We need to talk. We need to have a very frank conversation about the beauty industry. There's an epidemic of people carelessly tossing around words and claims which have no real meaning - or rather, those people (and brands) may not know the true meaning. There's a reason why I don't spew out football terminology or engineering jargon. I don't understand the topics well enough to make concrete claims or statements about them. By no means am I the end-all be-all of the beauty industry. I have a lot to learn. But I also recognize that I've done quite a bit of research over the years and understand certain phrases or concepts well enough to make statements or share my thoughts on them.
I want to uphold the content I put out into the world with a sense of integrity. I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. If I'm ever wrong about something, I want to take full responsibility for it because you deserve honesty and truthfulness. If I say something that is blatantly wrong or entirely misinformed, tell me. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to earn your respect.
You are trusting my opinion and perspective on an industry we're all so enamored by. By trusting my opinion, in a sense, you're likely trusting me with your money. I take that shit seriously. It's not my money to spend. While I can't guarantee that every product I discuss will be a 100% perfect match for you - which, unfortunately is just the nature of beauty products - you can be certain that I'm not going to be blowing smoke up your ass.
Similarly, I'm not here to tell you how to think, how to feel, or what to believe. That's not my place. However, I will ensure that I do my part to make you feel more empowered through knowledge. I've reached a point in my online career where people are paying attention. I got here because you all supported me. We're in this together.
I love my green beauty as much as I love my clinical skincare. I recognize what skincare is and what it isn't; what it will do and what it won't. Much of that relates to the discussion that is had in regards to marketing, product claims, or the atmosphere which surrounds a certain lifestyle. This post is about words I will never use when discussing cosmetic or skincare products for a number of reasons. Let's spill some tea.
"Detox, Detoxify, Detoxification, etc." Detoxify
As defined by Merriam-Webster: "1:
a: to remove a harmful substance (such as a poison or toxin) or the effect of such from
b: to render (a harmful substance) harmless 2: to free (someone, such as a drug user or an alcoholic) from an intoxicating or an addictive substance in the body or from dependence on or addiction to such a substance."
In order to further understand detoxification, let's discuss what toxins are. Toxin
As defined by the Oxford dictionary: "a poison of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and acting as an antigen in the body."
If that's not enough, let's define poison. Poison
As defined by the Cambridge dictionary:
"a substance that causes illness or death if swallowed, absorbed, or breathed into the body."
The fact of the matter is that even sugar can be considered a toxin, so it really just depends on how you look at it.
The liver is a key player in helping rid our body of toxins. This is why alcoholics often end up with severe liver damage. After all, alcohol is a toxin. If toxins were to absorb through certain channels of the skin and into the blood stream, it's mostly the liver that will help remove them from the body. Not a clay mask or peppery lemonade.
The kidneys work further aid in detoxifying the body to filter the blood and release the impurities through urination. Lactic acid released during exercise is considered a toxin, which is also excreted this way.
Let's be clear though: the skin does in fact excrete toxins from the body - but only when the liver, lungs, and kidneys fail to pick up the slack. Common toxins that are released through the skin include crystals from metabolized protein from meat, fish, and legumes - to name a few. I'm also very glad that the skin doesn't expel all toxins from the body. Could you imagine being bitten by a snake (God forbid) and having all the venom shoot out of your pores? Go go gadget no thank you.
Sweating may release toxins from the body, but the amount is so small that putting yourself through extreme heat or dehydration just to do so is actually be more harmful than helpful.
The only Detox I'm interested in Image courtesy of Valerie Macon / Getty Images
As much as I'm a complete supporter of the green beauty movement, skincare as self-care, positive and mindful thinking, etc., I simply cannot get behind the concept that using a charcoal mask for 20 minutes functions the same way the liver does if you were to ingest a pint of pesticides.
The biggest problem I have with companies, blogs, or people claiming that their product "detoxes" the skin is that they rarely define exactly what the "toxins" are. Beyond that, as I mentioned above, we have mostly the liver, kidneys, and lungs to thank for ridding our bodies of toxins - not the skin.
