Clean eating has been a thing for years now. Its best friend is clean beauty, a movement that’s fast gathering momentum in New Zealand.
The clean beauty movement says ‘no’ to parabens, phthalates, sulfates, oxybenzone, triclosan, hydroquinone and artificial fragrances. These ingredients are commonly used in skincare products, however they have all been proven to cause problems – for your overall health, as well as your skin.
The clean beauty movement also says ‘no’ to dubious natural products that have no proven efficacy or actually have potential to cause harm. Putting a few drops of various essential oils into a carrier oil and calling it a serum is a hit and miss process that’s likely to result in nasty skin reactions. Nature makes a lot of toxins – hemlock, deadly nightshade and oleander, just to mention a few. Tobacco is also classed as a toxin, not that you’d ever be tempted to put it in skincare.
The difference between science and science fiction
Ethical, responsible natural skincare makers choose to work with ingredients that have been proven safe, as well as effective. They use robust scientific research to guide their formulations; without science, natural products would be science fiction.
The definition of science is: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Science is as important for natural substances as it is for pharmaceuticals. Every year, a huge amount of research time goes into studying natural substances. Any natural skincare brand worth its salt should be able to back up claims with scientific study. For example, at Okana we use macadamia oil in some of our formulations, because science supports its efficacy. 
Why using genuine natural skincare products is a good idea
If a skincare product is going to stay on your skin all day, because it’s a moisturiser or a body lotion, then it makes sense to use a clean, 100% natural formulation. Skin is the largest organ of your body and it’s porous, so it absorbs whatever you put into it.
Skin is a dynamic, living tissue; as such, its absorption characteristics are susceptible to constant change. Upon contact with the skin, molecules penetrate into the dead stratum corneum and can subsequently reach the viable epidermis, the dermis, and the vascular network (EC, 2004). 
Serum, sunscreen and deodorant are other products this long-term-contact rule applies. You could also look at moving to clean hair and makeup products, especially foundation and lipstick.
Auditing your current skincare collection
Before you bin your entire skincare regime because it might contain dodgy ingredients, do an audit of ingredients to confirm which products actually deserve to be banished. You might discover products that aren’t 100% natural, but neither are they toxic. To move economically to a clean skincare regime, these non-natural-but-safe products can be used up first.
Here’s our Top 10 for problem ingredients:
Methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, polyparaben and isobutylparaben are collectively known as parabens. They have antimicrobial properties, so are added to beauty and skincare products to prevent growth of bacteria and mould. The problem with parabens is that they mimic oestrogen in the human body.
“Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity,” reports the non-profit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC).
A collaborative study by University of California and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that exposure to parabens was directly linked to early onset of puberty among girls. 
Solution: Choose products that don’t contain parabens. These will have a shorter shelf life, however that’s a small inconvenience in the big scheme of things. At Okana we use self-preserving natural ingredients to keep our products safe. The shelf life of our products is 12 months unopened; we recommend you use up products within six months of first use.
“Many natural and organic cosmetics manufacturers have found effective alternatives to parabens to prevent microbial growth in personal care products,” reports CSC. “Some companies have created preservative-free products that have shorter shelf lives than conventional products (six months to a year), but if used daily are likely to be used up before they expire.”
If you’re a sucker for a pretty smell, it’s time to tell your nose to forget it. The fragrances used in skincare products nearly always contain phthalates, a group of chemicals that help scents to last longer. They show up as DEP, BBzP, DBP and DEHP on ingredients lists.
Phthalates have been linked to asthma, obesity, ADHD, type 2 diabetes, reduced sperm count, breast cancer, reproductive malformation, infertility, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Phew! That’s a lot of risk.
The weight of evidence against phthalates suggests manufacturers should proceed with extreme caution when using any chemical in the phthalate class, particularly in products for pregnant women or young children.
Solution: Choose products that are fragrance-free. If you must wear perfume, look for phthalate-free products. A variety of toxic ingredients are used to formulate perfumes and manufacturers don’t have to disclose the ingredients they use. The recipes that are used to create fragrances are regarded as confidential business information, i.e. trade secrets.
By ethoxylated agents, we mean polyethylene glycols (PEGs), ceteareths, oleth and sulfates. Ethoxylation is the process of reacting ethylene oxide with other chemicals to make them less harsh. The process can create small amounts of 1,4-dioxane and leave residual ethylene oxide in the product. Both these contaminants are linked to breast cancer and other cancers. 
Sulfates create the bubbles and lather in cleansers like shampoo. Some sulfates are synthetic, while others are derived from sulfur and petroleum or plant sources like coconut oil and palm oil. PEG compounds are used as thickeners, solvents, and softeners in hair products, as well as some moisturizers and base products.
Solution: Since labels don’t indicate the presence of dioxane and ethylene oxide, avoid products that contain PPG, PEG, polysorbate and ingredients that end in –eth, such as laureth, steareth, ceteareth.
You wouldn’t knowingly use a product that contains formaldehyde, because it’s a well-known poison. However if you like to get salon keratin smoothing treatments to keep your hair sleek and straight, formaldehyde could be in the ingredients list. It helps to lock your hair’s disulfide bonds into a straighter position.
