It’s almost 10 years since I discovered organic cosmetics. I used to wash my hair with some Garnier shampoo then and I thought the 3 phases treatment by Clinique was the best for my face. Little did I know about what these products contain and I lived peacefully without knowing. But one day I started having problems: my scalp was itching and had crusty spots. The dermatologist I saw prescribed me a shampoo for dermatitis, which didn’t change the situation much.
One day, doing some research on the web, I ran into an e-commerce site which sold shampoos and other cosmetics made with hemp – they were described as lacking in SLS, among other things. SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate: that’s how I found out that shampoos usually contain a large quantity of this substance, a surface-active agent which helps foam forming and is also very irritating. A bell rang. Could that be just the cause of my problems, that I had become intolerant to SLS? I bought some shampoo and conditioner from the site and tried. Well, yes: my dermatitis went away, and moreover my hair, which tends to be greasy, now was shiny and displayed a lovely colour. It didn’t happen immediately, because my scalp had to adapt, sort of, to the new chemicals used on it – which, as I then found out, is quite common. For a while my hair felt heavy after washing, but after the first tries it was like reborn. And the hemp conditioner: pure delight! Apparently hemp is chemically akin to human skin, which makes it a perfect “ally” for our beauty and health.
I gradually changed my whole beauty routine, making some mistakes along the way (a face cream by Lush once filled my face with strange pimples!) but ending up with nice and healthy hair and skin. Organic cosmetics are not cheap, but using them is indeed being a smart consumer. Besides, these products don’t have to be used in large amounts to work and they last long. And – you don’t need to buy many products if you are using some quality ones.
I started getting information about the ingredients of cosmetics, their dangers, and the so-called “natural” alternatives, by reading discussion by experts in dermatology and chemistry and consumers. Now I knew each product has on its label a list of ingredients called INCI, and the position of each ingredient on it varies according to the quantity. It’s laughable, for example, that some shampoos are marketed as “made with extract of the extraordinary flower from New Guinea” when said extract is ingredient number 30 on a long list… (I’m making up the flower but you sure have heard a lot of marketing stunts like this!)
Besides SLS, worst offenders include petrolatum, which comes from petrol (yes) and clog the pores. Traditional foundations abound in petrolatum, which explains why face skin after a while gets greasy. There are hundreds of substances that are better avoided and for different reasons: some are irritating, some pollute the environment, some are of animal origin, some can even be absorbed by our body or be suspected carcinogens. We have to be careful about the matter: there are many hoaxes going around on the web, which somehow belittle the validity of all the studies about the danger in the chemicals of everyday use.
Chemist Fabrizio Zago has compiled a huge directory called Biodizionario, giving his own evaluation of the chemicals found in cosmetics (and cleaners). It can be easily consulted by everyone around the world since it uses a red/yellow/green code. It’s particularly useful for a specific reason: it’s not just the certified organic products which are green – sometimes even a cheap wash or shampoo bought at the grocery store can turn out to be a safe one.
Italian users can find useful information about natural cosmetics in the site Sai Cosa Ti Spalmi and its discussion board (which includes a directory of hundreds of INCIs analyzed by the users). The lazy ones can get started by reading SCTS’s first on line magazine issue, with its clear article about the first steps to knowing organic cosmetics.
It’s nice to know that by treating better our Earth, we can also cuddle ourselves.