Here is a list of common toxins. Not all, but some. Plz don't eat these.
Carbon Monoxide (not the Regina Spektor song)
Extreme amounts of iron
If you want to truly detox your body and skin, drink a lot of water, have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber, and don't hold your piss in.
This is one phrase that is an exception to my promise because there are, in fact, products that are completely derived from a plant, vegetable, or marine source. But even then, there are better ways to describe these products than a general "all-natural."
Point blank, this term doesn't mean shit and it makes people look like a talking bobblehead when they casually throw it around. It's a marketing ploy, and I'm a firm believer in understanding when and how you're being marketed to.
My favorite is the fact that Sephora displays Drunk Elephant's Sukari Babyfacial on their "natural" page, while Drunk Elephant prides themselves on not being all-natural. But who am I to say whether Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer is natural or not?
Back to my rant.
As defined by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture):
"A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed")."
*Note that this definition is applicable to food products.
Skincare is a completely different ballgame. The term "natural" is not regulated. Meaning a silicone and glycol-based primer with 5% green tea extract may be labeled as natural and no one can do anything about it. In fact, here are the FDA's guidelines, copied word for word:
"Can I label my cosmetics “natural” or “organic”? The same requirements for safety and labeling apply to all cosmetics, no matter what their source. This includes, for example, making sure that all your labeling is truthful and not misleading. FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling. FDA also does not have regulations for the term "organic" for cosmetics. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of the term “organic” for agricultural products under the National Organic Program (NOP). If you have questions about the use of the term “organic,” contact USDA. Answers to some common questions about "organic" cosmetics are available on our website under “‘Organic’ Cosmetics.” Don’t use terms such as “natural” as part of an ingredient statement, because ingredients must be listed by their common or usual names, without additional description."
If you'd like to hear a description from someone else, Adina Grigore of S.W. Basics of Brooklyn did a fantastic interview for Harper's Bazaar.
In order to be considered "all-natural," it's not all that complicated. There can be zero synthetic ingredients contained in the product whatsoever. These products do exist, but likely make up only a fraction of a percent of products which claim to be as such.
But take for example, MV Skincare. I am so appreciative of Sharon's explanation of how her products are formulated.
"Most of our ingredients begin their life in the soil, not in a laboratory, and the synthetic ingredients we do use are amongst the world's safest. This means the majority of our ingredients are natural and organic (not merely a token amount, as is commonplace)."
I'd much rather see transparency like this than a brand claiming to be all-natural but include silicones or synthetic preservatives in their formulas. It's not that I think either of those things are bad, but I expect that if a brand makes a claim, they need to back it up.
It's also worth mentioning that the words "natural" and "organic" are not interchangeable. Organic refers to a specific standard by which an ingredient is grown, produced, harvested, processed, etc., but more on that later.
In fact, I'm working on a different post that is purely dedicated to talking about natural versus organic versus made-by-forest-nymphs, etc. It'll be linked here when it's up and running!
Also keep in mind that many cosmetic products use synthetic preservatives to ensure that the product doesn't set up a high-rise condo for hoards of bacteria and fungus to move into. I'm totally fine with that, because I enjoy not having my face eaten away by flesh-eating bacteria.
I think the most frustrating thing about the term "natural" or "all-natural" is brands use it knowing the average consumer doesn't know any better. They know that they can slap a claim about chamomile extract on the bottle and the next person that walks up to the counter likely won't know the difference. It's greed, pure and simple. It's not having your customer's best interest in mind by educating them. It's monetary gain. Which is why we have to put our foot down and call them out.
If you're reading this post, chances are you have slightly more knowledge about skincare than the average person who walks into Sephora or a department store - or you are at least looking to increase your knowledge. The next time someone tells you their product is "all-natural," ask them what percentage of the formula is derived from a plant source. Ask them to see the ingredient label. If they can't answer your questions in a straight-forward way, take your money elsewhere.
It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature!
