What Makes “Clean Beauty” Clean? An Interview with The Big Carrot’s Resident Makeup Expert
Beauty should be good for you, right? But what really goes into the makeup we use? The truth is that most products contain a laundry list of ingredients that we can’t even pronounce, let alone make sense of. It’s estimated that around 80% of the ingredients in makeup have never been tested for health and safety standards — and yes, to my great chagrin, this is still totally legal. While we would like to think that the beauty companies we know and love always have our best interest at heart, the truth seems a little less clear. And since the average person uses twelve different beauty products every single day, we as consumers should approach this subject with more than blind faith.
Over the past decade or so, we have seen a trend towards the idea of “going green.” This started with the food we eat and continued to evolve and branch into skin care and makeup. This movement has left us with buzz words such as “vegan,” “cruelty-free,” “organic,” “small-batch,” “plant-based,” and the umbrella term of “clean beauty” — a phrase that many experts in the field approach with caution. This sense of caution comes from how “clean beauty” often plays off the consumer’s naivety.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to discuss this notion of “clean beauty” with Jennifer Merida, a makeup artist who works at The Big Carrot’s Whole Body Care department.
The definition of clean beauty seems to be an area of contention. What does “clean beauty” mean to you?
Clean beauty is simply something that I would not worry about putting on my face or having to question the ingredients or the integrity of the product. It is a term for products that contain well-crafted, organic, natural and cruelty-free ingredients.
This murky definition has been the cause of what we now call “greenwashing.” As a makeup artist, you must be confronted with this a lot. How does the average consumer distinguish between makeup products that claim to be clean and products that really are?
Here, at the Big Carrot, we pride ourselves on doing research prior to letting anything hit our shelves. We have a banned ingredients list, so none of the products on our shelves contain those ingredients.
As a makeup artist, I know that by shopping at The Big Carrot, I get high-quality products that have never been used to harm an animal. For instance, all of our makeup brushes are made of synthetic materials. To help our customers, we offer all of the information we have, including our banned ingredients list. We like to educate our customers and then let them make the final decision.
If you had to boil it down, what are a few harmful ingredients in makeup that you would suggest staying away from?
There is a misconception about talc —some people think that talc is dangerous to use because it can harbour asbestos. It can cause lung damage; however, as long as you get an asbestos-free certified talc powder, you should be okay. Talc is kind of on the borderline of clean ingredients, so it would be up to the consumer if they are comfortable using products that contain it. A few other ingredients that I wouldn’t suggest using are parabens, sulfates or SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), lead, mercury, and FD&C colouring (synthetic dyes).
It could be said that The Big Carrot demystifies clean beauty, given its customer-driven service and array of local products. Do you find that there is a certain level of consumer trust at this store that is hard to come by?
We try to be as transparent with our customers as possible. Our big thing is education, so if a customer isn’t sure about a specific product or ingredient, we try to help and educate them as best as possible with the information that we have. And then let them make their educated decision on whether they want to proceed with a product that contains an ingredient that they might not be sure about.
We have different programs going on at the store; our localized program helps rate Canadian products. The marking system is out of ten, and the higher you rate for the program, the more ingredients were locally sourced. So, say you get a seven out of ten, it means that seventy per cent or more of the ingredients come from local farmers.
Could you leave us with a few recommendations of your favourite makeup products or lines sold at The Big Carrot?
We have some great Canadian brands: Saint Cosmetics and Pure Anada are both fabulous. Saint Cosmetics is a plant-based cosmetic line; it has more of a luxury feel to it. The packaging is lovely, and the product itself is gorgeous — whether you are getting their foundations or lipsticks.
Pure Anada is from Manitoba, and they do all mineral-based products. We have everything from their foundations to serums and some of their facial care products.
We also have a very unique brand called 100% Pure. What is unique about this company is that they do all their pigments with fruits and vegetables. So, they’ll dry the fruits and vegetables to get really rich vibrant colours for their lipstick. For their foundation, they’ll use things like cocoa butter, berries and minerals as well. They are a fantastic line and are California-based.
Since there is no governing standard that defines what “clean beauty” really is, the responsibility of navigating the confusing world of cosmetics still ultimately falls onto consumers. We must stay vigilant, which means picking up products and examining the ingredients, or even running them through resources such as Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Cosmetics Database, which measures levels of toxicity. Shopping at The Big Carrot can also make what may otherwise feel like a daunting task a thing of ease. If you are interested in shopping for clean, locally sourced products, The Big Carrot is located at 348 Danforth Avenue.