When you pick up a face cream or a cleanser, do you read the ingredients? Do you consider whether or not it is vegetarian, animal-tested, chemical-free, ethically made? No? You're not alone. Many people who take great care of such things in the rest of their life - eating healthily, avoiding household products which have been tested on animals etc - seem to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to toiletries.
The problem seems to be that many people forget that something that when they apply something to the skin, it doesn't just stay on the outside. It soaks in. It's absorbed. It goes into your body. The body which, under any other circumstances, most people would protect from unpleasant chemicals.
The list of ingredients in a moisturiser, for example, can be long and baffling! Some sound natural but are pretty hideous chemicals, and some sound like they should be appallingly bad for you but are in fact perfectly natural.
It seems that the industry has realised that many people (women, mainly) suddenly seem to forget their principles when faced with a shiny, Photoshopped celebrity telling them that this expensive pot of cream will allegedly magically make them look ten years younger, or even like that celebrity.
If you go to a big chemists or to a department store, you'll be faced with every brand under the sun and it'll be up to you to sort the wheat from the chaff. The big conglomerates spend a lot of money on glossy publicity stands and on even glossier sales assistants. When you enter those places, you are one thing - a money pit! Do the sales assistants and make-over girls ever ask you if you're vegetarian, vegan, allergic to anything? Not in my experience, no. They might just ask you what you think your skin type is and before you know it, you're being slathered in creams and offered a make-up "lesson". Are they doing this for fun? To give you a nice treat during a hard day's shopping? No. They're doing it so that you'll buy the products and that you'll be so distracted by your new look and the incredible claims they make that you won't even notice the price. There is one cream on the market at the moment costing $295US for 1.7 fluid ounces! The website uses the phrases "anti-ageing", "age-defying", "effective against the signs of ageing". I can't be the only person who thinks that being "anti-ageing" has to be one of the most futile stands a person can take. We are ALL getting older, every single minute of every single day.
Are we really prepared to fork out so much of our hard-earned cash to companies who are simply preying on our apparent hatred of the progress of nature?
Consider instead the smaller, independent, ethical companies who actually care about their customers, their product, their suppliers, their packaging, the environment. Some of these companies started as (or still are) just one person in their kitchen, mixing up different natural ingredients in an attempt to treat their skin to a bit of TLC but without harming anything in the process. I am not going to pretend that those companies don't want to make a profit - of course they do. No-one goes into business planning to make a loss but many of them are very happy to make a tiny profit compared to that of the bigger companies. They might sell only in their local area, or only at weekend markets. Some get bigger. Some don't. When a company does start to grow and become more nationally recognised, there is a lot of pressure on them to change their practices, start looking for cheaper ingredients, different packaging, in order to maximise their profits. It's a brave company director or business person who can stick to their principles and insist that everything continue to be done their way. It's difficult for such companies to get investment because investors tend to look solely at projected profit margins.
My favourite ranges? Pukka, Weleda, Faith in Nature, I Am Natural, Barefoot SOS. I also hear great things about Dr Hauschka (not just organic but also bio-dynamic) though I've never tried them.
So how do you find a product that fits with your own ethos? One which not only won't do you any harm but also caused no harm in its production? One way is to avoid those huge stores and seek out your local independent health food shop. The owners of these stores generally make a point of only stocking products which fit with a more ethical standpoint. If you don't want to go in person or you already know what you want, then an online store such as The Natural Products Company can be very convenient. The best thing about sites like that is that the hard work has been done for you - nothing has been tested on animals and you can filter your search by vegetarian, vegan, organic and even gluten-free.
So have a really good look at your creams and potions. If they don't come up to scratch, treat yourself to something new that will benefit both you and the planet.