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Clean Beauty 101: What You Need To Know + My Favorite Clean Beauty Products and Brands

Clean Beauty - The Golden Girl Blog

Okay, so. Let’s get real about “Clean Beauty.”

I’ve only been meaning to write this post for like…a year now?

Sometimes when it comes to writing blog posts, there are certain subjects I need to wait to write about. It has to “feel” like the right moment. Sometimes it’s easier for the words to flow onto the page for one topic, but not on others–for many different reasons–a lot of times, it’s just because I don’t have the mental capacity to tackle that subject at a given moment. Or that I don’t have the physical bandwidth. Some posts take all of 10 minutes to write, others could take HOURS.

The whole “clean beauty” thing has been one of those topics, where I really needed several sessions to just SIT down and think about exactly how I wanted to approach this post, because truthfully, there is so much information out there on this topic.

It it just me, or does it seem like everywhere you look, something new is going to kill you? One minute one ingredient is a “super antioxidant” and the next it’s a “human carcinogen.”

Last year maybe you thought “non-toxic beauty products” were worth nothing more than an eye-roll and an overpriced Whole Foods price tag. But now, everyone and their mom is raving about this brand called Beautycounter and going out of their way to tell you that the ingredients in the same Olay moisturizer you’ve been using since age 15 are why you can’t get pregnant. (“I mean, ARE you planning to get pregnant? Ever? Because you should REALLY think about the ingredients you’re putting into your body…” ? Like EW get OUT of here with the crazy unsolicited advice!)

Let’s everybody CALM. DOWN. Really, it can be exhausting.

It’s hard for ME to wrap my mind around, and part of my job is to literally TEST OUT beauty products for a living! So, you can see why it’s taken me so long to write a post encompassing my thoughts on this, right? It’s so much bigger than just a blog post.

But here’s the conclusion I came to about how to tackle the subject of safe beauty on this blog–which is the same conclusion I have always come to over the years of writing about topics that draw so many different opinions. And that is to just share what I am personally thinking, experiencing, feeling, and the changes I am personally making in my life as a result.

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m excited to give you an update on my whole philosophy on “clean beauty”. My personal experience, what it is, and why you might be interested in it.

Moral of the story: everyone is different. You are the only person who decides what is best for YOUR body and YOUR lifestyle! But I hope me sharing my thoughts is helpful for you in figuring that out! For me, I think that if 80% of the products I use are clean/better for you–then I don’t lose sleep over the other 20%.

Why I personally started caring about clean beauty - The Golden Girl Blog

Why I personally started caring about clean beauty

Like I mentioned above, I really could’ve given two you-know-what’s about “natural” or “non-toxic” beauty. Honestly, I didn’t believe that there were really any ingredients in my beauty products that were harmful. I mean, hello doesn’t the government employ thousands of people to regulate this stuff? I mean, how many times per week do you read that this or that or whatever gives you cancer? Everything, right? I mean, what are you supposed to do. Just not use deodorant? Smell bad forever? Not live your life? Live in fear?

Then three things happened simultaneously:

Thing #1:

I ran across a book called The French Beauty Solution on Amazon (I think it had suggested it after I had read some other French-themed book–obviously. You know me.) It’s written by Caudalie’s founder, Mathilde Thomas, and it really re-framed the way I think about beauty products, and in a very matter of fact way, pointed out that there are thousands of beauty products that the U.S. still allows in mainstream beauty products that are outlawed in basically any other country that happens to have a thriving beauty industry.

(What? This got my attention.) More on this in the next section. 

Thing #2:

Blair (one of my blogger besties, as you know) was starting to get more and more into clean beauty (partly because they were trying to get pregnant with Owen) so this started to peak my curiosity more and more. Until this point, I had always been under the impression that all “natural” beauty products didn’t work as effectively and all smelled like eucalyptus. Because I started learning about the concept of clean beauty second-hand through her, I slowly became less skeptical.

Thing #3:

I went off the pill and my skin DRASTICALLY improved in a matter of days. (I opted for the hormone-free copper IUD instead). Also, I wrote all about it here because so many of you had questions about it.

Does this DIRECTLY relate to my decision to pay more attention to clean beauty? Yes and no. This ultimately lead to the realization that EVERYTHING we put into our bodies has an effect on us. Including the Pill, which releases artificial hormones into your body and can affect a LOT of things we don’t realize.

This resulted in a lifestyle change where I am ultimately paying more attention to my health in general–what I’m eating, how much water I’m drinking, how much sleep I’m getting, and of course, what I’m putting ON my body as well (i.e. skincare!)

Much of this, of course, was that I needed to start reading more ingredient labels. Thus, my interest in “clean” beauty was born.

But what does “clean beauty” really MEAN?

What is "clean beauty"...?

What is “clean beauty”…?

“Clean beauty” is kind of a loaded term–but most widely, I think of it, honestly, as a movement. Here in the US, it has a lot to do with the fact that the United States has not passed a major law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938.

