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The truth about beauty products and their ingredients is.. well..that there exist no absolute truths. In a world where ideological rights or wrongs are the norm, we want a platform that allows a more nuanced, balanced approach to things..and life.
Take the example of beauty products. On one hand, there are people who are so cynical they will run a mile from anything natural because they equate natural with 'non-effective and paranoid'. On the other hand there are people who will not touch a synthetic chemical with a ten foot pole even though 'just because something is natural or naturally derived, it doesn't mean it is always good for you'. How is then one to situate oneself in this world of blacks and whites without assuming shades of grey?
Take me for example. Growing up, where I came from, there were two products of each type that one could buy at the store and that was that. The choice was not difficult to make. We also used home-made masks, fresh cream and yogurt on the skin, eggs and coffee on the hair. However the choices that I had when I arrived in the U.S 12 years ago were staggering! And I was overwhelmed. In a way this was a good thing because in order to make the best possible choices, I realized I needed to know a lot more about these products. So I started reading about what makes a product good: what were good ingredients and what weren't? Why were they good and why were they bad? And which were definitely good and definitely bad? And which were sort of bad? And which were not bad, but people would rather not use them because they sound bad. One issue I encountered was that most arguments came from one 'camp' or the other. The 'why go green' camp or the 'don't touch me you chemical, you' camp. It was often very difficult to have a sane conversation with anybody about why something was good or bad without wondering if this would turn into an ideological debate.
Obviously, the easiest thing to do is to is to find a reliable resource. And that is a good step. But the next thing to do is blindly follow every recommendation they make. And that is a bad step. I come from an academic background (I have a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience). The only reason I even mention this is that my academic research background has been instrumental in making me realize that there is no absolute truth because research is an ongoing process and as studies and research proceed, the facts change and the truth (being the non-absolute thing that it is) is constantly being updated. And as the truth gets updated we update our choices.
What implication does this have on the skin and body care choices we make? It could affect not just the choices we make but how we make those choices. For starters, we want people to be able to discuss products and ingredients and preservatives without being afraid to offend anybody and without having to take a stand. We want to open up portals for a healthy discussion because that is all we can do. We want people to find products that allow them not only to start but to sustain a green beauty lifestyle (if they want to). I was using green, affordable beauty products as a grad student on a budget, and I still use many of the wonderful products I found then, now. Because they are lovely regardless of price. I also want people to understand that 'green' does not mean ineffective. Infact, packed as they are with nutrient dense ingredients and lack of fillers, many green beauty products are often more luxurious and effective than their conventional counterparts. It is just a matter of sifting and finding the ones that work well.
And ALWAYS use your common sense.
For example : if you absolutely don't want to use any preservatives in your skincare, choose oil based and waterless products and use them quickly. If you want to use water based products, I am sorry, but they have to be preserved because, you know, things grow in water. Yes they do! Unless you want to make your own products and use them up in a couple of days. I have done that too! [There is a recipe of an excellent cream in herbalist Rosemary Gladstar's Herbs for Natural Beauty, that is just wonderful on the skin. You can also find the recipe online].
Preservatives in the products one chooses to use is also not without controversy. You might want the preservative to be something that is safe enough that it isn't linked (even weakly) to cancer or reproductive toxicity. However, you do want it to be strong enough that it actually preserves the product that it is claiming to preserve. It is a tricky territory but a lot of small businesses are beginning to work with newer and safer preservatives. However, the only thing that they can claim is that these are as safe as the current scientific literature allows them to be. I know it is frightening that there is no absolute when it comes to safety. But the fact is that the newer the ingredient is, the less likely it has been extensively tested for safety. So yes, this is a tricky territory. But that is ok. As long as you realize that most of the information you find on the internet is tentative at best. And wrong at worst. Then you should be fine.
Ok. Ok. Maybe I'm partly kidding with that last statement. We might know some things for sure. And I don't mean to be a cynic and I don't mean to scare you with this uncertainty. So here are a few of our own personal guidelines when choosing and using beauty products.
1) We like to use products with ingredients that nourish and feed our skin and the skin of all our human testers. Just because an ingredient is termed non-toxic does not mean it is nourishing or good for your skin. Just as in food, raw, minimally processed ingredients will generally be more beneficial than their refined counterparts. Unrefined nut, fruit, seed butters and oils are among our favorite skin food. Oh and plant derived squalane and hyaluronic acid.
2) There are a number of ingredients we avoid because they do squat for the skin and studies have shown that they might be toxic. You can find these on our FAQ page but this is not an exhaustive list.
3) When it comes to preservatives, the ground gets a bit shaky. We avoid parabens and formaldehyde releasing preservatives. We are unsure (but less concerned) about Japanese honeysuckle extract, which contains phytochemicals with similar chemical structure to synthetically-derived parabens, but we do use a few products containing it. Some of the preservatives we are most comfortable using in water-based or aloe-based formulations would be Geogard (gluconolactone and sodium benzoate) and leucidal. However, there is no one preservative that would work effectively with all formulations (things like pH of the product etc. have an important role to play). We are on the fence about phenoxyethanol but realize that some water based products need to use it for safe preservation. We deal with this on a case by case basis. If it is really low on the list with high proportions of all natural, nourishing ingredients then we use it. We would probably err on the side of caution and avoid those products on young kids. But of course, we welcome friendly discussions on any of these ingredients and choices. *
I guess the most important guideline we espouse is to enjoy it all - the research, the finding, the using of the products.
On our part, we want to introduce you to wonderfully effective products that you will love, regardless of what your ideology is. We want you to experience that oasis of calming pleasure that a quiet beauty ritual can provide; With a group of products that are not redundant but work well together. We want these to be useful things. Beautiful things. Useful, beautiful things that are as safe as possible (and as safe as we know them to be). How's that for an ideology?
- One of the Boxwallas (the girl)
* Shout out to Karley of thebeautyblogger.net - nine or so years ago when I was researching ingredients and trying to find the best green products out there, Karley's older blog : Chic and Green Daily was one of a small handful of green beauty blogs, and was instrumental in shaping my own questioning, yet balanced approach to green beauty as well as the importance of safe preservation systems. Also later, Trish of Scenthive was a source of many 'green lemmings' especially of the natural perfume kind.
Picture is my own taken in Florence seven years ago