Why Clean Beauty Is Just As Much About What You Don’t Use As What You Do

To open, I will offer a bit of information as context: over 1,300 ingredients used in skincare products in the Unites States have been banned from use or more strictly limited in European products.

Yes, believe it or not, you read that correctly.

Europe forbids or more strongly restricts the use of formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, and a host of other chemicals linked to carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting effects, and the United States does not. Seems strange, right?

A little internet search will offer up a lot of lists of harmful cosmetic and skincare ingredients and their various effects:

Phthalates interrupt healthy hormone levels and can impact fertility, perhaps passing effects from one generation to the next.

Parabens interact with oestrogen levels, potentially interfering with female fertility.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives could harm cells in ways that promote cancerous activity.

And the list goes on …

This all sounds pretty scary, right? Over the last hundred years, we’ve discovered more than a few man-made chemicals have had disastrous effects on not only human health but also animal and plant life. Remember DDT? That’s only the tip of the iceberg. All sorts of drugs and chemicals have been approved by government agencies only to get pulled years or decades later when new studies found they had unacceptable side effects.

And, even if chemicals are present only in small doses, what happens when people wash them repeatedly down the drain and send them into water systems?

For those of us who want to make skincare that is good for the environment and human health, choosing a more natural approach seems obvious.

So, you might ask:

Is there a need to panic?

Well, that is a more complex conversation. A lot of ingredients, like formaldehyde (which appears in cosmetics largely through formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, such as DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, and Quaternium-15) are harmful in large quantities. Formaldehyde gas can contribute to cancer growth after prolonged and significant exposure. What's unclear is what effects smaller amounts of formaldehyde might have.

And we interact with small amounts of things like formaldehyde on a daily basis. We breathe in formaldehyde in nail polish fumes or cigarette smoke. It comes from gas stoves and open fireplaces. It's in household cleaners and (surprise, surprise) naturally present (in tiny amounts) in fresh fruits and vegetables. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great thing to keep producing through our products.

Yes, but isn't everything a carcinogen at this point?

It does seem like everything can cause cancer nowadays when it comes in large enough quantities. The sun causes cancer – so does oxygen! Free radicals are a byproduct of oxygen use by every cell in the human body. But that doesn't mean we should shrug our shoulders and give up caring about what we put in and on our bodies.

There are a lot of things beyond our current scientific ability to comprehend, including the interactions between various chemicals that may or may not directly contribute to hormone imbalances, immune responses, and cancer.

One of the guiding principles that we use at Botanical Republic is simplicity. If we can achieve great results with fewer ingredients, ingredients from plants with names we understand and usages that go back hundreds if not thousands of years, then why fill our products with anything else?

A lot of the man-made ingredients out there were invented as cheaper substitutes for the ingredients nature already offered. The cheaper chemicals required only synthetic manufacturing, not harvesting, and they could fill up products to reduce the percentage of expensive or valuable ingredients the company needed to include. So, when there's a choice, we think, why not just stick with natural?

What does "natural skincare" mean?

A lot of consumers have started to look for "natural" or "organic" on cosmetic product labels, but those labels only mean so much. Did you know that the FDA doesn't regulate the use of the term "natural" at all? "Natural" products can be full of synthetically produced chemicals, and that's not illegal at all.

"Organic" is more tightly regulated, but it still doesn't mean that all the ingredients in a product are organic or derived from nature. It doesn't even guarantee that the product doesn't include an ingredient currently banned in European cosmetics.

So, if you really want to trust the natural origins of your products, get to know your product ingredients. What plants do they come from? What are they doing in the product?

At Botanical Republic, we stand behind our ingredient choices. Nothing goes into a product without good reason because we don't believe in cheap fillers.

We're not trying to start a panic about various chemical ingredients currently dominating the market, but we are offering you the option of choosing something simpler.

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

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