Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Green Beauty and Science: Does one devalue the other?



There have been many many times when I have questioned my decision to blog, to put my thoughts and feelings out for all to see on internet but no more so than this week, you would think being a blogger is all testing products and taking pretty photos but believe me when I say there is so much more to my passion and what keeps me writing than that, especially as I write about green beauty. I spend hours reading cosmetic legislation and ingredients lists, I thoroughly research everything from packaging to ingredients before something makes it on to the blog and I often have to admit to myself even after hours of research that I don't have all the facts or that I still haven't made up my mind 100% which isn't easy to do. I have had heated discussions with brand owners who were not happy that I had chosen not to feature them, but ultimately I always go by what my gut instinct tells me to do, if something doesn't feel right I won't feature the product and I have gone so far as to make amendments to posts when something new has come to light even if it is uncomfortable. The truth of the matter is that choosing greener products shouldn't be something that is seen as an alternative lifestyle it should be much more the norm because the benefits of buying from some of the companies available on an environmental and personal level are so great it really should be an easy decision, but if that is to become a reality I feel there are some changes that are needed both on behalf of companies and consumers. 

The cosmetics industry growth in the area of natural and organics seems to be very healthy, just looking at the amount of brands available is completely overwhelming, as consumers we have never had as much choice  as to what cosmetics to use. Whether you are an ingredient purist or just someone who likes to to use more natural products then you are well and truly catered for with the exception of a couple of elusive products, in fact I have a green beauty cabinet that is positively overflowing with goodies at all different price points. But there is a but coming.... the industry as a whole whilst emerging as strong due to consumer demand fails itself on a regular basis through the fact that some companies still perpetuate myths that have been found to be wrong by science. Now I am not a science nerd I don't even think I am very good at it, but what I love is hearing conclusions and how those conclusions were reached, that knowledge to me is power and power that we as consumers desperately need, so I want facts and most importantly I want to know WHY my products work or don't work. 

I recently shared some blog posts which I think make some interesting points, they are both written by Lorraine who writes the Herb and Hedgerow blog and who is a green beauty expert and cosmetic scientist amongst other things. The first post is called Can your skin breath? and it un-picks what the industry means by the term, my favourite part of article and the reason why I personally shared it is because it looks at comodgenity (pore clogging to you and I) and how the comodogenic scale came about. Now I often hear individuals say that something breaks them out, we know our skin and can gage our reactions to products, but what about when a brand markets their product as being lightweight and "not clogging your pores" well you would hope they had some scientific reasoning to back that up wouldn't you. Well what Lorraine points out and the same information came be found here on one of my other favourite science based blogs, is that the main comodogenic scale which is used to determine whether something clogs your pores or not was devised way back in 1979 using an experiment on Rabbits Ears. In a time where animal experiments are being banned it is quite a horrific thought, even without getting too much in to idea that extrapolating results from animal studies to humans has always been a difficulty in science, so essentially the comodogenic scale is great if you are a rabbit, not so much if you are a human. So where am I going with this... well in a lot of disciplines these days we are required to use evidence based practice (including in my own chosen field of work), evidence that it works and evidence that what you are saying is correct and in my personal opinion green beauty should be no exception, faith alone will not make an industry thrive, although on a personal level it may help a little, if we are striving for the industry to be built on strong morals we need it also to be built on truth. The second post I shared is called The myth of chemical free cosmetics and again it points out a commonly perpetuated myth that because you use green beauty products you can avoid all chemicals (everything has a chemical composition including something as simple as water, making the term "avoiding chemicals" completely redundant), now I see no harm in talking in layman's terms as a member of the public but when it is evident in cosmetic marketing or used by people putting themselves out there as an "expert" on the topic then that is much more troubling because you are adding to the misinformation that already exists and already makes navigating the cosmetics world so hard, we all have a responsibility to ensure we are not doing the industry harm and a responsibility to be informed wherever possible. If we allow loose terminology to be used like "chemical free" we are opening ourselves up to companies adding in all sorts of ingredients which may or may not be good for us because they may well assume that as consumers we are not well informed, we are leaving ourselves open to be misled. 