You read that correctly. 1938. Just 18 years after women received the right to vote. That’s the last time the government paid attention to what goes into the products you put all over your body, every day.

I’m not trying to get all political. Regardless of who you vote for, I think we can all agree that that is shocking.

In a country where getting something as important as a cancer-saving drug to market is virtually impossible, the FDA (the Food and Drug administration, who technically “regulates” personal care products) does not require testing of chemicals put into things like lotion, shampoo, facial serums, makeup, and more. Despite much scientific research showing how much harm certain ingredients can cause (which I’ll get into in a second)–there remains no action taken.

The EU, for example, has fully banned more than 1,500 chemicals over the past 20 years that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. Of those ingredients, the U.S. has partially banned 50.

The EU requires also requires that all new cosmetics undergo safety assessments prior to going to market. The U.S. does not.

Turns out, the U.S. beauty industry, like pretty much else in our lives, is an “every man for himself” mentality–leaving the responsibility up to the consumer to decipher what is and isn’t harmful–which is why I think there is a LOT of work to be done on education of what goes into personal care products so we can make our own decisions about the products we want to use.

So circling back around, “Clean beauty” essentially refers to the movement of “cleaning up” beauty products, removing all the harmful stuff without sacrificing the performance of the product.

A lot of brands are built around being “clean” while many others are in the process of “cleaning” up their act. What’s important to note, is that “clean” or “non-toxic” are NOT the same things as “natural” or “green.” There is very little regulation on what can be marketed as “natural”. So make sure to read the label and do your research on the brand before purchasing!

Beautycounter

Chemicals to avoid in Beauty Products:

Many “clean beauty die hards” as I call them live and die by the app “Think Dirty”. It’s essentially an app that tells you what ingredients are in certain products and how bad they are for you. I have an issue with this because A. The number of products on here is limited and you won’t find a lot of brands/products on here that you’re trying to research and B. The app will automatically label an ingredient as “toxic” if there is limited information on it or if it COULD POTENTIALLY cause any person to have a skin irritation even if there is no scientific evidence of such.

That’s essentially like labeling an apple as TOXIC because some people MAY be allergic to apples. COME ON PEOPLE. LET ME LIVE.

Instead, I focus on looking for products that are made without these most major offenders and harmful chemicals (definitions taken from Beautycounter’s website as I think they sum it up the best!)

Harmful Chemicals in Skincare, Makeup and Haircare:

Formaldehyde

Shockingly, Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in cosmetics. A known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity. Present where quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol), and several other preservatives are listed. Found in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath.

Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone

Chemical preservatives that are among the most common irritants, sensitizers, and causes of contact skin allergies. Found in shampoo, conditioner, body wash. (I have a friend who was getting horrible rashes all over her body and had a giant allergy panel test done to discover this ingredient was the culprit.) 

Oxybenzone

Sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber linked to irritation, sensitization and allergies, and possible hormone disruption. Found in: sunscreen, moisturizer.

Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others)

A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, foundation.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds)

PEGs are widely used in cosmetics as thickeners, solvents, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Depending on manufacturing processes, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens. Found in: creams, sunscreen, shampoo.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES)

SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh. Found in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath.

Clean Beauty Products and Brands I love:

These are the brands I’ve tried and have come back to over and over again. But something important to note: I VERY much follow the 80/20 rule–the majority of my products are “clean”–but if I can’t find a “clean” product that I love as much as the non-clean version, I am OK with the fact that not EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT I use is safe.

Skincare is one thing I have switched to 100% clean–makeup on the other hand–I’m not willing to let go of completely. I LOVE NARS. I LOVE MAC. If my Bronzer doesn’t get a “green” score in the “Think Dirty” app–I’m not going to lose sleep over it. You have to live your life. Do what you can, do your best, but don’t make yourself miserable doing it.

With that being said, NOW we can get into my “clean” and “cleaner” favorites:

Chemical free skincare and haircare: 

Beautycounter:

Beautycounter offers the widest variety of clean beauty products of all my favorites. This was one of the first brands I started buying because I had so many girlfriends who raved about it, and when I would run out of something “unsafe” they usually had a “safe” alternative. They are one of the few companies right now who are making a huge effort to reform our cosmetics and personal care industry, and I love that about them.

I loved the products so much I signed up to be a rep just for the 25% off discount alone ? (Well, and they do give me a good amount of commission, so if you do buy anything–thank you in advance!)

I’ve tried quite a few of their products now, and I love all of them (except their hair oil–it’s terrible–I think it only works on course hair, because it made my hair very greasy) so if you ever have any specific questions about anything BC related (or you know, anything in general)–feel free to DM me on instagram! 

Here are my favorite BC skincare and haircare products:

DAILY SHAMPOO AND DAILY CONDITIONER:

I’ve been using this shampoo and conditioner for more than a year now and I absolutely love it! It’s sulfate free and of course has none of the bad stuff. It is very gentle and easy on your hair, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! I like that a little bit goes a long way with both. It’s hard to find a good sulfate-free shampoo that lathers like a regular shampoo and this one does the trick!

