Why Clean Beauty Matters Over 40

Everyone is buzzing about ‘clean beauty” but what does “clean” even mean? We’re all familiar with terms like “green,” “organic” and “natural,” but “clean” is utterly nebulous. It’s an unregulated term in the U.S. beauty industry (for the foreseeable future) and it means different things to different brands. For the most part, brands are using the word to define a list of no-no ingredients that have been linked to endocrine disruption, skin irritation and even cancer as they build up in our system over time. We hear the stories of women purging their lifestyles of toxic ingredients in their home and beauty routines to help with fertility and to conquer evasive diseases. As we age, all sorts of new health issues can arise, so why should our beauty routine add questionable chemicals to the mix?

Here is the scary truth, in the U.S. there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer to test product for safety. Yes, read that again. The last time the FDA provided any regulations on cosmetics manufacturing was in 1938. Truly staggering. The world’s model is the European Union. The E.U. has effectively banned or restricted the use of more than 1300 chemicals whereas the U.S. has outlawed or curbed a meager 11*. We are truly in a ‘buyer beware’ situation and it is up to us as consumers to get educated and make better choices, and for the industry to start policing itself. Luckily we are in a time where the consumer demand for safer products is growing and brands are responding.

There is a growing list of ingredients beauty brands are avoiding specific to each product category based on safety — both for us and the environment. Phtalates, sulfates (SLS and SLES), silicone, FD&C pigments and synthetic fragrances are a few things that brands tend to avoid. More comprehensive lists avoid formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, mineral oil, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, and triclocarban and products with more than one percent of synthetic fragrances.  

Let’s highlight two of the ingredients on the “vilified” list. Parabens are to be avoided. Some studies have reported that parabens are harmful to humans, specifically pregnant women and young children. The studies consider parabens to cause endocrine disruption, which is related to developmental and reproductive toxicity. A report was released that indicated that some parabens can mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in the body’s cells, and estrogenic activity is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Another study related certain parabens to male reproductive toxicity.  

Phthalates are in many products, including children’s toys and food products, medical devices, pill coatings, and cosmetics. Cool, right? Just the things in which you wouldn’t want a controversial ingredient to have a starring role. Some experts worry that constant exposure to phthalates — not just from cosmetics, but from all around us — can be harmful, citing research that says certain phthalates can act as endocrine disruptors in rodents and possibly humans. Endocrine disruptors wreak havoc on hormones, which can cause reproductive abnormalities or developmental problems.

It is important to remember that “clean” does not mean “all-natural” however. There are plenty of synthetic ingredients that are very safe and make skincare products better, and more effective. Also, new ingredients are emerging that supercharge the performance of clean products so you don’t have to sacrifice effectiveness. The cleaner a brand becomes, the more research, experimentation, and evolution is involved. Clean beauty is a changing space, which is why transparency is key — make sure you know what is in the products, why they’re in there, and what results you can expect. 

The unnerving reality is that topical ingredients can stay in the system and cause long-term damage. When you think about the statistic that we eat up to a pound of lipstick per year (you can do the math on that one), it’s a compelling argument to switch to a clean lipstick brand, at a minimum. How about “clean” as it relates to your deodorant? You may have noticed the massive uptick in natural deodorant brands (those formulated without aluminum) hitting the market in the past few years. Though the studies connecting antiperspirants and deodorants to diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s are inconclusive, doctors at some of the most cutting-edge hospitals tell breast cancer patients to stop using their conventional deodorants and antiperspirants immediately upon diagnosis. Traditional deodorants, i.e., ones with aluminum work by sealing off one of the places where your body releases toxins using a technology that’s referred to as a “jelly plug.” Gross, right? And deodorant brands formulate this using a mix of parabens, phthalates, and artificial fragrances.

Logically, you know that your skin is your largest organ so we need to be mindful about what we choose to use on our skin, bodies, and even hair in the U.S., because, unlike in Europe, the FDA takes an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to banning ingredients. We as consumers need to be aware of emerging research so we can make safer choices.


*Written by Amber Katz
* Sourced from The Guardian, one of the UK’s largest daily newspapers: “US cosmetics are full of chemicals banned by Europe – why?”


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