So you see, do we want to trust a company who is claiming their products to be "non-comodogenic" without any evidence to back it up, or the company who claim organic but don't have any way of tracing their ingredients, or the company that simply tells us their skincare is "free of chemicals" but then has no ingredients listed on their site making it impossible for us to know what is actually in the products? It really shouldn't be this hard, but unfortunately as I have said before in previous posts we are navigating an industry where the natural and organic claims are virtually unregulated and for that reason we need to be smart. I have seen claims this week from a member of the green beauty community (specifically another blogger) that some of these articles being shared and this evaluation of what the terms really mean somehow devalues our beliefs in green beauty. I honestly was completely shocked and astounded by this and here's why: whilst historically the two may not seem to intrinsically to go hand in hand the green beauty industry needs science to make it thrive, to ensure the products out their are safe and the data to back up product effectiveness which is going to support and promote the industry, if you look at some of the most highly used ingredients in natural skincare the benefits are well documented and there is scientific research to back their use up, they are not chosen by coincidence they are chosen because otherwise the products wouldn't sell as they would have no effect. On a side note to imply the community has one united view which could be in jeopardy is also quite ludicrous (I most certainly have my own opinions on most things and I am not afraid to share them even when they are different from others) but I think you get my point, science will not threaten green beauty, but improper use of it and naiveity most certainly will. 

I wish I didn't have to constantly research products, worry about their safety assessments if they are handmade and  constantly have to question every marketing claim, but believe me when I tell you it is my love for some of the brands and people in this community that I have met along the way that make me want green beauty to thrive, for green beauty to be valued highly and for it to have the spotlight it deserves. If I wanted a popular blog I would blog about Loreal or MUA products which are cheap as chips in the drug-store, but I always wanted this to be my space to fulfil my passion so it's not about popularity. If anyone has ever misinterpreted my passion for snobbery, well then honestly I have failed at this blog and it may be time for a rethink. We can choose our products because instinctively they feel right for us, but brands cannot market their products on instinct or for that matter irresponsibly, that is when you discover some true horror stories such as people being advised to drink neat essential oils (dangerous practice especially unsupervised) or to just use Homeopathy for a life threatening illness with no other medical help (although it fits in more with the wellness category you get my drift it leads you down a dangerous route). 

It may not be fun to some but science is very much part of the way forward for green beauty, even if at times the scientific process is flawed or if we haven't got all the answers we want. If there was an enemy to green beauty I would say it is most certainly the pitfalls of the industry itself rather than science and I hope that we can all work to change it. 

Ana x 
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25 comments

  1. Ana, well done on another excellent post. Definitely not time for a rethink. Keep doing what you are doing xx

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    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed :) Xx

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  2. Excellent points! Keep writing posts like this! :-) xo

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    1. Thanks Sabrina I definitely will! :) Xx

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  3. A very well written post Ana. I have to say it was difficult watching this all unfold on Twitter last night as I do agree with some of your points as well as some of Rachel's but I don't believe you were being snobby at all. I like to know the science behind making products because of course you want to know that there has been research to make sure that the products are going to work and testing on rabbit's ears is certainly not a very good way of testing a product which of course needs to be changed and updated in order for our green community to be truthful and accurate.

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    1. Thanks Amber, believe me it wasn't pleasant to be involved in either. I am glad you don't think I was being snobby but quite honestly I don't think there was any need to call anyone snobby or accuse them of snobbery, these are professional and eloquent people being discussed and I have to stand up and say I disagree with Rachel 100% both her tone and her content. Xx

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  4. Amen! No way I could have said it better myself. I hope scientific though when into most of the products I purchased, if not then why did I buy them? Where's the quality control? How did they come up with R&D to develop it in the first place? There is room for all of us in the green community. Just because we have different opinions, points of view, or ways we've come to our decision making doesn't need to belittle the other. Respect goes a long way.

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    1. Thanks Paula, you and I see things the same way so often and this is no exception. I don't think we need to resort to insults either we can disagree respectfully. Xx

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  5. An excellent and well written post Ana. Products whether they are 'green' or conventional need to be tested throughly and their claims substantiated by a scientific process, its just plain old fashioned common sense.
    Just because it is 'green', 'natural' & or organic doesn't automatically mean it's going to be a wonder product by default!
    I sincerely hope this 'incident' doesn't stop you from blogging my lovely, I for one appreciate and can understand the amount of time and research that goes into writing your posts, and it would be a very sad sad day if 'Ana Goes Green' was to be no more.
    As Paula quite rightly said, there is room for everyone in the 'Green Community' regardless of what our views may be.

