Green-Eyed Girl: Eco-Beauty Cheat Sheet
by guest columnist Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, founder of

Want to go natural with your beauty products? Don’t just settle for the word on a label. Because the personal care industry is unregulated, the terms “natural,” “organic” and “pure” are often used to market products made with chemicals that can be dangerous to your health. But who wants to spend an afternoon reading ingredient lists filled with unpronounceable words? Not me.

That’s why I created this Eco-Beauty Cheat Sheet. If you find one of these chemicals on your label, just say no and try to find a similar product made from more eco-friendly alternatives.

Let’s start with the weirdly named 1,4-DIOXANE. Although it’s classified as a human and animal carcinogen by the EPA, this nasty byproduct of processing harsh chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less harsh is prevalent on beauty shelves. Got sodium lauryl sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the “eth” indicates the process. Unfortunately you also get 1,4-DIOXANE, most commonly found in things that bubble. A better bubble can be found in products made with coconut-derived COCAMIDOPROPYL BETAINE or HYDROXYSULTAINE, or corn-derived DECYL GLUCOSIDE, safe sudsors that can be found in shampoos, liquid soap, baby soap and bubble baths.

DIETHYL PHTHALATE is a reproductive toxin that can affect the development of children, yet is so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of nearly every test subject. Unfortunately, phthalates aren’t always included ingredient lists; typically they’re referred to as “fragrance” in perfume, hair spray and deodorant. Safer perfume sources are ESSENTIAL OILS derived by chemical-free steam distillation, cold-pressing or the labor-intensive enfleurage method used with delicate jasmine or tuberose flowers. Essential oils may not last as long as synthetic perfumes, but they’re just as sexy and can be repeatedly applied without giving you a chemical headache. Plus, essential oils aren’t linked to infertility like phthalates. Bonus!

PARABENS are a common preservative found in most conventional beauty and personal care products; the word is typically prefaced by “methyl-,” “ethyl-” “propyl-” “butyl-” and “isobutyl-.” Regardless of type, parabens have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders—luckily, safer alternatives can be found in naturally occurring substances like TOCOPHERYL ACETATE (vitamin E) and ABSORBIC ACID (vitamin C), among others. These preservatives keep products fresh for a reasonable amount of time, rather than extending their shelf-life into decades.

Look for nail polishes that are free of DIBUTYL PHTHALATE or DBP, a reproductive toxin that is banned in Europe because of links to birth defects, TOULUENE, which affects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, and FORMALDEHYDE, a known carcinogen that’s also responsible for turning your nails yellow when you take off the polish. If your favorite nail salon is still using toxic polish, just remember to BYOB (bring your own bottle). And speaking of formaldehyde, many common chemical preservatives release the stuff over time, so also avoid the words QUATERNIUM-15, DMDM HYDANTOIN, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA and DIAZOLIDINYL UREA on your labels. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, I’m still a little wary of products that advertise NANOPARTICLES, NANOMATERIALS or NANOTECHNOLOGY, popular especially in sunscreens, where this new emerging technology has allowed scientists to break down ingredients—like zinc or titanium dioxide—into tiny particles. How small? A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. Problem is, these nanoparticles are so small that they can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues. Researchers recently found that inhalation of carbon nanotubes led to mesothelioma—the same kind of cancer linked to asbestos. While the U.S. isn’t still assessing the dangers of nanotechnology, the E.U. is a step ahead in reviewing the risks of nanomaterials in cosmetics, especially sunscreens.

Stay tuned.

“Green-eyed Girl” is PrettyCity’s monthly guide to the latest beauty products and treatment trends reflecting a consciousness for the environment and personal health. If it’s organic, we know about it; if it’s helping our environment while keeping us looking and feeling our best, we love it. And, you can rest assured we’ll tell you all about it. Please contact us with story ideas or product suggestions.

RachelRachel Lincoln Sarnoff is the founder and editor of, the secret to smart and sexy living, where these and other ingredients to watch are listed on The Big List of Things That Suck. With eco-beauty updates, exclusive celebrity scoop and monthly giveaways of $500 or more in sustainable shoes, it’s no wonder “Gossip Girl” Kelly Rutherford said “EcoStiletto is for the woman who wants to do the right thing and still look good doing it." Sign up for the weekly newsletter and stiletto-size you!








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