Also, please be aware that "natural" doesn't always mean better. I know you've heard that whole "poison ivy is natural" reference before, but it's absolutely true. It's also worth considering the fact that there are certain synthetic ingredients that are fantastic for the skin. These include, but are not limited to, Vitamin C, Vitamin A or Retinoids, Hyaluronic Acid, Peptides, Ceramides, and Amino Acids.
There are certainly ways of deriving these ingredients from a natural source, but it's extremely expensive to do so and there's not always a way to ensure maximum stability. And with something like Vitamin C, stability is a damn good thing.
As defined by Merriam-Webster:
"of, relating to, used in, or produced by chemistry or the phenomena of chemistry"
So what is chemistry?
Chemistry As defined by Google: "the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change; and the use of these processes to form new substances."
Let's repeat that.
WATER. IS. A. CHEMICAL.
It keeps us alive. Any skincare product which contains water is automatically classified as having chemicals in it. Point blank.
A chemical is a description of composition or characteristics. It is not a general description of ingredients or compounds which are considered harmful by fearmongering and/or largely misinformed sources.
This reason, and this reason alone, is why you will never hear me refer to "chemicals" when justifying skincare which contains ingredients largely derived from plant sources.
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly harmful chemicals out there. Some even make their way into skincare products. But it's also worth noting that the concentration of these ingredients is often so low that there shouldn't be cause for concern. Obviously it's your decision to make. For your sake, though, I'd say it's worth researching (from unbiased sources) before making any rash decisions that will then make shopping for products even more difficult than it already is.
It's much more helpful to refer to the specific ingredient which is considered harmful to the body or the environment, such as sodium lauryl sulfate. It's all in the details - especially when it comes to skincare ingredients.
When I hear a person or brand talking about how their (water-based) moisturizer is free of chemicals, I give them one of these:
And walk away.
They shouldn't. Or at least there's not outstanding research to support that they do.
If you're sensitive to parabens, and some people are, avoid them. But they shouldn't, based on the research that we have presently have to work with, give you cancer any more than eating carrots or berries would.
It's also worth mentioning that the original study - which found parabens in cancerous breast tissue - was later reviewed to find that there was not a direct link between parabens and cancerous breast tissue. Parabens were also found in healthy breast tissue.
Not only that, some alternative preservation methods may be even harsher than parabens. I want to play devil's advocate for a moment: Let's say that parabens do in fact cause cancer, without a doubt. The parabens that certain fruits and vegetables produce naturally would likely to be more to blame based on the fact that we're ingesting them - as in, they go directly into our bodies and eventually into our bloodstream. As FutureDerm pointed out, only certain weights and molecular sizes of skincare ingredients are actually able to penetrate through the skin and into the blood. From my understanding, parabens are on the larger side and may not even be able permeate. From a formulary standpoint, parabens are most commonly used in cosmetic products in quantities of less than one percent of the entire formula's weight.
But at the end of the day, it's your call to make.
A note from the editor (it me):
I have nothing personal against any people or blogs mentioned, Gwyneth included. It's been 18 years and I'm still not over that Ralph Lauren gown. Hell, there's even some Goop products that I'd be keen to try some day.
I respect that everyone has money to make, a career to chase, and a life to live. They can choose to uphold any lifestyle or belief system they want, so long as it doesn't start to be projective vomited onto others.
What I do take an issue with is preaching false, under-researched, misinformed, or just plain offensive statements or claims from a platform that is fueled by your readers' money and time.
We live in an era where fact-checking, transparency, integrity, and respect are being challenged by every facet of society. YouTube personalities are making thousands of dollars from products that they don't really like or use. The United States President is a narcissistic, sexist, babbling citrus fruit. Brands are claiming to be natural, but the only natural thing about them is my natural inclination to throw their products in the trash.
When it comes to certain words or phrases, there's so much value in being assertive and straight-forward. You deserve to know the honest truth about these things because Gwyneth Paltrow is not purchasing your skincare products for you. It's your money and you worked damn well hard enough for it. Knowledge is power, but so is money. Spend it wisely. Spend it with your mind and not because people are scaring you to believe your moisturizer will make your anus fall out of your body.
PS: I hope y'all appreciate the Avril Lavigne reference ;)