Discover what’s really in your cosmetics and learn how to make your own at home!

Read Time:   |  11th November 2016

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As your skin is your largest organ, it’s really important that the products you use on it are free from ‘nasties’ to leave you feeling as gorgeous as you look! Let Charlotte Willis guide you through the world of cosmetics, as she teaches you to make your own at home! 

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

How many skincare, beauty or cosmetic products do you use in one day? The beauty and skincare industry provides us with a plethora of different creams, soaps, lotions and potions that your skin and body come into contact with on a regular basis. But it seems that our skin may be struggling. There has been a marked rise in the prevalence of both sensitive skin and specific skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis over the past decade. In fact, a recent European report revealed that as many as 52 per cent of the UK claim to currently have sensitive skin – myself included. Could it be that a stark two-fold increase in the number of cosmetic and dermatological chemicals present in our bathroom cupboards and beauty bags could be exacerbating this issue?

A Wake up Call

My alarm wakes me at 6:30am every day. I jump in the shower after a workout, wash, moisturise, style my hair and apply makeup all before facing the day ahead of me. That’s a total of 19 products my skin has been exposed to in the first two hours of my day! Much like the vast majority of the population, I was used to using shop-bought and mass-produced cosmetics and beauty products as part of my daily routine. Promising to beautify, clarify, hydrate and enhance – these products are marketed in such positive ways that portray health and vitality. But what the glossy ad campaigns and false-promises fail to mention is the lengthy list, worthy of a chemistry lab, of chemical ingredients that are concealed on the labels.

As a nutritionist and healthy living enthusiast, I’ve adopted a rule for maintaining my health: never to consume food that contains an ingredient I cannot pronounce, comes from animal sources, or can’t be easily sourced from a supermarket shelf or farm.

For years now I have been power-reading nutritional labels, scrutinising ingredients down to their microscopic effects on my body and researching the health effects of certain food-industry chemicals. But, despite having sensitive skin for the majority of my life and struggling with various skin complaints, I never once thought to inspect the labels of the very products that I was smearing, rubbing and delicately brushing all over my skin every day. With the UK recently banning the use of microbeads (small, plastic exfoliators that contaminate water supplies), I dug deeper into the cosmetic industry, and what I discovered truly opened my eyes.

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

A Shattered Illusion

Take a look at the back label of your favourite cosmetic product. Be it a shampoo, bronzer, body scrub or shaving gel – just how many ingredients from that list can you identify? The beauty and cosmetic industry utilise a number of different chemicals and additives in commonly used products in order to add colour, texture, fragrance to ensure they perform as promised. These chemical agents include petroleum derivatives, inorganically manufactured preservatives, mineral oxides and ores extracted in such a way that renders them actively harmful to the body, along with various types of plastics, alcohols and sulphates.

Body Burden

The Body Burden is a term used to reflect the accumulation of environmental and cosmetic toxins found in your body. Sure, our bodies have a self-cleaning mechanism to help us remove unwanted substances that we encounter on a daily basis. But when we overwhelm our system or regularly expose ourselves to toxins, we can soon develop issues.

It’s easy to see how this could occur. A prominent Canadian study in 2010 by The David Suzuki Foundation (an ethical living organisation) found that as many as 80 per cent of all randomly selected beauty products found in participant’s daily routines contained at least one form of toxic chemical that has been scientifically proven to cause health complaints. Even more staggering, however, is the fact that most cosmetic and beauty companies are aware of the dangers of using such ingredients – and yet refuse to remove them from products available for public purchase. Furthermore, manufacturers are not required to prove the safety of many ingredients that are used in cosmetic toiletries in the UK, with the USA and Canada having more relaxed regulations for toxicity and cosmetic chemical testing. This is a concern, as a large proportion of top-selling branded make-up and hair-care products are imported from these countries.

However, there is good news. A growing concern over cosmetic safety has inspired the creation of natural skincare and toiletry companies.