BODY WASH: 

Also, I love their Citrus Mimosa bodywash! It leaves your skin feeling super soft and doesn’t give it that “stripped” feeling that a lot of bodywashes and soaps do! It has a really light citrus scent that isn’t too overpowering (Neal uses it sometimes and doesn’t complain about feeling like he’s using “girly soap” ?)

SEA SALT SPRAY: 

This is definitely one of my very favorite Beautycounter products of all time! I use it every day when I air dry my hair and it’s been a total game-changer. It gives it the right amount of texture without making it feel crunchy or gross. Plus, it’s really affordable!

Read the post: How I air dry my hair for the perfect beach waves! 

REJUVENATING EYE CREAM: 

Here’s another all-time favorite beauty product. Their rejuvenating eye cream! It has caffeine in it so it really helps perk up your eyes even if you’ve pulled an all-nighter! I like to apply it and let it sink in, then follow with my jade roller (extra plus if you’ve put it in the fridge for added de-puffing!) It’s like a mini spa treatment!

Read the post: My two favorite under-eye weapons you need right now

CHARCOAL CLEANSING BAR: 

My best friend Tasha (remember the one who I was visiting in Cincinnati?) swears by the Charcoal cleansing bar. She says it’s really helped balance her skin and reduce breakouts, so she convinced me to try it and I love it! It helps keep your skin clear and it lasts forever–it’s what I have in my shower!

MAKEUP REMOVING WIPES:

I’ve had a hard time finding makeup removing wipes that don’t make me break out, don’t leave a gross film on my face and that actually CLEAN my face, rather than just wiping it off–these are it. They really do clean your face and lather like a facewash, but you don’t have to wash your face off afterwords! I never thought I’d LOVE makeup wipes, but I tell everyone I know to use these!

Other favorite skincare and haircare brands + products:

Caudalie

I was turned onto Caudalie’s products, as noted above, when I read the founder’s book The French Beauty Solution. It was such an eye opener and really shows what a huge difference there is in the way that Europeans approach skincare! All of their products are derived from natural grape vine extracts that have powerful anti-aging effects. I love their glycolic brightening essence, radiance serum, and overnight detox oil!

Kopari

Their Coconut deodorant is my absolute favorite. I went looking for a natural deodorant about a year ago (as there is a suspected link between chemical/aluminum based antiperspirants and breast cancer.) I had tried several clean deodorants and ended up hating all of them, but Anna turned me onto Kopari last spring and I fell in love. I’ll never go back to anything else! It’s important to note that it isn’t an anti perspirant–you’ll still sweat, but you will in fact, smell good 😉

R & Co

I love their High Dive Moisture Cream, they also have a great Dry Shampoo! This is one of the brands my hairstylist swears by! (BTW I go to Stacia at Sine Qua Non salon for those looking for a local Chicago recco!) They aren’t technically marked as a “clean” brand but their products are sulfate-free, paraben-free, mineral oil-free, petrolatum-free and phthalate-free.

Beautycounter

Chemical Free Makeup:

Like I mentioned before, I have been slower to transition my makeup products than I have my skincare products. Reason being, I think it’s harder to find non-toxic alternatives for things like foundation, concealer, and mascara. For example I went into Credo and tried every foundation of theirs and absolutely LOATHED all of them. Moral of the story–do what you can to find swaps that are equal or better, and don’t guilt yourself if you can’t. 80/20 rule–remember?

That being said, here are some of my clean cosmetic go-to’s (so far):

bareminerals

Not classified as a “clean” brand–but for a mainstream brand they are very “clean”–lot’s of their products do get a complete clean stamp of approval (even in ThinkDirty!) and their products are made without all of the major offenders listed above! (Free of mineral oil, sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehyde, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, triclocarban, and fragrance.)

They make my favorite foundation–the BarePRO liquid foundation–I’ve tried so many other “clean” foundations and none of them stack up, so for me, this is “clean enough” for the performance I get!

Beautycounter:

I have dabbled less with BC makeup than skincare, but what I have tried, I’ve really liked! I just recently purchased this eyeshadow palette so I could test it out and review, but I’ve yet to try it! I really love all the colors in this one though! The only other makeup products I’ve purchased from them are their sheer lipsticks and their glosses!

RMS beauty

I love this brand especially for their beautiful lipsticks! I would equate their matte lipsticks to MAC’s in terms of product performance and punchy color–but without the drying effects some of their matte lipsticks can have!

Lilah B:

A small brand I was introduced to last year that they just started carrying at Sephora (hurray!) I really love their lip and cheek duo and their eyeshadow quad is a good clean alternative to my favorite Charlotte Tilbury palettes packaging is beautiful!

WHEW! That was a REALLY long post. I hope this was helpful and informative! What are your thoughts on the whole Clean Beauty movement? Let me know what other clean beauty blog posts you’d like to see and any other questions you might have on clean beauty!