I have had a few tweets lately asking where to start if you are going to go "greener" with your product choices and the truth is there is far too much information for 160 characters so I thought I would share with you what I think are the most important aspects of being green and buying greener products, this will be part of a series and today I am focusing on skincare.
Reduce the amount of products you buy:
This may seem odd coming from a blogger as I do have more products than your average person, but in truth I never have more than one or two of the same product open at any one time. This is something that is really important when you are buying natural and organic products as less preservatives means a shorter shelf life, if I buy a product that I do not like for some reason I will try to use it up in a different way or pass it on to friends. The days of stockpiling products for me have long gone, I keep a backup draw with a few essentials and that is it, everything else get's used up.
Multi purpose products are your friend when it comes to being green as it means less packaging and waste and it also means good value for money. A lot of products can be used in different ways I use shower gel for shaving with, multi purpose balms can be used all over the body and sometimes on the face, coconut oil can be used everywhere even on the hair and makes a great make up remover, the possibilities are endless.
Learn to read labels but don't let it drive you crazy:
The list of ingredients that could potentially be problematic is long and frightening, it is easy to demonise any ingredient by looking on the internet even those in natural and organic lines can have lists of potential side effects listed. Whilst I do subscribe to using natural skin and earth friendly ingredients I do think there is a fair amount of scaremongering and mis-quoting of research that goes on, genuine research has to be interpreted objectively rather than taken out of context. Some of the most common ingredients that are reported to be problematic are SLS (a surfactant and foaming agent), Parabens (preservatives) and Petroleum based products (mineral oil which is a by-product of the petrochemical industry). The EWG skin deep database is a commonly used resource where you can check not only individual ingredients but they will also give you hazard rating for the whole product too. As I have learnt more about reading labels and have found out more about EWG I do not place any weight on their rating system any more, but it can be useful if you are just starting out. Another site I prefer and use frequently is Truth in Ageing
I always ask some basic questions to help me decipher product labels which at times can feel as if you need to be a bio-chemist to read:
What is the product base? Water based products tend to have more ingredients and more preservatives than oil based products, for this reason I think learning to embrace oils and balms for the face and for the body is an easy way to eliminate certain ingredients, not only that but they are more concentrated and last a long time. Products are listed from largest percentage to smallest on the label so if the first ingredient is water then that is the highest percentage ingredient. Foaming products are often some of the most chemical laden (especially problematic for people with skin disorders already), and for that reason I avoid them wherever possible and switch to low foaming alternatives.
Do I know what the majority of these ingredients are? If the answer is yes then go ahead and buy it if you have confidence in the brand, if the answer is no, skip it, there are so many great brands out there that as consumers we needn't settle for anything we are not 100% happy with. Some brands have their ingredients lists in INCI (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic ingredients) which is the scientific names for ingredients, this can lead to even natural ingredients sounding scary, for example Vitamin E is often listed as Tocopherol. This does make reading ingredients lists slightly more tricky but there is a link here which provides some of the common ingredients and their INCI names for reference.
How is the product preserved? Preservatives are one of the biggest concerns for most people, water based products need preservatives other wise they could be dangerous breeding grounds for bacteria, so check to see what kind of preservatives are used and in what quantities, great brands will minimise the use of preservatives and some use airless packaging where possible to help them do so, this is ideal as it is the most hygienic way to store products.
Look for organic or natural certifications to help you spot whether a company is genuinely pure in it's ingredients or whether is just wants to appear natural, these certifications all mean different standards for how the ingredients are produced and what ingredients are allowed in that product but they are a good way to tell whether a brand is genuine or not, especially when you start out buying green. I favour Soil Association organic, but also use Natrue certified products, BDIH or Eco-cert if you see any of these certifications it is going to mean that the product is going to be better for you than a conventional product.
As you learn more about ingredients you can begin to be more specific about what ingredients you personally are happy with and which you are not, a lot of this will also come down to the individuals needs, someone with allergies or skin conditions is going to have to be more strict than someone just wanting to live a greener life, the list of ingredients that I avoid has grown bigger over time (but sometimes I make exceptions for a certain product), it is OK to be a work in progress. My last thought on ingredients is that sometimes we get so caught up in checking for "nasties" we forget to check to check the product has any beneficial ingredients for the skin, look for ingredients that your skin enjoys and that are suitable for purpose that is half the battle.
Look for ethical sourcing and packaging:
Ingredient's are of course really important to me when choosing my products but they are not the only factor that I consider important, a brand can produce a 100% natural product but it may not be sourced in an ethical or sustainable manner. The brands that I trust and go back to again and again take all aspects of their product development into account, they often also support charitable causes too.
Packaging should be as close to 100% percent recyclable as possible, some brands you can return the packaging to the brand itself for recycling others you can just recycle normally as you would your food packaging.
Re-use and Up Cyle where possible, I re-use glass dropper bottles, jars and spray bottles when making my own products, there is no need to put everything in the bin, sometimes it is nice to give something an alternative use. I also up-cycle my empty glass candle holders for storing make-up brushes and lip products, they look great and are practical too.
Start with your most used items:
In terms of which products to switch first I believe it is products that you apply on a daily basis and which are absorbed into the skin that are most important to switch. Those are body lotion and moisturiser for most people, they are also really easy to switch because they are products that the natural brands do just as well or better than conventional products. As already mentioned shower gels shampoos and other foaming products can be an issue especially if you have certain skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis so I would look at those next. Swap one thing at a time as your conventional products run out that way you can research brands and products to avoid wasting money on products that are wrong for you.
I have found blog reviews invaluable when switching products, it is always nice to hear other people's experience with a product and I have found some great brands through my reading list and for that I am really grateful.
Lastly I think we have to accept that all our choices have an impact both on us and the planet, it is impossible to tread on this earth with out making a mark, but if we all try and tread as lightly as possible we can make a difference.
Feel free to share any of your personal tips or information about switching products in the comments, it is always nice to hear what other people think.