When I was pregnant with my first baby, I began to wonder – Are the household cleaning products I’m using safe? Is the perfume I’m wearing potentially harmful to the baby? At the time, I had already committed to buying grass-fed, hormone-free meats and some organic produce at the grocery store but I worried: Is that enough to stay safe and keep harmful chemicals out of my body?
I decided it couldn’t hurt to buy a plant-based everyday counter cleaner and I started using only one spritz of my favorite Chanel perfume on my shirt sleeve instead of several pumps directly to my skin. Eventually, my pregnancy nose got the best of me (and I realized the fragrance’s fumes were still very potent) and I stopped wearing perfume altogether. This was the beginning of my slow transition to “clean products,” which is still very much an on-going process. I’ve found that I can only bite off a little bit at a time, my beauty products coming in last in the multi-year transition. I like the cosmetics I already use and clean beauty products seem intimidating and expensive, leaving me with the question: Are clean products worth it?
I’m no beauty expert so I decided to bring one on board for a Q&A about clean beauty and its impact on our wellness. Please welcome Morgan Adams to the blog to answer all our burning questions! Morgan represents Beautycounter and is a breast cancer survivor who has pledged herself to advocating for clean beauty. I’m truly grateful for the insightful information she shares below and I hope you find it useful too!
1) What inspired you to work in clean beauty?
Clean beauty was something I’d never really planned on pursuing as a career. In November of 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was researching on how to heal, the information I was seeing was directing me to lower my toxic load. The toxins that seemed to be of biggest concern in my research were the toxins found in our everyday cleaning and personal care products. Being a makeup and skincare junkie most of my life, I decided to start there. I was disappointed to learn that most of the products I was putting on my skin contained unhealthy ingredients, many of which were linked to breast cancer. I had known about a company called Beautycounter for several years, but always dismissed their products. I didn’t think that products in the “natural” category would perform up to my expectations. But I decided to give it a try since they were the cleanest products I could find on the market. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the products and how well they worked. So in late 2018, I decided to join Beautycounter as a consultant.
2) How has your perspective of clean beauty evolved through the years?
I had never really heard of the term “clean beauty” until I found Beautycounter. I was more familiar with the terms “organic” and “natural.” The general consensus among many people I knew in the beauty world (makeup artists and estheticians) was that products in those categories didn’t perform as well as products you might find at your dermatologist’s office or Sephora. Beautycounter was the first clean beauty company I ever really gave a fair chance. Since I’ve jumped on the clean beauty bandwagon, I’m pleased to see other clean beauty brands popping up. Even some conventional beauty brands are developing products that are cleaner. It’s moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
3) Why is clean beauty so important?
Decades of studies have pointed to the fact that many serious health issues like cancer, infertility and asthma have increased. One of the reasons is due to our ongoing exposure to toxic ingredients we’re exposed to everyday. The cosmetics industry in the U.S. is, for the most part, a fairly unregulated industry. Only 30 chemicals are banned compared to 1400 that are banned in Europe. There hasn’t been a major federal law passed to govern the cosmetics industry since 1938. There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, many of which don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those in the cosmetic industry.
4) What should consumers be careful about (or watchful for) when purchasing beauty, skincare, household and/or cleaning products?
There are thousands of chemicals that could potentially be harmful in our products. My recommendation is to download a free app called EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Healthy Living App. You can scan the barcode to a product or type it in to see how it’s rated in terms of safety. Products are rated 1-10, with 1 being safest to 10 being the most potentially toxic. There is a special classification called “EWG Verified” (look for the small green circle) which means that a product/company avoids EWG’s ingredients of concern, provides full transparency, and uses good manufacturing practices. My general rule of thumb when selecting my own products is to choose products that are EWG Verified or between 1-3. When products are rated 4-6, I will dig deeper into each ingredient to determine if I want to use it. I don’t recommend using products ranked 7 or higher.
5) Does your passion for clean products extend beyond the beauty and skincare industry?
