Safe Cosmetics Beginner Guide – Part 1: Watch Out! The Danger of Natural Ingredients

safe cosmetics part 1a

Picking clean and safe cosmetics is definitely a learn-able skill and needs some systematic approaches. I’m so happy to share everything I’ve found with you in this blog series of four, which also come with four simple exercises to help you take actions.

To start, a quick question: are you confused about how to select a high-quality foundation, while facing a myriad of brands which all claim to be “natural”, “hypoallergenic” and “dermatologist-tested” and not knowing which one you should choose? If you are like me, you would probably pick brand names you are familiar with or the ones that are well-known in the industry.

Fortunately, confusion ends when education begins. After reading No More Dirty Looks and The Beauty Bible, I know that our selection standards need to be changed.

With a set of better benchmarks, you will know how to choose a good cosmetic product with your knowledge. Not only will you look good by finding the most ideal products, but you will also feel good, empowered and confident because you know how to cut though marketing gimmicks and noises to stay savvy. Specially, there are six key areas to get you started:

  1. Understand industry secrets
  2. Understand “natural ingredients”
  3. How to read labels
  4. Detect harmful ingredients
  5. Summary: rules to abide by
  6. A list of standards to select safe cosmetics in the future

In today’s post, we are going to cover the first two topics. You’ll soon discover why only containing natural ingredients in a bottle is a concern, and why unnatural ingredients are actually good for you.


Be an informed consumer, because what you don’t know can cost you dearly in terms of your skin, appearance, and money.

— Paula Begoun, author of The Beauty Bible

 safe cosmetics part 1

Understand Industry Secrets

To better select any product, it is always good to start from understanding the whole industry in general. Let me walk you through four facts that you should be aware of:

1. FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) doesn’t require cosmetics companies to prove their claims

That means cosmetics companies can say whatever they want and label them on their products. While I personally believe that it is still legit to look at those front-cover labels as your own reference, you should never believe how a certain product works on your skin only based on claims like “dermatologist tested”, “noncomedongeic”, “hypoallergenic”, “designed for sensitive skin” and “laboratory tested”.


Tweet: Don't easily trust the front-labels on cosmetics products, as they are not examined by FDA via @SkinInitiativeDon’t easily trust the front-labels on cosmetics products, as they are not examined by FDA.


2. It is not that the more expensive the better

If you are currently having this belief, then you are using price as the only benchmark to select your cosmetics products. While I do see that some companies that charge a high price are selling high-quality products, price itself is not and should not be the only considerations.

What’s more important than price are company ethics and values, knowing how to read ingredients, customer service like whether they are able to professionally answer consumers’ questions and concerns, which are what I am using now as a standard to evaluate current products I am using and to select products in the future.


Tweet: Just because a product is expensive, it doesn't mean it's good via @SkinInitiativeJust because a product is expensive, it doesn’t mean it’s good.


3. There may be manipulation of research before a company presents its research findings

According to Paula Begoun, author of The Beauty Bible, “there’s an entire industry of labs that can help cosmetics companies support whatever they want to say about a product”. This means a cosmetic company can set up its own rules to perform these tests to come up with results they want to present on their front labels.

For example, a research result that shows a certain moisturizer is able to refine wrinkles by 150% seems to be impressive. But when you look closely, there can be a lot of loopholes: how did they conduct their experiments? Did they compare their product with other moisturizers? If you apply a moisturizer to a very dry and wrinkled face, it actually can easily help the skin by 150%. In fact, as Paula Begoun says, “any moisturizer would net the same results”. 

So, be wary of words like “our research shows”.


Tweet: There may be manipulation of research before a cosmetics company presents its research findings via @SkinInitiativeThere may be manipulation of research before a cosmetics company presents its research findings. 


4. Don’t easily believe in everything that a salesperson says

Simply put, the job of a salesperson is to sell. Salesmen are trained by the company to sell you more products in their line.

As an example, you may have heard of this “you need to wear makeup because it acts as a barrier between your skin and pollution”. The truth is that: while opaque and solid particles in foundations, powders and lipstick can reduce the skin’s exposure to the sun’s rays, pollutants like smog, car exhaust can still be absorbed right through makeup and moisturizers, explained by Begoun in her book.

Therefore, you can only treat what salesmen say also as a reference like how you should view those eye-catching front labels stated above.


Tweet: Don’t easily believe in everything that a salesperson at a cosmetics counter says to you via @SkinInitiativeDon’t easily believe in everything that a salesperson at a cosmetics counter says to you


Understand “Natural Ingredients”

We are living in a world where we easily assume that “natural” equals “that must be good”. I used to think that, too. Now, I’ve got some new understanding that I think you should know about them, too.

1. “Unnatural” Is Good

Imagine if you leave a fresh ripe banana on the counter and ignore it for a week in a hot summer, what would happen? The banana will gradually turn soft and black; and fruit flies will be dancing around or resting on this banana. The same case goes to a box of fresh white mushrooms. If you leave it unattended – even when you store them in the fridge, they will become moldy in a week or so.

The takeaway here is that: natural ingredients, if not preserved well, can go bad, disgusting or moldy easily in a very short period of time. So, what happens when you only take preservative-free natural ingredients out of a bottle and put them on your skin?

Therefore, it is actually good to have “unnatural” sounding preservatives to help avoid the risk of microbial contamination. In other words, you should always intentionally find preservatives within a cosmetics product.


Tweet: Always intentionally find unnatural-sounding preservatives within a cosmetics product via @SkinInitiativeAlways intentionally find unnatural-sounding preservatives within a cosmetics product. 


2. “Natural” Is not Always Good

Just because a product contains natural ingredients, it doesn’t mean this is a good choice for you. Depending on your skin type and how sensitive your skin is, ingredients that work for others’ skin can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, skin sensitivity or sun sensitivity on yours.

So, at the end of the day, what matters most is whether or not your skin likes whatever you put on the skin. Your skin might not like it even it is a natural ingredient.


Tweet: Natural ingredients may not be always good: they may cause allergy, irritation or other concerns via @SkinInitiativeNatural ingredients may not be always good: they may cause allergy, irritation or other concerns. 


As you see, it is benefitial to have unnatural sounding preservatives in a bottle to prolong the shelf-life of natural products. That’s my biggest a-ha moment.

In closing, here is the first exercise for you: now that you see my biggest a-ha, why don’t you quickly run through the blog one more time and share with me what’s your biggest insight? I’d love to learn from you.


Until next time,


P.S. Hope you are enjoying your ride so far. Let’s continue the journey to safe cosmetics, and learn how to identify preservatives and how to read labels. Stay tuned for the next post (feel free to subscribe, if you want the best for your skin).

Safe Cosmetics Beginner Guide – Part 2: How to Read Labels in a Systematic Way
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