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Which Clean Beauty Products Are Worth the Swap?

Organic, natural, nontoxic—these are all words used to describe the new wave of beauty products that promise the efficacy of traditional cleansers, moisturizers, and other skincare products without the harsh, potentially hazardous ingredients. And business is clearly booming. The natural skincare market grew by 23% to $1.6 billion from 2017–2018, translating to more than 25% of the $5.6 billion of annual skincare sales in 2018.

While clean beauty used to be a prestige privilege, mass-market retailers like CVS and Target have caught on and have begun offering more “natural” alternatives at friendlier price points. But with that comes shelves stocked with products upon products and a better chance you’ll be confused by what you see.

While there’s a Dirty Dozen list for food—the 12 foods you should absolutely buy organic, like kale—the beauty industry doesn’t have quite the same standard. According to research, here are the three products we believe are most important to buy clean:

  • Deodorant: Antiperspirant and deodorant aren’t the same. While deodorant simply neutralizes the bacteria in sweat, antiperspirant actually blocks glands and prevents sweat, mainly through aluminum. Many headlines that claim aluminum leads to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s aren’t backed by scientific evidence, but researchers have found a link between aluminum levels in humans and encephalopathy, or brain disease.
  • Mascara: Fragrance, propylene glycol, lanolin, and preservatives are some of the main reasons people develop allergic reactions (itchy skin, swollen lids) to eye makeup. A clean mascara, eyeliner, and eyeshadow palette free of these ingredients is a safer bet.
  • Lipstick: A 2013 study found manganese, titanium, and aluminum in 32 lipsticks, plus lead in 75% of the bunch. If you’re wearing a lot of lipstick, this could mean trouble. Though they didn’t find a direct link between lipstick use and disease, researchers believed that given the connection between metals like manganese in drinking water and neurological issues, more testing needs to be done to assess the safety of these ingredients in lip products. Brands like W3ll specialize in lead-free lipsticks.

Is all clean beauty safe?

Lavender has soothing properties and rosehip is known for promoting cell turnover. Sure, plants seem like a wise choice all the time, but also you wouldn’t rub poison ivy all over your face. That may be an extreme example, but it’s not uncommon for people to have allergic reactions to certain plant-based formulations, especially in essential oil form. Make sure to read ingredient labels fully, try products first in small portions, and consult with your dermatologist if you’re hesitant or have questions.