It does. I choose the safest cleaning products possible and have recently become a fan of Branch Basics. After my cancer diagnosis, I invested in an air filtration system (Air Doctor) and a water purification system (Berkey). I’m also a fan of eating as much organic food as possible.
6) What is your best advice for people seeking to change their skincare and beauty product routines in effort to be healthier and safer?
I would advise most people to transition slowly as it can be overwhelming to do it all at once. I made a really quick transition, but that was propelled by my cancer diagnosis. As you use up a product, look for a cleaner option. Prioritize anything that can be inhaled or eaten, such as powder products and lipsticks. Also prioritize products that sits on your skin for a long period of time like moisturizers and serums. I also recommend finding a couple brands you trust and sticking with them.
7) What’s your favorite clean product and why?
I would say the Overnight Resurfacing Peel by Beautycounter. It’s the company’s best-selling skincare product and a client favorite of mine. It’s a gentle but effective serum containing multiple botanically-derived acids. You use it at night to help fade any discolorations and brighten up your skin.
8) What’s the most dangerous ingredient consumers should keep their eyes open for?
It’s hard to limit it to one since there are so many, but the one that concerns me the most is the ingredient “fragrance/parfum.” When you see fragrance listed in an ingredient list, you should understand that it’s an engineered scent or flavoring agent that may contain any combination of 3,000 or more stock chemical ingredients, including allergens and hormone-disrupting substances. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets, and therefore can remain undisclosed. When you spray a product in the air, it doesn’t only affect the person who sprayed it. It could potentially cause issues for anyone who’s close by. It could make their bodies react negatively with allergy symptoms, asthma and migraines. In some cases, exposure might not cause immediate symptoms, but the long-term effects remain unknown since many of the chemicals haven’t been properly tested.
One of the things that’s impressed me the most about Beautycounter is their advocacy efforts to change laws so that companies are charged with disclosing exactly what ingredients are lurking behind “fragrance.” Beautycounter’s CEO Gregg Renfrew provided witness testimony on December 2019 to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging the FDA to require more oversight over the personal care product industry. A bill called the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 was introduced that month, and in March the health subcommittee passed the bill which will be voted on by the full committee before it can be advanced to the House floor for a vote. This was a huge win for clean beauty advocates since the last federal law governing cosmetic safety was passed in 1938.
9) If you could give readers your best professional advice, what would you say?
I would urge folks to start to take closer look at the products they’re putting on their largest organ, their skin. The EWG Healthy Living app which I mentioned earlier is a great, free tool that’s accessible to everyone. Consider “voting with your dollars” and buying from companies that are committed to transparency and are making their products safer. On a personal note, when I became aware of all the unhealthy products in the marketplace I put a lot of pressure on myself to go 100% clean. This mindset has the potential to create some internal anxiety. It’s important to remember that this is about progress, not perfection. If you can aim to follow the 80/20 rule, with 80% of your products being clean then I think you’re definitely doing your overall health a huge favor.
10) Do you see or anticipate any trends towards clean ingredients? If so, which industries and products are making the switch?
The market has showed us lately that clean beauty is definitely not a trend. It’s really here to stay. In 2019, the beauty industry grew by 3% while the clean beauty segment grew by 18%. I’m pleased to see retailers like Target, CVS and Walmart starting to roll out more clean product lines so that people of all income levels are able to access cleaner and safer products.
Morgan Adams is a clean beauty advocate and educator who loves helping people make changes to enjoy healthier lives. Morgan’s desire to help others live healthier began after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. She thought she was doing “all the right things,” but the cancer diagnosis inspired a journey of knowledge, action and healing. Now Morgan teaches and helps others on their wellness journey. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband Stephen, a marketing consultant and rock and roll drummer, and their shaggy dog Ollie.
*If you’re interested in Beautycounter products click here.
Please join me in thanking Morgan for sharing her wealth of clean beauty knowledge and professional advice here on the blog! This is very helpful information that informs many of our product decisions.
Yours in health & wellness,