When most of us first become aware of the not-so-great ingredients lurking in our makeup bags and beauty cabinets, one of the first problems we encounter is figuring out what to avoid and what to embrace. This rings true for products and individual ingredients alike. After all, not all chemicals are created equally. Understanding that everything is a chemical, from water to your favourite essential oil, the next thing most of us do is try to decipher the meaning of the scientific names of those chemicals on the ingredients list. Because, contrary to the popular refrain, there are many great natural and organic ingredients with scientific names that are difficult to pronounce. While it may not be too difficult to figure out that cocos nucifera is coconut oil, it can be difficult to figure out whether, with your newfound knowledge, you want to keep cocos nucifera in your beauty routine. One trick that worked for me was stalking blog posts and websites of people who I thought were credible, who had already done the hard work of dividing the safe from the not-so-safe, and the green from the greenwashed. This cut out a lot of the hard work in figuring out what to embrace and what to avoid. But it is not foolproof. And, unfortunately it’s really not a practical way to make a sustainable switch to cleaner beauty products.
One problem with that method is that it usually doesn’t clue you in on the many reasons why we might want to embrace or avoid certain ingredients. In fact, the same reason might fall on both sides of the argument. For example, when I made the decision to use mainly natural hair products, I decided to avoid silicones, which coat the hair shaft, because you typically need sulfates to remove them and sulfates can be a little too thorough in stripping the natural oils from curly and coily hair. But another person may choose to use silicones, because they coat the hair shaft, and write-off the use of sulfates as a necessary evil. This is an entirely personal choice.
Of course most of the information needed to start you on your way is easily accessible online. But where to begin? Most of us do not have hours upon end to sort and digest volumes and volumes of information on every single ingredient in our beauty and skincare products. That is where a good cheat sheet comes in.
Whether it’s a guide, an app or a website, green beauty cheat sheets can help jump-start the process of replacing your old beauty products with cleaner, safer ones. Clean ingredient guides are like CliffsNotes for ingredient labels. Finding a trustworthy one can save you tons of time spent researching individual ingredients and products. A good guide will summarize a lot of important information in a short space, such as various ingredient names, typical uses, sources, toxicity, special concerns and other factors that we want to consider when making the switch. The best guides keep this information as simple as possible. Below, in alphabetical order, are five incredibly useful green beauty cheat sheets, and five honorable mentions, to help you along the way in ditching the toxic products in your home and makeup bag, and replacing them with safer, more natural alternatives.
(1) Beauty Heroes Ingredient Intelligence Pocket Guide. Beauty Heroes’ Ingredient Intelligence Pocket Guide is the only guide on this list that might be as popular in print as it is online. You can download the Guide and print it yourself or, even better, subscribe to the Beauty Heroes’ subscription box and you’ll receive one colour-printed and neatly folded in your monthly box. The convenient fold-out guide is nicely designed and fits perfectly in an envelope-style wallet. Opening up the first fold reveals 6 skincare categories and a list of clean, superpower ingredients under each. Opening up the second fold reveals 23 harmful, villain ingredients and uses symbols to identify any of five reasons why each should be avoided. Bonus: Beauty Heroes also has a neat How to do a Beauty Cabinet Detox Guide that you can download by clicking here, or get for free with your order from the Beauty Heroes online store.
(2) Bubble & Bee’s Chemicals to Avoid Page. Anyone familiar with Bubble & Bee knows that the brand takes clean and safe ingredients seriously. Bubble & Bee also operates an informative blog, Chemical of the Day. What you might not know is that Bubble & Bee has a “Chemicals to Avoid” page on their website that is a great quick reference guide for chemicals to avoid (duh) when shopping for makeup and beauty products. It is a quick and easy read, explaining in plain English what the 15 chosen chemicals are made from and used for, and why they should be avoided. The best part of the page is the “Steph weighs in” commentary for each ingredient. That commentary is lighthearted and sounds like what I would want to say if I were an ingredient expert like Stephanie Greenwood, the brand’s witty and intelligent co-founder. Bubble & Bee’s Chemicals to Avoid page can be found here.
(3) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Red List. The Red List is probably the most practical resource on this list. Organized by product category, the Red List is actually 7 small lists that you can print and stash in your wallet. The 7 categories are shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer/anti-aging creams, sunscreen, blush & eyeshadow & face powders, hair colour, and skin lighteners. Lots more categories could be added, but the most noticeably absent one is lipstick, lip balm and other lip products. The lists themselves contain no commentary and no explanation of why any particular ingredient should be avoided. But who wants to do their research in the middle of the cosmetics aisle anyway? For those who simply want to know what ingredients to avoid, the Red List keeps it quick, simple and straightforward, which will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed as you shop for cleaner, less toxic cosmetics and beauty products.
(4) Environmental Defence’s Toxic Ten Pocket Guide. Environmental Defence is a nonpartisan Canadian research, education and advocacy group. Their Toxic Ten Pocket Guide is a great starting point for those who want a jump start revamping their beauty & makeup bags, and other areas of the home too. The Pocket Guide, available in English and French, lists 10 common household ingredients to avoid, including 5 found in makeup and personal care products. The Pocket Guide also offers general advice to help in choosing cleaner home, makeup and personal care products. The Toxic Ten Pocket Guide lacks the explanations of some of the other aides on this list, but again, assuming you’ve done or will do the in-depth reading at home, this list is great because it will help you to make quick and easy decisions for your new green lifestyle.
(5) ThinkDirty App. Available for iOS and Android, the ThinkDirty app is a really convenient way to check the safety of your current products and find or compare them to new ones. In theory you can search for products three different ways: snapping a picture of the bar code, entering the bar code manually, or searching for key words. I haven’t been able to get the first two methods to work, but the key word search is great. If you register you can keep tabs on your products using the app’s “My Bathroom Shelf” feature, or by creating your own lists. You can also “like” products, get random product suggestions and shop directly from the app. When you’ve found the product you are looking for, the Dirty Meter provides an overall rating, broken down into 3 categories, the Ingredients tab rates and lets you find more detailed information about each ingredient, while the Our Picks tab offers alternative recommendations of similar, safe(r) products. The database has a surprisingly good assortment of products, including many from indie beauty brands. The ThinkDirty app also has some useless features like a profile page with badges and rewards, but that is easy enough to ignore. As a cheat sheet to help you begin the process of transitioning to green products, this app isn’t a bad place to start.
Honorable Mention – There are lots more resources floating around the internet for those of us looking to remove unnecessary toxins from our lives. And none of them are perfect, not even our top five. But for those who can spend a little more time finagling a database that you have to learn how to use, navigating a not-so-straightforward website, or otherwise perusing a resource that requires a little more finessing, here are a few more resources that should not be ignored:
Beautycounter’s Never List;
Whole Foods Market’s Premium Body Care Unacceptable Ingredients List;
Vibrant Wellness Journal’s Guide to Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients; and