I have to be honest: before I moved to Bellingham 11 years ago, I never really gave a second thought to the sources behind my consumerism. Where did my food come from? How were my cosmetics made? What is the environmental impact of these products I am purchasing? All thoughtful questions that I unfortunately did not care to answer; I was from a large city that upheld convenience as the highest standard, and as long as I could get it and get it quick, I was as happy as a clam.

It wasn’t until I moved to the area (and okay, maybe it took a few years for me to get to this point), that I really began to understand and appreciate the culture behind locally sourced, ethically made products. Knowing how a product was made and that it was made with respect and care now gives me peace and satisfaction that I’m supporting sustainable contributions to this beautiful world we all live in. But being a makeup artist and regular makeup consumer, product-obsessed junkie, what does that mean for me? How can I support the industry I love while still making ethically sound purchases?

And what does that mean for you? The consumer who cares about how their cosmetics are produced and sourced? I wish there were an easy answer, but alas, there’s not. I have compiled some tips, information, and questions to chew on to help you decide the best route you should go.

Go beyond the label

As we’ve seen our local prerogative towards ethically curated goods start to influence a nationwide shift, we’ve begun to see more and more product labeling. Vegan! Organic! Not tested on animals! Paraben free! While this movement is great, sometimes looks can be deceiving. Vegan may imply that there are no animal by-products used, but there is no legal definition for how the word can or can’t be used when labeling products. Organic may lead you to think that all the ingredients within the product are organic, when in reality (legally) 5% are allowed to be non-organic components. “Not tested on animals” may mean that the final product was not tested on animals, but it does not mean the various ingredients at different stages haven’t been tested by themselves on animals. As you can see, it’s easy to get confused. No wonder we’re often compelled to make quick decisions and forget about the tough stuff. Even when we try, it’s easy to be misled. One way to find out for sure if the item you are purchasing is all that it claims to be is to contact the company. They should be able to tell you about their practices directly. And if they can’t, it’s safe to suspect they might be hiding something. If you’re looking for a great place to find a list of vegan and crueltyfree products that can stand behind their claims, check out Leaping Bunny. Their organization is devoted to making sure consumers know which cosmetic lines are practicing what they preach.

Learn about the components

When reading labels, we should not only be reading our ingredient lists but learning about them. Continuing our education about the products we are consuming is another key to making ethical decisions. There is a lot of great information and a lot of misinformation out there, so don’t just take one source as your guide but do as much research as possible and then make your decision. While parabens are widely agreed upon to be “bad,” many studies surrounding the reasons they should be left out of cosmetics are either incomplete or inconclusive. Although mineral oil is a common ingredient that is often suggested to be avoided, not all mineral oil is created equal. Some can be seriously harmful while others are perfectly fine. Doing the research on your products and their specific ingredients will not only give you an opportunity to know the impact of the ingredients you are using, but empower you to continue to make thoughtful and intentional product purchases in the future.

Find your truth

Last, and maybe most importantly, seek out and determine your values when making your purchases. What is important to you when making your purchasing decisions? And why? That’s not to say making one choice is better than another. Maybe you say, “I’m not really a makeup consumer and so I’m not going to put my energy into this right now,” and that’s okay. Maybe you say, “If I buy a vegan-labeled product I know that at least some less harm occurred during the making of this item,” and that’s okay. Maybe you say, “I promise I won’t buy any product without doing my research first,” more power to you! That is also, of course, okay! The moral of my story here is: know your convictions. Stand by them. Decide what is important to you and then do your research and make your decisions based on achieving those goals. In the end, you’ll be able to say that you are happy and feel confident with the purchases you are making.

Since you mentioned mineral oil….is it really safe!?

Yes and no — but in cosmetics, yes! There are three kinds of mineral oil: paraffinic, naphthenic, and aromatic (distinct from essential oils). While naphthenic and aromatic are harsh, unrefined oils not safe for topical use, paraffinic oils are. They are truly oils that have come from the earth and have been so purified that they have been rid of any damaging debris. The FDA only allows the paraffinic type of mineral oil in cosmetics (which acts as both a stabilizer and preservative), so while you may want to avoid the other kinds elsewhere, know that you can rest easy when seeing mineral oil as an ingredient in your products.

"Seek out and determine your values when making your purchases. What is important to you when making your purchasing decisions? And why? "