Last year I received one of the best pieces of nutritional advice I’ve ever had. If you don’t understand the ingredients on the packaging, don’t eat what’s in it. Sounds obvious but I’d never looked at it like that before. Now, I check the ingredients and if it has more than three, back on the shelf it goes.
My new-found food philosophy hasn’t yet found its way into my beauty cabinet. Twice a day, I perform my daily ritual of applying at least ten different beauty products – from shampoo to SPF – and each product contains at least 20 ingredients that I can’t even pronounce, let alone understand what it is or does.
I’m not alone when it comes to my consumption of beauty products. According to a recent survey by QVC Beauty, British women spend an average of Dh248,000 on cosmetics in their lifetime and even the economic downturn has done little to curb our beauty obsession. In fact, if anything, it’s made us more discerning and demanding.
I, for one, have started questioning every product I buy. I want to know exactly what it can do for me, how I can get the most benefit from of it (is there a cream I can use under my eyes and on cracked heels?) and what exactly is lurking in my little pot of moisturiser.
Being aware of the ingredients in your beauty products can be a real eye opener. In a recent Aquarius poll, a worrying 34 per cent of readers admitted to not knowing what’s actually in their cosmetics.
According to Jeroen Proos, director and co-founder of natural beauty brand Human+Kind, there are ingredients commonly found in products consumers should be concerned about – a group of ingredients that include methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens are just a few. “These are known as preservatives and commonly used as inhibitors of microbial growth to extend the product’s shelf life,” he says. “Parabens are widely used despite being known to be toxic and causing allergic reactions and skin rashes.”
Aly Rahimtoola, owner of Herbline Essentials, recommends avoiding whitening agents and synthetic dyes. “Whitening agents, usually synthetic sun blocking agents or melanin inhibitors, can cause skin to become patchy, while synthetic dyes used in hair-colouring products can cause an adverse reaction.”
Jeroen is also keen to point out that some ingredients actually cause the problem they claim to fix. “Petrolatum is a mineral oil jelly and causes many problems,” he says. “It can promote sun damage and interferes with the body’s own natural moisturising mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping… therefore creating the problem that the product actually intended to prevent.”
Why make the change?
So how are a few bad ingredients going to harm you? Well, if you use multiple products daily – our poll revealed 94 per cent of readers use up to five products a day – you are exposing yourself to a lot of chemicals. According to British brand Neal’s Yard Remedies, over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been developed, most of which have not been properly tested on humans and it’s perhaps no coincidence that over this time, incidences of eczema, allergies and cancers have greatly increased.
Megan Larsen, founder of Sodashi cosmetics says, “It’s been shown that around 60 per cent of what you put on your skin is absorbed into your bloodstream. There are thousands of untested synthetic chemicals being used in consumer products with little or no understanding of the consequences to our health.” She further explains that more and more consumers are experiencing sensitivities to synthetic chemicals and are looking for chemical-free solutions.
With people opting for an all-round healthier lifestyle, it makes sense that the same rationale is applied to cosmetics. “Many people choose to consume organically produced food as they’re pesticide- and chemical-free. The same applies to skincare,” says Aly. “Using products made of 100 per cent natural ingredients is a beneficial choice for our skin and health in the long run.”
The chemical-free choice
So what are the chemical-free options and do they work? In recent years, there’s been an explosion of once-niche brands, which are now considered part of the mainstream beauty world. Neal’s Yard Remedies has several stores across the UAE and department store Harvey Nichols is home to a variety of organic and natural ranges including Sasy n Savy and Sodashi, while the Organic Foods & Café stocks holistic brands Dr Hauschka and A’Kin.
Spas in the UAE are also going au naturel, with many offering organic treatments. Cowshed offers its organic treatments at Sisters Beauty Lounge, while Thai Privilege Spa delivers a menu of treatments using its organic Eminence range. There are even all-organic spas cropping up. Zen Beauty Lounge in Jumeirah uses all toxin-free, natural and organic products. It offers treatments from threading and pedis, to massages and facials, but without the chemicals or the carbon footprint. It even creates products using all-natural ingredients, like strawberries and oatmeal.
The main issue natural and organic-certified products and treatments face is convincing consumers their products are just as effective as those loaded with synthetics: those same synthetics that contribute to the feel, smell and consistency of your luxury cream.
“As with any new regime, you may feel a difference in the way the product sits or feels on your skin, but it’s simply about getting used to it,” says Aly. Just as science is behind the latest miracle cream, Aly says that formulating natural and organic products also comes with its own mastery. “You need to know your natural ingredients and understand the causative factors that lead to ageing in the body... Then you can create products that are akin to the natural processes in the body, act as corrective and protective foods, and stimulate skin health,” he says. “They may feel different, but if formulated well, they are pleasant to use, effective and least likely to cause damage and premature ageing of the skin.”
After testing a range myself, I admit they’ve taken a little time to get used to, but they seem to be doing the job. The one issue I face, especially with organics, is that, because they are paraben-free, they don’t have as long a shelf life as synthetic products. This means keeping them fresh by storing in the fridge.
It’s not just your skin that can reap the benefits. By supporting natural and organic brands, you’re also reducing your own carbon footprint. Not only are these brands’ farming methods and ingredient sourcing eco-conscious, but many also extend their greener values to include packaging and community-based projects.
Neal’s Yard Remedies follows a mantra of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ to have minimal impact on the environment. As well as supporting locally grown producers, all products come in 100 per cent recyclable glass bottles. Dr Hauschka runs various community projects – a shea butter cooperative in Burkino Faso and a rose cultivation project in Afghanistan. L’Occitane’s packaging is made from paper and cardboard sourced from sustainably managed forests.
According to Proos, the natural and organic beauty industry globally is projected to reach $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion) by the end of 2012 and it’s not hard to see why. As consumers we are demanding more from our products. The industry has responded by upping its game with products that meet these goals but also do the job. Discover our favourites brands on the next page.
On the back of organic beauty brands, spas offering organic treatments are also now more popular and there’s even an all-organic spa here. Zen Beauty Lounge (www.zenbeautylounge.com) in Discovery Gardens is the first and only eco-friendly spa using all toxin-free, natural and organic products. They offer treatments from threading and pedis, to massages and facials, but without the chemicals or carbon footprint. They create their own products using all-natural ingredients, from avocadoes (great for hydration on skin and hair) to oatmeal (good for cleansing and softening skin). Organic skincare brand Cowshed offers its range of premium organic treatments at Sister’s Beauty Lounge (04-3398500), while Thai Privilege Spa (04-3489679) delivers a menu of treatments using its organic Eminence range. See page xx for a special organic treatment offer.
Know your labels
Deciphering what is organic can be a little tricky, so here’s a good guide to follow
100 per cent organic
Products that are made entirely from certified-organic ingredients
Products that contain at least 95 per cent organic ingredients
Made with organic ingredients
Products that contain at least 75 per cent organic ingredients