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    1. Thank you Jenny, I certainly won't let this keep me from writing or sharing my opinions :) Xx

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  6. This is a really well written post and reminds us that even in the relatively new green beauty movement there is so much information to assimilate and take in. None of us has the answer and this is the kind of response to Rachel's post that should get people talking, discussing and opening their minds to points they maybe hadn't considered before. I agree with Amber that it wasn't pleasant seeing two respected bloggers rip into each other on twitter of all places, and we should remember that a blog is just that - a blog. It's easy to take things way too seriously, when a little light heartedness and humour can go a lot further. I personally don't agree with all the points Rachel makes or the terms she uses, but so what? A post like this says far more than a week of insults on twitter ever could. Like many bloggers I enjoy topics like this and believe it's what makes the green beauty community so unique and a fascinating thing to a be part of. There's so many passionate individuals it's going to get heated sometimes, but I hope we get past taking things personally and just see the bigger picture of what we're all fundamentally trying to achieve x

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    1. Hi Chesca I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting, whilst I am the first to admit my behaviour is far from perfect there were quite a few things leading up to what happened yesterday and there were issues for me before the post was published so in that sense I suppose things are always more complicated than they seem. The only thing I can do is take away some learning points for how I handled myself and keep the discussion going, my blog is all about this kind of post so I am sure I will write more like this in the future, I have been drafting the organic certification post as having talked to you about it I thought it would make a great topic Xx

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  7. I too was very sorry to see this all blow up on Twitter. I have great respect for both you and Rachel and agree with both of you to some extent. Science is incredible and no brand, natural or otherwise would be here without it; on the flip side, there are times when science can't explain everything but your instinct or experience gives you an opinion. There has to be room for both. The amount of work and passion that goes into your blog is so evident and I hope you continue blogging for a very long time x

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    1. Thank you for your comment Annie, whilst I am not going to pretend that my behaviour is perfect it does take two to tango and I certainly wasn't alone in that argument. Like I said to Chesca how my personal feelings ended up being so strong involved more than just the blog post but I felt strongly that I wanted to make clear where I stand with a post of my own. Funnily enough of course I use my own instinct and feelings but I will not be told by anyone what kind of information I can and can't share or be called a snob for it. Xx

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  8. I think science goes a long way to giving credibility, and we do our community a great disservice by not using it., I also think that a lot of the research we have raises more questions than it answers and we need further clarification. I get so cross when I see brands saying research proves our product is amazing, but then it is impossible to view that research for yourself. It absolutely infuriates me when something is declared to be harmful, when the actual research is at best contradictory. People assume that because a product is natural it is harmless, but when used in the wrong way in can be fatal. We need much more transparency across the board, and we need to be mindful of what we are writing in the public domain.
    Debate is healthy and it is good to get another perspective, even if people are unable to reach an agreement. Our community will become stagnant without it. I have learned so much from other bloggers, and posts like this (from both sides) give food for thought. It isn't always an easy post to write, and it takes courage to follow your convictions x

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    1. Totally agree with you about a lot of research raising more questions, hence the frustration of researching something and still not being sure of the answer. I enjoy the debate, it is just a shame that the personal stuff overshadowed it and like I have said to everyone else I am not afraid to acknowledge that if I could do things again I would do them differently, what would remain the same would be my steadfast opposition to terms like "scientific snobbery" the person targeted in that post was a professional and I for one value them immensely Xx

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  9. Ana - this is a great well-written and well-argued article. I think it is naive to ignore the benefits of science in any field. Provided, as you say, evidence for claims made for lab-based ingredients such as aniti-ageing and their safety is readily available, than we should welcome scientific developments in natural beauty products.

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    1. Thank you for commenting Julia I couldn't agree more. I think green beauty is an area that is only to going to get stronger over the coming years Xx

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  10. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, however, knowledge is power, so I strongly believe in scientifically based research. Personally, I try to find out as much as I can about ingredients, how and why they do or do not work. It mostly leads to controversial facts and that's where I sometimes have to trust my gut and decide if something's right for me. Which is OK too :) Although I have an example where science does not help me at all: I treat my tonsillitis with propolis, which scientifically is known just "possibly effective", but does miracles to me. However, it could be just a lack of scientific research in that area, who knows :)

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    1. I totally agree with you that you do find that sometimes you uncover more questions than answers, I truly believe the distinction between the marketing of products by companies and finding personally what works for you is really important, sometimes in personal experience you just have to try different options to find what works well with your own body chemistry. Marketing however is something that companies need to get right to ensure any claims they make they get right, if you happen to find something that works for you but maybe not for the majority like the propolis that's great, I take propolis capsules and I really like them! :) Xx

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  11. Now that I'm at a desktop, I can properly write a comment :). Let me start by saying that I always love reading your posts because they are so well written and I never get a sense of arrogance.

