Should Your Skin Go Vegan, Gluten-Free And Organic, Too?
With so much of what we put on our skin being absorbed into our bodies, it’s worth considering what that means for our health, writes Cat Woods.
You drink fair trade organic coffee. You line up at lunchtime for your organic, GM-free quinoa and tofu salad. If there’s a vegan, raw food, paleo cafe within a 10-kilometre radius, they know your name. So why don’t you apply that same non-toxic approach to your skincare and makeup?
Our skin is our largest organ, and while it is extremely resilient, up to 60% of the products we put on our skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
A 2012 report from the Canadian Environmental Defence organisation warns that consumers have no way of knowing what heavy metals are in our face makeup. “For some of these metals, science has not established a ‘safe’ level of exposure,” reads the report.
So should we be concerned?
When heavy metals build up in the body over time, they can cause some pretty heinous health problems, such as cancer, reproductive disorders, neurological problems, memory loss, mood swings, contact dermatitis and hair loss.
Safe Cosmetics Australia lists ingredients to watch out for in products such as hair spray, perfume and deodorant, which “have not been assessed for health and safety, and are readily inhaled and absorbed through the skin”. These products usually contain artificial dyes, colours and fragrances, which are “made from over 4,000 chemicals… a toxic concoction that should not be inhaled or applied to the skin.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s been a recent boom in organic and natural skincare. This means you’re no longer only faced with the decision between standard and organic broccoli or free range or caged eggs. You have Biodynamic, local, GM-free, cruelty-free and so on, and the same complexity of choice also applies to your cosmetics.
So what are your options?
The whole ethos of vegan products is that their production doesn’t harm any animals (they’re cruelty-free), and as such, they don’t use any animal ingredients, animal-derived products or by-products.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) lists all the animal ingredients that may be present in cosmetics and skincare on their website. For vegans, avoiding casein, biotin, glycerine and other animal derived products is a must.
This handy list has suggestions for non-animal alternatives that have an identical or similar purpose. For example, rather than AHAs that typically involve lactic acid, products with citric acid also have a peeling and brightening effect.
Some major cosmetic brands carry vegan lines, such as Australis. “We are extremely strict when it comes to our vegan products and how these are labelled,” says Australis Brand Manager, Elisa Tubecki, “and we only use suppliers with a RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) policy regarding sustainable plantation farming of palm oil.”
Byron Bay-based company, Eco Minerals, explains that
“while many cosmetics companies are claiming to be cruelty free, and so not using animals for testing or manufacture of their products … the only real way to know that no animals have been exploited or harmed in the testing or manufacture of a cosmetics product is by using vegan products.”
Eco Minerals include a list of animal-based products that are not present in any of their products, including collagen, beeswax and lanolin.
Dermatologist, Dr Natasha Cook, says there is science behind a gluten-free diet and this extends to skincare and cosmetics. “It’s believed that 80% of people have antibodies to gluten as we are not designed to eat grain,” she says. “Studies have suggested gluten may be linked to inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis.”
For the health of the body, hormonal balance and skin health, Dr Cook advocates “A low sugar, low carbohydrate diet [which] helps stabilize insulin and other hormones. Therefore you’ll see better results for your skin. Think paleo.”
Gluten can appear in many different ingredients, including wheat, barley, malt, rye, oat, triticum vulgare, hordeum vulgare, secale cereale, and avena sativa so it’s best you avoid them if you have a legit intolerance.
Lavera is totally gluten-free, and 100% Pure is almost so, and you can find brands like Murad Skincare, Dr. Hauschka, EO, MyChelle, Acure Organics, SebaMed and Derma-e offer gluten-free ranges.
While the benefits of buying organic food is well documented, the jury is still out on organic cosmetics and skincare. “There is no scientific proof that organic skin care is better for you,” says Emma Hobson, education manager for The International Dermal Institute.
But when non-organic products contain elements like parabens and petrochemicals that can be absorbed into the skin, you can understand why many believe that non-organic products are more likely to cause skin and eye irritations, dermatitis, hormonal disruptions, headaches and more. Yet research is yet to back these claims up.
Despite this, if you feel it’s just that the science hasn’t caught up yet and buying natural, organic alternatives is your jam, know that standards for organic cosmetics differ from country to country, but locally, the Australian Certified Organic Standard is recognised as one of the most stringent standards for manufacturers and cosmetic products in the world.
To obtain the Certified Organic logo, 95 to 100% of content must be organic. Products can use the label: “made with certified organic ingredients” when made with 70% to 95% organic ingredients.
Cat Woods is a writer, editor and blogger in Melbourne. She is also a yoga, barre and pilates instructor with a passion for fitness, lipstick, 90s electroclash and yoga pants.