There are a lot of ways to approach making healthier choices for your hair and skin care. Like everything in life, every choice you make ranges somewhere between bad, better, and best. At the grocery store we all find our own comfortable place between convenience and perfection. Some people live on a diet of fast food and processed snacks. Others consume only whole, organic, plant-based foods. The rest of us live somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, taking it one grocery shop at a time. Everyday we make the best choices we can depending on our lifestyle.
Your beauty products present a similar variety of choices. If you are reading this blog, chances are that you have embraced a DIY approach to skin or hair care. There are a lot of reasons to start making your own products. For example, soap making can be a wonderful creative outlet, or can lead to a new source of income. Making your own DIY personal care products can also be a way to control the ingredients they contain. Commercial skin and hair care products can contain undesirable components. They can also lack the benefits that natural ingredients provide.
Several years ago I made a resolution to swap out all of my personal care products for ones that I either made myself or purchased from an artisan. The change wasn't easy, but little by little, one item at a time, I made the transition to a completely handmade bath and body routine. I kept this up for quite a while by maintaining strict rules regarding what I purchased and created for my beauty pantry. After a few years life intervened, as it often does, making this lifestyle harder and harder to keep up with. Eventually, I found myself being forced to compromise on my resolution by supplementing my collection of products with commercially produced items. Like most people, I found that I couldn't always maintain a level of idylic purity. At least not in the midst of cross-country moves, career changes, and family obligations.
So when you can't have it all, where do you draw the line? How do you decide which products to compromise on, and which do you continue to invest time and money into in order to keep them at your ideal standard? Everyone's definition of what is "safe" or "ok" is a little different, but here are a few things that I look for when I am buying products from someone else. Whether I am at a big box store, or shopping directly through artisans at Beauty by the Batch, I always look at ingredient lists, and take note of the the following things.
Order of Ingredients
Just like food, cosmetic products list their ingredients in order of ratio, meaning that the ingredient listed first makes up the largest portion of the product. The ingredient listed last makes up the smallest portion. This is very important to keep in mind because it can give you a clue as to how much of the product is fragrance, detergent, or natural ingredient.
Sulfates, most commonly used SLS, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or ALS, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, are chemical surfactants that act as gentle or harsh detergents in skin and hair care cleansers. Sulfates are often found in commercial soap bars, glycerin soaps, liquid soaps, and shampoos. Though sulftes can sometimes wreak havoc on sensitive skin, not everyone has a negative reaction to these ingredients. Because my skin is very sensitive, I prefer to use either cold process soap or sulfate free products, but I have friends who aren't bothered one bit by an extra foamy body wash.
Preservatives come in a mind boggling variety, ranging from powerful synthetics to questionable naturals. It's hard to judge whether you are better off using a product with a strong, commercially accepted synthetic preservative, or something that contains a natural, and sometimes suspicious preservative. This is a personal judgement call situation that is best made with plenty of research. There are endless debates and articles available on the subject, but to get started, check out the article from our information library on Parabens vs. Citrus Seed Extracts. If you do decide to avoid synthetic preservatives, be absolutely sure to only purchase naturally preserved products from a trusted, reputable vendor or artisan.
Commercial products are often pumped full of synthetic fragrance. Depending on where the product was made, and by whom, the fragrance used could potentially contain loads of questionable components. Artisans tend to use high quality fragrances produced with skin care in mind, but this is not always the case. Be sure to check out your labels, buy from reputable vendors, and ask questions. Even if the fragrances being used are of the best quality possible, some argue that they could still pose health risks. This is something that you'll want to research further in order to decide whether to accept or avoid fragrances in general.
Essential Oils can be wonderful sources of natural aroma, and therapeautic benefit, but it is important to keep in mind that these are powerful substances. Certain health conditions can be aggravated by some Essential Oils. There are also many Essential Oils that can cause skin reactions, such as photosensitivity, rashes, and redness. Pets can also suffer from improper use of Essential Oil. It is definitely worth doing a little research into Essential Oil safety before purchasing products containing these ingredients. As always, working with a trusted artisan or vendor helps too.
Words like "natural" or "green"
Unfortunately, these kinds of words are thrown around a lot these days. Terms like these are not currently regulated. Consumers must be savvy enough to look past a product's marketing or they could find themselves to be victims of "greenwashing". Always check out the ingredient list. You might be surprised to find that many products touted as "all-natural" contain a number of synthetic ingredients, some of which could be on your list to avoid!
The term "organic", on the other hand, is regulated, but those regulations are not always obeyed. Be sure to look for a USDA organic certification badge on any products claiming to be organic, or to contain organic ingredients. To learn more about how organic certification works, visit organic.org.
Just like food products, cosmetic products are subject to shelf lives. Preservatives don't last forever, and ingredients can spoil, lose their active benefits, or simply "go bad" over time. Keep a close eye on the expiration dates of commercially made cosmetics while you shop, especially at discount stores or in clearance sections.
What are your rules for buying pre-made personal care products? Do you have any tips or opinions to share on the subject? We'd love to hear how you make these decisions in your own shopping trips. (We'd like to keep this discussion kind, so please be friendly and respect one another's opinions!) Be sure and check out Beauty by the Batch for more tips on purchasing handmade products.