The cosmetics you use could potentially hurt your health more than you know.
Have you ever tested a million products that only gave temporary results, forcing you to continue an endless search for that one miracle cream that actually delivers great skin? Yep. That was my relationship with my skin acne. Well into my twenties, after exhausting my wallet with $200 crèmes and monthly acne medication (Hey, Proactiv), I went to dermatologist Dr. Michael Mann. His prescription? Throw away all of my products, use castile soap to wash my face and body, and moisturize with vitamin E oil. Most importantly, he told me it wasn’t just about what I put on my skin but what I put inside my body. Regardless of the price tag, he said, everything else was a gimmick—it was like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches. Dr. Mann’s “back to basics” prescription became a mission. I became plant-based: I drank a gallon of water every day, swapped my expensive crèmes, and turned to my kitchen for beauty products. Within one month, my skin finally cleared, my mood changed, and my confidence spiked.
One doctor’s visit. That’s all it took. I never saw him again, but he changed me forever. I became fixated on knowing the truth about what I was using and why it never worked. I was, and still am, obsessed with reading labels. The ugly truth behind the beauty industry is dirty business.
The $72 billion cosmetic and personal care industry in the U.S has scarce legislation governing and regulating safety. In fact, the only laws written into legislation were 79 years ago in 1938. Out of the 112 pages dedicated to food and drug standards by The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, only one page is dedicated to cosmetics. This means that when a brand claims its formulas are safe or that it’s been “clinically tested,” there is no proof that they are not harmful (the Federal Drug Administration actually can’t require companies to test products and ingredients for safety prior to their being sold). No FDA guidelines exist for good manufacturing practices, nor is there a database registry for products and ingredients or any guidelines that protect consumers.
Beautiful labeling, expensive marketing, and government loopholes mean that your Chanel lipstick is making your lips drier and possibly disrupting your reproductive system. And your hair dye? Let’s just say if lead isn’t allowed on your walls, why should it be okay on your hair?
To this day, each time a senator presents a new bill regulating cosmetics, it is quickly denied. Currently, there is no way for the FDA to efficiently regulate chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility. The agency has no idea what the dangers or side effects of these small-dose carcinogens used in cosmetics have on long-term health. This means there is zero transparency between the consumer and manufacturer. Because there are no strict standards, aside from class action lawsuits (which are paid by company insurance), there is no real accountability after a product is recalled or banned. The beauty industry is simply not held responsible for polluting us with deadly chemicals.
All of this is shocking but not surprising in a country that is dominated by consumerism. My move to Europe really made this fact more apparent. Laws here are day-and-night compared to those passed in the States. For example, I learned that American apples are banned in France because of the pesticides contained in the outer layer. Fast-food infomercials have a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen stating health risks. Food and cosmetic labels not only tell you if products contain toxins—they also label the percentage. These precautions haven’t taken place in the States. The staggering difference between the U.S., Canada, and European regulations is astounding.
When I learned about all this, I was inspired to take action. An emphasis on transparency, consciousness, simplicity, and reliability led me to create “Menos Mas.” I was driven to start a clean beauty brand because of the lack of honesty in this industry. Our skin is the biggest organ on our body. It’s not just a protective layer; it absorbs everything we put on it straight into our bloodstream. It’s the reason I call our products “skin food” and not skincare. If you can’t eat it, it shouldn’t be on your skin. That’s how I see it. Every single ingredient in “Menos Mas” products serve a purpose: to feed your skin.
More importantly, I wanted to create a brand with a purpose. I’m a Dominican-American from the Bronx, one of the biggest food deserts in America. By society’s standards, I should be unhealthy and fix my health problems with prescription medication (that’s been America’s Band-Aid for the health crisis). By simplifying my life, I elevated it without sacrificing my taste buds or my roots. Now, at almost 30, I feel and look my best. “Menos Mas” is a lifestyle created out of the idea that less is more. It’s a space created to help our community gain an understanding of what it means to be healthy from the inside out.
For me, health isn’t about a cute Instagram picture, it’s about the “why’s and how’s.” It’s about asking important questions. Why is avocado good for my hair? How can a young mom make her family healthy within her means? The real goal is to strip away the stigma of sacrifice and diet associated with being healthy. It’s not about being strict or deprived but, rather, more conscious. It’s about accepting that there is no one way to be healthy rather than making daily choices that contribute to your everyday health.
There is nothing more dope and beautiful than taking care of yourself. Starting is not as daunting as it seems. These tips are simple, yet they will drastically jump-start your journey:
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Eliminating these automatically makes the job half easier.
DO YOUR RESEARCH AND KEEP IT SIMPLE
Read the label on the products you buy. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
Take the stairs. Ride a bike to work instead of the metro. There are easy ways to adjust your daily life to move more.
CUT SOCIAL SUGAR
If you’re having cocktails, skip the sugary kind.
MINDFULNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH MATTER
Get adequate sleep, check in with yourself daily, accept yourself, and focus on positivity, especially when it’s the most difficult.
BECOME AN ADVOCATE
Use your voice to better your community. Talk to local shops about supplying healthier options. Support organizations that are fighting for new legislation standards.
Original title from UNDO Mag 6ix: Going Skin Deep
Written by Annya Santana
Photo by Claire Ritz