Recently, more people have started to become interested in the contents of their personal care products, sparking a movement of ‘natural’ makeup and skincare. There’s certainly some reason behind this; Eurostat (the EU statistical office) estimates that the EU alone produced 81 million tonnes of chemicals hazardous to the environment and 219 million tonnes of chemicals hazardous to human health in 2017.

But are we looking for the right ingredients? There are no laws in the UK regarding the use of words such as ‘natural’, and this means that these labels can easily be used for advertising. Companies create products that may seem “better” because they’re free of a certain ingredient, but this isn't necessarily true. In fact, the chemicals used to replace these ingredients may be worse for the environment or may trigger allergic reactions for some.

The best way to interpret product labels is just to do your research, but that’s easier said than done! While there is a decent amount of information available, this can sometimes be contradictory as there isn’t yet enough research on most ingredients.

So far I’ve found the EWG (Environmental Working Group) website very helpful purely because of the wealth of information, but they are known to be fairly alarmist so it’s important to take some of it with a pinch of salt. I wouldn’t recommend swearing by their numerical ratings - instead, look more deeply into the information provided about each ingredient and which exact studies are being cited.

Another factor is how damaging the product and its contents are to the environment. Many facial scrubs, for example, contain plastic microspheres that can escape into the marine ecosystem. If possible it's best to get a chemical exfoliant or a mechanical exfoliant that's biodegradable.

Other ingredients to avoid include oxybenzone and octinoxate (which are often found in sunscreen and contribute to coral bleaching), mica (a commonly-used mineral which can cause respiratory problems for those that mine it), and palm oil (which can also appear as ‘palmate’).

(To find out more about palm oil and its derivatives, check online! There are a number of sources that list them)

Another good thing to consider is the packaging of a product, especially if it's a product you use often. In the UK glass, aluminium and paper have much higher recycling rates than plastic, so if it’s possible to get a product with minimal plastic packaging then that’s great too!

I know this seems like a lot of information (and I’ve only been able to skim the surface in this article!), but I hope I’ve inspired you to do a little more research into the self-care products you buy.

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