Formaldehyde is recognized globally as a human carcinogen, so it’s been eliminated from most common beauty products, such as nail polish. The exception is salon keratin treatments, which contain methylene glycol, formalin, methanol or methanediol. These ingredients release formaldehyde when mixed with water during the treatment. Not only is this a risk to you, it’s a risk to salon workers who get daily exposure.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists sore throat, nosebleeds and itchy eyes as common side effects to formaldehyde exposure. 
Solution: Look for a hair smoothing process that doesn’t involve formaldehyde or its precursors.
It’s OK to put petrol in your car; it’s not OK to put it on your skin. Mineral oil (petrolatum, paraffin) is often found in lip balms and face creams.
A 2011 study found mineral oil to be the largest contaminant present in the human body, probably due to ongoing use of certain beauty care products. 
Untreated or mildly treated mineral oils can cause various types of cancer. Evidence that he highly-treated forms of mineral oils, like those used in skincare products, are carcinogenic remains insufficient to draw conclusions. 
Solution: We reckon it’s best to steer away from petrolatum and paraffin, just in case. No more petroleum jelly for you!
Hydroquinone is used to lighten areas of darkened skin, such as freckles, melasma, age spots and acne scars. It works by decreasing the production and increasing the breakdown of melanosomes in melanocytes.
Unfortunately, hydroquinone has been linked to certain cancers, decreased immunity, abnormal adrenal function and a skin problem called ochronosis. Because of this risk, It’s banned as an ingredient for skincare in the European Union, Japan and Australia. You can still get hydroquinone in New Zealand. It’s a pharmacy-only medicine.
Solution: Find a natural way to lighten your skin, such as kojic acid, licorice root or mulberry extract.
It’s banned in the USA, but you can literally eat it in New Zealand. Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal chemical agent found in some toothpastes, soaps and shampoos. Oh, and it’s in some sportswear too, delivering the ‘antibacterial’ promise that prevents you from getting whiffy after your workout.
In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled it was ‘likely to be doing more harm than good’.
New Zealand scientists are now calling for triclosan to be banned here."It can affect hormone function, damage the liver and kidneys and is a suspected carcinogen," says environmental chemist and Canterbury University senior lecturer Sally Gaw.
Solution: Look for products that are triclosan-free. For skincare, you can’t go wrong with Okana. For household products, try a trusted Kiwi brand like Ecostore.
Also known as silicon dioxide, silica pops up in all sorts of products, from toothpaste to eyeshadow. In nature, it’s found in sandstone, clay, granite and even in parts of plants and animals. You can also make it synthetically in a lab.
Silica absorbs oil and sweat, so your makeup lasts longer. It helps your makeup to stick to your face better, so is often used in primers. It thickens creams and lotions, making them easier to use. And it helps foundations to spread easily over your face.
Cosmetic products use supposedly-harmless amorphous silica, however there are studies that now suggest it’s not harmless at all. To quote a study on the Phagocytosis and Toxicity of Amorphous Silica: “Amorphous silica particles are phagocytosed by macrophage cells and a single internalized particle is capable of killing a cell.” 
Solution: Avoid products containing silica. It might be natural, but natural doesn’t always mean safe.
Oxybenzone, aka benzophenone-3, is a sunscreen ingredient that filters UVB and short-wave UVA. It’s found naturally in some flowering plants, but most of it is commercially produced from benzoyl chloride with 3-hydroxyanisole. Oxybenzone is on our radar because it’s the most common allergen found in sunscreens. It’s also known to be a hormone disruptor and has a habit of building up in living tissues, so concentrations can increase over time. 
Solution: Use mineral sunscreens. They work by sitting on top of the skin to physically block harmful rays, whereas chemical sunscreens (the kind that contain oxybenzone) penetrate deeper to convert UV rays into heat and release it from the skin.
The clean skin glossary
Clean: Beauty products that consider human and environmental health, using a nontoxic element as a baseline and plant-based ingredients for active results.
Green: The word ‘green’ should mean the product does no harm to the environment, such a reef-safe mineral sunscreen. However it’s usually associated with ‘green-washing’, which is the unscrupulous business of pretending to be environmentally responsible.
Sustainable: The ingredients and the package are not harmful to the planet. Sustainability also applies to how ingredients were sourced. Keep in mind that sustainability can only be claimed if it comes with recognised accreditations.
Organic: The product is produced without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides or other artificial chemicals. If a product claims to be organic, its packaging should show a device that indicates a recognised organic accreditation.
Non-toxic: When a beauty product is labelled nontoxic, it means the ingredients have not been shown to cause adverse health effects at the levels found inside the formula and for the intended use.
Vegan: The product doesn’t contain any animal by-products or ingredients sourced from animals. Watch out for beeswax, honey, lanolin and tallow – they are not vegan.
Cruelty-free: The product has not been tested on animals at any point along the manufacturing line or before being sold. Cruelty-free also refers to animal-derived ingredients that are extracted at the expense of an animal’s welfare, like animal-hair brushes.