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And the winners are in! YJ readers put nearly 300 good-for-you face, body, and hair products that met our rigorous standards to the test. Here, find the best of the beautifully healthy bunch.
Deciphering the ingredients in the products in your shower or makeup bag can require a graduate-school-level familiarity with chemistry—extra credit if you know what Ceteareth-2o, dibutyl phthalate, and propylparaben are. If not, you won’t be happy to hear that these synthetic compounds, commonly found in cosmetics and personal-care products, have been linked to carcinogenic contamination and endocrine disruption, or hormonal interference affecting reproductive and developmental health. And they’re not the only offenders.
So how did these ingredients become so ubiquitous in products we slather on our skin and hair daily? Cosmetics fall under the umbrella of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the organization doesn’t have the regulatory authority to require pre-market testing of the safety of products or ingredients (with the exception of color additives or items considered over-the-counter drugs). Instead, the FDA has identified a handful of harmful ingredients, and then asks the industry to police itself using available data on individual chemicals from other sources, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and university labs, to evaluate product safety—a strategy that several nonprofits and lawmakers deem inadequate in protecting human health because of potential conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, studies on many of these chemicals from academic institutions, the Centers for Disease Control, EPA, and other government agencies are ongoing, and the jury is still out on the potential impacts of many of these ingredients. And research shows that we continue to absorb some of these chemicals into our bloodstreams and breast milk. For instance, cosmetic ingredients often penetrate the skin or are inhaled, and scientists have found parabens, preservatives common in beauty products and synthetic fragrances, in breast tumor tissue. They’ve also found phthalates—plasticizers and solvents used in soaps, shampoos, and more (think plastic toys, vinyl flooring, and detergents)—in urine. While scientists figure out the human health effects of exposure at various levels for many of these chemicals, we’re advocating for safe instead of sorry.
That’s a lot to take in, especially considering that the average American woman uses 12 cosmetic and personal-care products daily that contain a total of more than 168 ingredients, according to research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a DC-based nonprofit dedicated to documenting studies on these chemicals. The EWG’s Skin Deep program has developed a database that rates nearly 70,000 products based on their ingredients and the science available (or not available) on them. Their risk analysis is enough to scare anyone into a medieval beauty regimen, but before you swear off regular shampooing or moisturizing forever, know that a significant number of companies are stepping up and developing nonsynthetic formulas or have started eliminating potentially toxic and hormone-disrupting chemicals. For example, Johnson & Johnson announced in 2012 that it would phase out some parabens and releasers of formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, in many products.
To help you find truly safe cosmetics and personal-care products that are also effective and pleasant to use, Yoga Journal worked with EWG to develop our first-ever Natural Beauty Awards. We adopted EWG’s list of the worst-offending beauty- product ingredients when it comes to human health, then we put out a call for product submissions that are free of everything on our list. We received an encouraging response: 297 different products from 81 companies. Lastly, we rallied more than 200 readers to test and rate these cleansers, scrubs, conditioners, serums, and more based on efficacy, texture, smell, packaging, and company ethics. The result: a rich selection of makeup, body, face, and hair items you can feel good about using. Check them out, read tester reviews, and learn more about which ingredients to avoid and why in the rest of our guide.