Clean Cosmetics: What To Look For in ‘Eco’ Beauty and the Toxic Ingredients You Really Should Avoid

Clean Cosmetics- What To Look For in 'Eco' Beauty & Ingredients You Really Should Avoid
Olivia Burton
Written by Olivia Burton

With today’s marketing lingo, it can be really confusing to work out what products are genuinely eco-friendly. It’s a topic that continually stumps me, and I often get it completely wrong. I’m not expecting my shampoo to suck up greenhouse gases, I just don’t want to add any further harm to the environment.

Last year, I decided to stop turning a blind eye and investigate my cosmetics. Shockingly, various ‘eco’ products that I had been using were in fact bullsh*t. I researched the topic and cosmetics further and completely changed the products I used. In general, it’s best to make your own cosmetics and if you do – I salute you. For the people like myself that still purchase essential products, ignore the fancy packaging with an avocado and baby on it and look at the following things…

Clean Cosmetics- What To Look For in 'Eco' Beauty & the Ingredients You Really Should Avoid

Beauty ingredients to avoid

It can be confusing to know what you are looking for on the ingredients list of cosmetics. In general, if you need a Ph.D. in Chemistry to understand it, it’s probably filled with harmful chemicals. Try to avoid the ingredients below and if you don’t recognise the name, google it!

  • Oxybenzone – SPF is essential in Australia, it is however also important to question what your SPF is made from. A study in 2015 claimed that oxybenzone (used to make sunscreen) was found to be causing reef death. Try sun-protection products made with zinc instead.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) – This foaming agent has recently been causing controversy to its links of harming environmental and human health. The World Health Organisation published a Chemical Safety Card in 1997 stating that SLS was toxic to aquatic organisms. Look for ‘SLS free’ products.
  • Microbeads (polyethylenepolypropylene etc) – These tiny pieces of manufactured plastics have been recently banned in the UK, and Australia is proposing to voluntary phase them out by 2018. These tiny beads have been found in high quantities in the ocean and marine life, ending up in our food chain. Microbeads have multiple names so look here at the list of names to avoid.

…now (microbeads) are known as a major pollutant of oceans and waterways, and any mention of their presence is usually buried in the fine-print list of ingredients on the back of the product.” CHOICE website 2018

  • BHA, BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene) – Two preservatives used in cosmetics and food products. The European Union has found evidence that they are endocrine disrupters for humans and animals, look for Vitamin E instead as a preservative.
  • Silicones – There are conflicting reports on the eco-toxicity of silicone, with Loreal bringing out ‘silicone-free’ hair products. I would generally try and avoid.
  • Palm Oil – If you purchase a product containing palm oil, ensure it is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Palm oil production has been directly linked to multiple environmental issues including threatening endangered species and pollution. For more information, read this post.

Related Post: 13 Australian Cruelty-Free and Vegan Cosmetics, Skincare and Beauty Brands


This can be a really good way to know if a product has genuine claims. One great example is B-Corpa group of for-profit companies that have undertaken strict assessments to ensure they are transparent and good for the planet. There are multiple other certifications such as Australian Certified Organic.

Nourished Life is an Australian online store that has done the hard work for you, listing the main credible cosmetic certifications and selling the products that have them.

Choose local and independent brands

I strongly support local and independent brands in fashion, food and cosmetics. There is something really special about being able to meet the maker of a product. The ability to ask the maker questions and see the genuine passion that goes into an item. Local markets are perfect for this, I recently found natural and affordable skincare brand Herbs & Heart at Bondi markets (highly recommended!). I was then able to go read about the brand’s environmental efforts on their website, another method of checking how transparent and genuine a brand is.

Related Post: Local Matters: Why I Shop Local, Eat Local and Support Local


No brand is perfect, but its packaging is also a big giveaway if the business is genuinely eco-friendly. Herbs & Heart, mentioned above, use recyclable glass bottles for their products and Lush has an in-store recycle scheme for product pots. Try and invest in a cosmetic company that is trying to reduce plastic waste and excessive packaging.

Want to learn more? Check out this article to learn the beauty brands you to steer clear of if you want to go ‘eco’.

Do you use any cosmetic brands that are environmentally or socially responsible? Please let us know below.

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About the author

Olivia Burton

Olivia Burton

Olivia Burton has a passion for sustainability, the outdoors and science. After moving from London to Sydney three years ago, she is now an ocean addict and attempting to surf tiny waves. Olivia also runs the blog 'Sustainable Cat' which focuses on the relationship between textiles and the environment.

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