Sign up for exclusive discounts, product launches, and new stories on The Lab.
In this blog post we will break down what clean beauty means to us and why it is important. We didn’t write this Lab Post alone, we enlisted the help of two experts on the topic: Meg Whitaker, PhD* a toxicology expert, and Nicole Acevedo, PhD** who have helped several other personal care brands and retailers define their clean beauty programs [Scroll to the bottom for their impressive credentials].
Let’s dive in…what is Clean Beauty?
“Clean beauty” is about formulating beauty products that are safer for people and the environment.
Are we implying that beauty products have had and still do have toxic chemicals in them? Yes.
We are in the tail end of a time period in human history (let’s say for the last 80 years or so) sometimes referred to as the “better living through chemistry” era (more on the different human eras here). This is when human innovation was coming up with all sorts of clever ways to make chemicals. As these chemicals were finding applications, the long-term effect of these chemicals on human health and the environment were not holistically considered, largely because we had limited understanding that people-made chemicals could harm ourselves and the environment.
Our awareness of this was unfortunately learned the hard way, when either we were too late in preventing the problem or when we were on the brink. Some examples of this : ozone depletion due to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in aerosol spray cans and refrigerants, toxic levels of perfluorinated compound (PFC) in ground water due to textile coatings and fire fighting foams, cancer causing asbestos in building insulation. And if you want a colorful visual explanation of our latest problem with plastic, I encourage you to check out this video from the UN here.
Ok, so now we know! Now what?
Our cosmetic products are getting safer. Some of the key toxic chemicals that have been significantly reduced in recent years include mercury, triclosan, liquid formaldehyde, parabens, and di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP). In fact, the EU restricts 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics and the US restricts 11 chemicals from cosmetics.
Why is there such a discrepancy between EU and US regulations?
It comes down to two things: (1) when the laws were written and (2) who has the burden of proof of safety.
Spoiler alert: the US is embarrassingly behind.
The US consumer protection law for cosmetic products (aka the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) was passed over 70 years ago, in 1938, and the burden of proof of safety is on regulators and the public. It only takes a second to realize why it makes no sense for the burden of proof to be on the public…how would you know whether a chemical was safe or not? Last I checked we don’t all have safety testing labs at home. In the EU, the Cosmetics Directive has been updated several times, most recently in 2013. Moreover the burden of proof of safety is on the chemical manufacturer (this makes sense, right? The one who makes the chemical should have to show that it is safe.).
What is the US doing about it?
Our state representatives are trying. Just last year (March of 2019) Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S.726), a bill to protect consumer health and strengthen the FDA’s efforts to regulate ingredients in personal care products. “But all efforts have been de-prioritized,” says Dr. Acevedo. In the absence of federal leadership, some states have taken updating the law into their own hands by proposing bills regarding cosmetic safety. While the future looks bright, it is not for certain.
To do our part, Eighteen B has joined the Counteract Coalition started by the team at Beautycounter. In this coalition of personal care brands, we are working together to lobby for better health-protective laws regulating personal-care products.
What about the EPA? Afterall, the P in EPA is for Protection!
The EPA’s system (called TSCA and pronounced “Tosca”) for regulating chemicals is not properly empowered and moves slowly. When TSCA was enacted back in 1976, 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in – i.e. they were assumed to be safe without having to show any data (what?!?). On top of that, so many new chemicals are introduced every year that TSCA can’t keep up with the due diligence. There are now 85,000 different chemicals in production in the US and Dr. Acevedo cites that, “nearly 3,000 are high-production-volume chemicals, and less than 1/3 of these chemicals have publicly available safety data”. Despite TSCA getting an upgrade in 2016, since 2018, it should come as no surprise that it hasn’t enforced many of its key elements.
I’m overwhelmed, what can I do?
1. Do your research
When I first learned about this topic, I felt overwhelmed and I felt a bit duped. I quickly went into research mode and found that there are a lot of admirable companies who are moving the industry in the right direction. And you guessed it, these companies typically refer to themselves as “Clean Beauty”. Slowly but surely I started looking closely at everything I used in my personal care. I used reputable resources for evaluating what was currently in my bathroom and for finding alternatives (A list of these tools is enumerated at the end of this post). It took some time and it didn’t happen overnight. In fact I am still researching and learning. For example, I just found a new deodorant and mascara a couple weeks ago!
2. Vote with your dollars
Without a doubt your purchasing decisions make a difference. While it would have been nice for chemical companies to not release toxic chemicals into the market in the first place, Dr. Whittaker says, “Unless the cosmetics industry believes that American consumers demand a change in the status quo, I don’t see major change likely to occur in the current approach used to assess the safety of cosmetics in the United States. “ That means if we don’t take a purchasing-power-stand, lawmakers and chemical companies will continue business as usual – the financial incentive just won’t be there to make a change.
The good news is that the Clean Beauty movement has been in existence for a little over a decade and its impact is being felt. Let’s keep this momentum going!
Eighteen B – Doing our part
Eighteen B has worked hard to outline its Clean Beauty standards. We have a rigorous ingredient vetting process that evaluates ingredients for their toxicity. Our philosophy is “data-backed + transparent + solution-oriented” Clean Beauty. Read here for more on what Clean Beauty means to Eighteen B.
Tips for how to make your personal care more sustainable
1. Visit EWG and download their app. This app will allow you to search your personal care products and see how they score. Products with a score of 1-2 get a green low hazard rating. Products with a score of 3-6 get an orange moderate hazard rating. Products with a score of 7-10 get a red high hazard rating.
2. Take an inventory of your skin care, hair care, makeup and even things like your toothpaste and deodorant.
3. Start scanning these products with the EWG app and write down the scores.
4. Don’t feel overwhelmed. If orange and red scores start popping up, know that this is normal and that you are on an amazing path towards finding alternatives.
5. You do not have to make the switch all at once. Take it one product or category at a time. Which products scored the worst (i.e. 7-10)? These are the products to target first for finding alternatives. Once you’ve finished replacing the reds, then you can tackle the yellow until you’re happy with everything in your personal regimen.
6. Finally share what you find with your friends and family. This is my favorite part about finding clean and effective beauty products.
A little more info on our BOSS contributors on this topic:
*Meg has over twenty years of experience in both the performance and management of toxicology and human health hazard and risk assessment-related projects. She is currently the Managing Director and Chief Toxicologist of ToxServices LLC, where she serves as the project manager and technical lead of ToxServices projects for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Program, Clean Production Action’s GreenScreen® and many more! Dr. Whittaker is a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology who earned a Ph.D. in Toxicology from The University of Maryland, Baltimore and an M.P.H. in Environmental Health from The University of Michigan. Dr. Whittaker is a U.K./Eurotox Registered Toxicologist, as well as a Chartered Biologist and Fellow of the U.K. Royal Society of Biology.
**Nicole received her doctorate in Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan and her postdoctoral research at Tufts University School of Medicine focused on the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the development of human health disorders and disease. A career in clinical embryology and environmental health afforded her a clearer understanding of the many factors that contribute to human health, including the health of our external environment. Over the last 4 years, Dr. Acevedo has been working to improve the safety and sustainability profile of personal care products, implement industry-leading testing strategies to increase knowledge of ingredient safety, and increase awareness of the need for safer raw material alternatives in the personal care industry.