An Unintentional Education

Two years ago I stumbled into an area of which I had no real prior knowledge: beauty products. Sure, I use them every day, but I never put too much thought into what I was using. I wash my face and hair, slather myself with lotion, spray perfume, and out the door I go. I occasionally wear makeup, but so rarely that I still have some of the same cosmetics I bought over a decade ago. Basically my approach to purchasing beauty products went something like this…

If it was on sale, I bought it.
If it smelled good, I bought it.
If it looked good, I bought it.
If my friends or mom used it, I bought it.

When I first started experimenting with beauty products as a teenager I was drawn to glittery packaging, loud colors and cool names like Wet n Wild. I was obsessed with lip gloss and loved the ones that tasted like candy, like Bonne Bell. Bubble gum was a favorite and I globbed it on in copious amounts. Ditto dousing myself in Love’s Baby Soft. All my friends did.

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I’m the lipstick lover on the left

The ingredients in these products never crossed my mind. The irony is that I’ve always been mindful of what I eat. One of my first jobs was at McDonald’s working in the kitchen and the experience turned me off not just fast food, but processed food in general. I still cringe walking down the cereal aisle in the supermarket seeing all the sugar sold as breakfast.

I once volunteered at a homeless shelter for city youth where I cooked weekly meals. I’ll never forget the time I brought fresh blueberries and one of the residents said they didn’t taste like blueberries. Confused, I asked her to explain. I came to realize that she’d never actually tasted a real blueberry, only the blueberry filling in processed treats. Her taste buds were accustomed to the sugary version of what that flavor was supposed to be.

This made me think about my own attraction to scents when choosing products. I’d read labels that advertised smelling like the ocean, fresh cut grass or a bouquet of flowers. The artificial nature of this is no different than my blueberry example. In other words, these brands put chemicals in their products to make them smell a certain way. And just like blueberry filling, there is nothing natural about it.

Your skin absorbs the products you apply and these ingredients get into your bloodstream. Occasionally eating at McDonald’s is not going to kill you, but is eating there every day a good idea? Probably not, so why subject your skin to a daily routine that’s less than healthy?

I had my ah-ha moment on these things later in life, after 40, when I became involved helping a couple of friends with their startup (Indie Beauty Expo) which focuses on indie beauty brands, many of which emphasize clean ingredients. As their copy editor I found myself immersed in the material, which resulted in completely changing my own approach to purchasing products.

A lot of natural brands don’t have the strong fragrance I’d been accustomed to and that took some getting used to, just like the teenager that had to acquire a taste for real blueberries versus a fake substitute. Now whenever I smell certain products, the artificial scent is obvious. I’d rather apply a more neutral-smelling product and know that what I’m applying to my skin is a cleaner alternative. That’s not to say natural brands lack desirable scents; many have just figured out a healthier, and perhaps more subtle, way to deliver it.

In the end, what began as a proofreading project wound up becoming an unintentional education. I’m somewhat of a late bloomer, but it’s never too late to change habits and start a new course, especially one for the better. Going forward I’m only going to use “the real blueberry” of beauty products, and the Indie Beauty Expo is the farmer’s market to discover them.

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