    I agree with pretty much all that you said but, what stood out was this, "We can choose our products because instinctively they feel right for us, but brands cannot market their products on instinct". Products need to be properly tested and properly preserved. Of course not all products need a preservative, example clay. A friend of mine is trying to make her own products, she gave me a clay mask to try and within days it was growing fur on it. Gross right? While she is not a scientist, she knows that even though the mask works amazingly well, it doesn't last very long and therefore she can't sell it unless she properly preserves it. If companies created products based on feelings, we'd have a lot fewer options within the green beauty world.

    So while I agree with all that you wrote, I'm not a science lover and I basically use products because of how they work for me. I am fully aware that there is science behind each of those products though. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and like I said on Rachel's post, what I loved about our community is that we welcomed those opinions whether we agree with them or not. Chin up xo

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    1. Thanks Nicole, the issue of safety is a really important one, I never want to give up safety for the sake of being "more natural" I would rather take a chance on something properly preserved. I have to say I am often really frustrated with trying to research topics because I wouldn't say understanding some of the science comes easy to me so I suppose in that sense I am not a science lover either. That is why I really value people like Lorraine who's studies I quoted because she sits on both sides of the fence both the natural and scientific and everything she writes makes me think and question things. There are so many things that I personally don't believe in but I know people that do, it doesn't make me think any less of them in fact I think variety is the spice of life and I have some friends with some pretty out there views. The way we have stayed friends so long is that I don't call them crazy for their beliefs and they don't call me snobby for mine, we know we don't agree but that is OK. It's when respect breaks down that we have an issue but I certainly have taking away lot's of food for thought from this and have a good idea of how I will be moving on from it Xx

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  12. I’ve been looking forward to reading this during a quite moment and so glad i have the opportunity to tell you that firstly you are one of the nicest bloggers i know and never have i detected any type of snobbery from your online interactions or blog posts. Its a shame some people might feel this way. People often perceive lack of understanding someone’s personality as snobbery or by simply doing something different and then sharing this is seen as snobbery in most circles.

    Your passion shines through in your blog and the conversations you have. You my lovely bring green bloggers together, you help us make connections with each other and help us become more confident green beauty consumers as well as bloggers I used we instead of i because i feel i speak for so many with this view point.

    Believe you me I’ve been there and worn the so called snobbery t-shirt in fact still wearing the t-shirt so chin up and take no notice and it should not be a hindrance on your blog.

    Like you have mentioned living a more holistic lifestyle should not be the alternative but the norm but regretfully it is very much the alternative and seen by a few as quite unnecessary. Our society seems to be forever concerned with a forever cycle of constant spending which as a result often means people tend to make no real informed decisions when purchasing skincare as its just part of those everyday spends. For green beauty consumers its a considered purchase which is why our voice as the green beauty consumer is very strong and should be used.

    For me science is the complete backbone of green beauty because without it we who choose to steer our life’s into a particular direction rely on science to explain why it we use a particular oil, seed, fruit, sugar, clay and so on since we tend to get a lot and i mean a lot of questions why we choose a particular brand over lets say Loreal. The knowledge pressure is definitely on for the green beauty consumer but we should not shy away from it otherwise some brands will use advertising and false claims based on weak science or in some cases invalid scientific claims to promote a product.

    Buying Green beauty is in most cases definitely a by product of striving to live a more green lifestyle and for that reason the green beauty consumer can and will make a difference in how brands act because of the passion they have for this obvious choice they have made. To think the green beauty consumer has less of a voice than its mainstream counterpart is naive and no green beauty consumer should think this.

    As you have mentioned the green beauty brands are flooding the market and more than ever before the choice is wide and they want the attention of what is still a small number of consumers compared to the mainstream brands. I see a few high end brands that have managed to engage mainstream consumers and they have indeed done this through the science behind the ingredients we love to rave about. So i would conclude that science is most definitely not the problem its the strength the industry needs.

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    1. You have completely blown me away with such a thoughtful response, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment I feel very humbled by it and I truly, truly appreciate you Xx

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  13. Hi Ana, I love all your posts and reviews. You go into major detail. Can you please suggest an eye cream for me. I have sat circles, in which they're heritage. Dad and and grandma has them too. I currently use
    CLINIQUE SUPERDEFENSE SPF20 EYE CREAM. I like it because of sunscreen but I need more moisture. My concealer has lines under my eyes after a while after putting it on. I use tarte and its creamy and I don't cake it on. I use a primer too. So I'm trying to relive my dryness under my eyes. If you recommend an eye cream or 2 am I able to use the Clinique one too? Or discontinue and use... Thank you so much!

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