Alternatively, you can turn your kitchen into an apothecary! By creating your own plant-based skincare products, and soaps, you remove a large amount of chemicals from your daily routine. Try out my favourites above.

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

Dirty Beauty 

It can be hard to know just which products are safe as there is a multitude of misleading claims made by advertisers and product developers. My best advice is to always look beyond the claims and read the labels carefully. Products that state “all natural” or “from natural sources” doesn’t guarantee that they will be chemical-free or beneficial for the skin. Below are a list of the beauty industry’s worst offenders:

  • Use: Found as a foaming or bubbling agent in most common body washes, shampoos, facial cleansers and gels.
  • Issue: Over-exposure has been linked to eye damage, breathing issues and inflamed skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. It is also toxic to marine life.
  • Use: Widely found in cosmetics, moisturisers and shampoos to act as a preservative.
  • Issue: Parabens easily penetrate the skin’s tissues and can disrupt hormonal functioning. It is estimated that an average woman is exposed to 50mg of parabens per day.
  • Use: Antioxidant preservative found in lipsticks, cosmetic products and moisturisers.
  • Issue: Long-term exposure has been linked to liver, thyroid and kidney problems in humans. It has also been noted by the United Nations Environmental Program to bioaccumulate in aquatic wildlife.
  • Use: To add colour and pigmentation tints to products such as cosmetics, body washes and shampoos.
  • Issue: These dyes are derived from petroleum and are recognised as being particularly carcinogenic when ingested.
  • Use: Helps skincare products such as moisturisers to absorb into the body.
  • Issue: This chemical has been classified as a probable human carcinogen.

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

Beyond Skin Deep

Often carrying a hefty price tag, many products claim to be “suitable for sensitive skin” and yet contain ingredients linked to outbreaks of acne, eczema and psoriasis as well as contact dermatitis, redness, pigmentation issues and skin rashes.

Far from just simply clogging pores, chemicals found in cosmetics can bio-accumulate in your body even when they are washed off. Sinking through the skin’s deeper dermal layers, toxic chemicals find their way into the bloodstream where they interact with the body at a cellular level. Some are harmless, however, certain ingredients can trouble us in alarming ways, ranging from growth hormone disruption to pro-carcinogenic action. Staggeringly, the American Cancer Association suggests that 90 per cent of us have evidence of parabens (unnatural and harmful cosmetic preservatives) present in our urine at any one time.

There is growing concern being raised by scientists as to the potential damage of these chemicals. The American Cancer Association goes as far to suggest that parabens found in beauty products may have oestrogen-like properties that could proliferate breast cancer, and disrupt hormone synthesis in pubescent adolescents.

Here are a few cosmetics that you can rustle up yourself and enjoy at your leisure.
Aloe Vera Soap
  • 1 foaming soap dispenser
  • 75g (2¼oz) pure organic aloe vera gel
  • 75g (2¼oz) Dr Bronner’s Castille Soap
  • 250ml (8fl oz) pure filtered water
  • 10 drops of mixed essential oils for fragrance and skin-type

Combine all ingredients together in a mixing bowl and stir gently before decanting into your soap dispenser. Shake before each use.

Facial Oil Moisturiser
  • 75ml (2½fl oz) jojoba oil
  • 75ml (2½fl oz) rosehip oil

10-12 drops of essential oils such as lavender, rose, frankincense and geranium for sensitive skin or tea tree and neroli for blemish-prone skin

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

Traditional Indian Face Mask
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp gram flour
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 activated charcoal capsules, broken and contents removed

Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl, apply onto skin and leave to harden. Wash off after around 10 minutes.

Get to grips with the world of vegan cosmetics

Coconut Teeth Whitener
  • 75ml (2½fl oz) melted coconut oil
  • A few drops of peppermint oil

Swill around the mouth for around 5-10 minutes to naturally whiten teeth.

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an Assistant Psychologist at the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and has a MS degree in Clinical Neuropsychiatry from Kings College London. Charlotte is also a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, and a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications.

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