
Green beauty is a relatively new term that highlights our collective increased awareness in the consumer marketplace. It is a term that most manufacturers have taken just as a marketing tool. Others have taken it to heart.
Green beauty is distinctly unique. To me, it is the radiance that comes from a whole-body approach to wellness. When a person practices green beauty, their skin tone is even because the body is strong and the mind is clear. Green beauty products offer healthy and healthful alternatives for both the body and the planet.
Why can’t I use regular beauty products? What’s the danger?
The skin has transdermal capabilities, so it actively transports topical ingredients into the bloodstream. If you think about it, the skin has had many thousands of years to evolve protective barriers against bacteria and fungi that it comes into contact with regularly, but almost no time at all to evolve protective mechanisms against chemical contamination.
Nearly three billion pounds of listed toxic chemicals are released into the environment yearly in the United States alone, and since WWII, over 87,000 new chemicals have been synthesized by our chemists – some good, some bad. Either way, they can have unexpected and hazardous consequences for our bodies.
Using chemically-based beauty products directly exposes you to many of these synthetic chemicals through your skin, thereby increasing your body’s toxic load more than you would with ambient environmental exposure.
Until recently, consumers had to sacrifice product effectiveness when choosing all-natural alternatives. But today’s advanced skincare companies have discovered how to harness the power of natural ingredients in clinically effective products.
Are products labeled ‘all natural’ considered green?
Not at all! Products that are labeled “all natural” may not be “all natural” by any standard outside of the manufacturer’s marketing division. Natural refers to the ingredients that go into a product.
The “green” label considers not only where ingredients come from, but also how they are shipped from place to place, where the energy comes from to turn ingredients into products and how the packaging is procured. Green can be measured with a carbon footprint.
The factors that determine whether or not a product is truly green has to do with where they get their packaging (is it Forest Stewardship Council certified? Is it recycled?) and how their products are manufactured (are they using solar or wind energy to power their facilities?).
Another consideration is where the products are manufactured. When products are manufactured in China or abroad, the need to transport those products overseas using fossil fuels comes at a high environmental cost. For consumers, education about ingredients, product sourcing and manufacturing is essential to making conscientious choices about beauty products.
What ingredients should I look for in my beauty products that are harmful to my skin?
There are several that are good to avoid, but if I could ask you to remember only one thing it would be to STAY AWAY from “fragrance”!
The word “fragrance” indicates the presence of up to four thousand separate ingredients, many of them toxic or carcinogenic. Even “fragrance-free” products often use fragrances to cloak detectable smells.
Symptoms reported to the USA FDA include headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and skin irritation. Clinical observation indicates fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, and irritability.
That doesn’t mean that your products have to smell bad. All natural products can use beautiful essential oils harvested from nature’s bounty of herbs, spices and flowers – many organically grown – to enhance the sensory experience for consumers.
Many of these essential oils (such as bergamot and thyme oil) have healing or healthful properties of their own that can have a positive impact on the skin.
Should my shampoo be enriched with things like vitamins, certified organic herbs and pure plant proteins? Or what constitutes green shampoo and conditioner?
Shampoo and body wash should have natural ingredients that prevent the buildup of fungus and bacteria on the skin without damaging the natural ecosystem of the skin and scalp. The skin actually has many more bacterial cells than it does skin cells per square inch of skin.
Products that use aggressive ingredients to over-cleanse the hair and body reflect a deep and unfortunate misunderstanding of the natural ecosystem of the hair and scalp. We want to gently cleanse but leave our natural oils and bacteria a little bit intact!
Look for products that use plant-derived surfactants (cleansing agent), such as coconut oil, and glycerin (a standard conditioning/moisturizing ingredient) made from soy beans or olive oil.
What ingredients should I look for in my beauty products that are harmful to my nails?
Eastern medical practitioners have long relied on the appearance of fingernails as an indicator of wellbeing. If you are experiencing cracked, dry fingernails or nail beds and/or spots or lines on your nails, there is likely a problem with your overall state of health.
This is a superb time to seek the advice of an acupuncturist to help restore your body’s balance. The nail industry is finally embracing formaldehyde-free (yeah, the stuff used to embalm dead bodies) formulas that help reduce exposure to this very toxic ingredient.
What are the top benefits for using green beauty products for my skin?
The top benefit for using green beauty products is increased beauty! Many ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, while improving the skin or your appearance in the short term, can actually damage the skin over time.
Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be using beauty products at all if we didn’t want to appear younger and more vivacious. All natural and green beauty products can get you there faster, without causing any damage.
Generally speaking, all natural and green products deliver better results because they can heal the skin as opposed to covering up skin problems.
What are the top benefits for using green beauty products for the environment?
Our environment is at risk. Nearly three billion pounds of listed toxic chemicals are released into the environment yearly in the United States alone, and since WWII, over 87 thousand new chemicals have been synthesized by our chemists – over 2000 are being synthesized every year.
If you use green beauty products, you are taking a stand. You are saying no to manufacturers who produce toxic products because people are buying them. You are becoming part of the solution and exercising your will and values in a way that will help the generations to come.
What ingredients should I look for in my beauty products that are helpful or nourishing for my skin, hair and nails?
Hydrating ingredients such as natural oils and aloe vera are key. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it is the main filter between your inner organs and the environment at large.
Our body is mostly water and the skin is almost always dehydrated. It needs moisture to perform its myriad functions of purification and immune support. Without moisture skin simply can’t perform properly.
The next most important category of ingredients is antioxidants. These are found in the phytochemicals from fruit extracts and in vitamin and mineral forms. An acronym I like to use for antioxidants for the skin is A-C-E-S which stands for the Vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium.
All are excellent antioxidants which work to protect from and reverse free radical damage that occurs constantly within and on the surface of the body.
Beyond the actual makeup and shampoos, do the brushes and bottles and other ancillary items make a difference?
From a strictly environmental perspective, the bottles and brushes are probably most important. If you buy highest quality brushes, the kind that cost a small fortune, you won’t ever need to buy brushes again.
I still use brushes that my grandmother gave me from when she was a young woman. These highest quality brushes use real hair, solid hard wood handles, and metal connectors that are nearly impossible to break. You can care for these brushes by washing them regularly with gentle cleansers, allowing them to air dry and keeping them away from your Jack Russell Terrier.
Most brushes these days are not built to last. They are often plastic with flimsy tin connectors and synthetic bristles – all of which levy a heavy toll on our environment, especially our oceans. Sometimes plastic is unavoidable. BUT, we can repurpose our plastics for use in other ways to extend the life and usability of the material.
For example, I ask the parents who use our products to take the bottles and create magic potions with their kids using our measured bottles. Or to fill them with paint and create art for self-expression.
Green is a lifestyle and a way of thinking that we can instill in our children from a very young age to help them lead healthier lives and protect their future.
What are the biggest myths and misperceptions about green beauty products?
Our industry is so young that the myths run rampant. I think the biggest myth is that organic products are also green. Just because a manufacturer is using organic ingredients does not mean they exercise green values.
For example, an organic product may still be produced in China, filled in a manufacturing plant that spends $30, 000 per month on fossil fueled electricity and freighted by diesel to various locations for assembly and distribution. A truly green company will be active about their environmental efforts in every way.
Even small steps, such as installing motion sensor lights in rooms and turning off their computers every night can add up to make a positive impact.
Kimberly Walls, second-generation skincare clinician and creative developer of BEB Organic – luxuriously all natural skincare with aromatherapy for infants, toddlers and moms.