People are so much more aware of the chemicals we find in our cosmetics and skin care products now than they have ever been. The old guard industry standard response still seems to be ‘yeah but there is so little formaldehyde in that nail polish it’s considered safe’ – NOT IF YOU DO YOUR NAILS EVERY WEEK FOR 30 YEARS. Sorry, I get a little animated about this. The point is that exposure over time turns that little bit of whatever it is into a lot of whatever it is. It’s particularly disturbing with things like endocrine disrupting chemicals.
I’ve really been considering this recently. My biggest concern (rightly or wrongly, and maybe a bit irrationally?) is nail polish. I love having my nails done. It makes me feel fancy. I hate getting them done in traditional nail salons because they just seem like cess pits of toxic fumes. Also I like the process of doing it myself; I’m not amazing at it but it’s plausible. It’s why I started The Parlour in the first place: a place to try out all the non-toxic nail products on the market, but also discuss efficacy because, hey, if it doesn’t apply well and then chips off in a day or so who is going to use that?
Nail polish is also a neat little microcosm in the beauty industry because there is a very obvious spectrum: 3 free, 5 free, 7 free, 8 free, 9 free, 10 free through to water based. You can make relatively informed decisions based on what isn’t in the ingredients list, and weigh that against how much value you place on efficacy. For instance, I love Smith & Cult, which is a great 8 free formula that applies and lasts like any traditional nail polish. But I also love Little Ondine, which has no odour, is water based and peels off (no remover!) but because of my lifestyle which includes nightly soaks in warm water (blame the baby) it doesn’t last its usual 4 days and instead will last me 2 or 3 at best. Kure Bazaar is also a favourite, and they make a fantastic remover which really feels nourishing. In a nutshell: I’m not dogmatic because, like you, I’m also looking for performance.
I try my very best to be a conscientious consumer, and to mindfully consider each product I ‘need’, those I can do without, and those that I feel have such efficacy that I am willing to compromise – to a point. My experience with nail polishes led me to consider the rest of my product stash. Where do I compromise, where do I place efficacy over ingredients and where can I probably do a like for like swap. Add to this though the difficulty that comes with being a bit of a product junkie. I am super loyal to skin care and if it works I won’t stray, but make-up, I love to try new things, and sometimes that means I do stray outside of the organic/green/non-toxic only sphere. In light of these considerations I decided to do a completely unscientific re-organisation of my products based on where they fit on the sliding scale of conventional ingredients to organic. The results were interesting. I definitely love certain products despite the fact that I can probably find less chemically obnoxious sub-ins but don’t want to, and in other places I’ve already got a ‘to buy next’ list which is populated by items purely from the ‘clean’ end of the spectrum (indicated with a little ‘+’ and listed at the very end if you’re interested).
After that long-winded introduction, here is my spectrum – top being most ‘dirty’ to bottom being most ‘clean’ (broken down into skincare, hair care and make-up)*:
Sk:n Exfoliating Cleanser (glycerin and glycolic acid (4%))
Glossier Soothing Face Mist (+)
Glossier Priming Moisturiser Rich (+)
CosRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
Elemental Herbology Cell Plumping Facial Hydrator
Live Native Deodorant
Antipodes Grapeseed Butter Cleanser
Christophe Robin Shade Variation Care (warm chestnut)
Boucleme Curls Redefined Curl Cleanser
Boucleme Curls Redefined Curl Conditioner
Boucleme Curls Redefined Curl Defining Gel
Chantecaille Mascara (+)
Chanel Eye Colour Stick (+)
Glossier Haloscope (+)
Glossier Boy Brow (+)
Glossier Stretch Concealer (+)
Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint
Glossier Generation G Lipstick
Glossier Balm Dotcom
Ilia Radiant Beauty Balm SPF 20
Jane Iredale Mystikol Eye Liner
RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek
RMS Beauty Master Mixer
I think it should be noted here, and indeed in any discussion of ‘clean’ beauty, that yes, obviously anything can be toxic in any dosage and everything is a chemical – my chemist friend’s favourite example of this is water. I know S, I know. BUT the point is to be mindful of repeated exposure to things which we have evidence to show do us harm. We’re (mostly) lay people after all and monikers such as ‘non-toxic’, ‘chemical free’, ‘clean’ etc convey more of the spirit in which these products are made and used rather than a pedant’s accuracy.
Rather than stubbornly declaring allegiance to one camp to the exclusion of the other, maybe (as I suspect most of us are) you’re a little bit in both camps. I think that’s okay. I don’t believe fanaticism is sustainable or even desirable, and, god knows there are some good products out there that don’t fit squarely in the ‘clean’ end of the spectrum.
*For those of you who are interested, my methodology for this article – while not exhaustive and certainly not scientifically water tight – gives a good indication of ‘toxicity’ of my various products. I used two websites to cross check ingredients to make sure I was getting good information; these websites are EWG’s Skin Deep Database and Cosmetics Info – both easy to use and with comprehensive databases. I also really rate the Think Dirty app. If a product has a high scoring ingredient (even if others were relatively neutral) it appears higher in the list.
In order of appearance, these new items are**:
Skin and Tonic Rose Mist
Antipodes Avocado Pear Nourishing Night Cream
Jane Iredale Mascara
Ilia or RMS eye liner
RMS Beauty Magic Luminizer
Jane Iredale Clear Brow Gel
RMS Beauty Un-Coverup
**some of these replacements (e.g. of Glossier products) are for convenience because I can’t (read: shouldn’t) keep asking my mum to send me cosmetic products that currently only ship within the States!