Just when you thought it was safe to put down the kale, clean beauty arrives to make you fear the contents of your makeup bag. Honestly, where does it stop?

The internet is great but its tendency to unpick the smallest details of our lives is exhausting. First we had clean eating, which promised to solve all our bodily problems until its most faithful followers started to develop eating disorders.

Now the clean beauty brigade says we’re all going to die unless we tip out our cosmetic bags and buy in a whole bunch of expensive potions they just happen to be selling.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her website Goop form the loudest cheer squad for clean beauty, having already published a book on the matter. But they are by no means alone in bagging regular cosmetics on the interwebs.

The trouble is, when you see a “fact” trotted out over and over again, even the most strong-minded among us can start to doubt our own knowledge.

So just to burst the bubble on clean beauty, here’s a sharp injection of truth:

Deodorant

The Goop site says shaving our underarms thins the skin in that area, making women prone to the “endocrine disruptors, potential carcinogens, and a host of other toxins” that play havoc with underlying lymph nodes. Great theory, it’s just a shame medical science disagrees. The Cancer Council of Australia notes that the aluminium factor in antiperspirants has been getting a bad rap since an anonymous email started doing the rounds almost two decades ago. Repeated studies do not support the deodorant-equals-breast cancer theory, nor do official cancer organisations here and in the US and the UK. Even your own body gives lie to the tale because breast cancer starts in the breast and works its way to the lymph nodes, not the other way around.

Moisturisers

Parabens are preservatives found in moisturisers and other make-up to prevent germs and mould. Goop is on to the fact that parabens can act like the female hormone oestrogen and polevaults to the conclusion that accumulated doses might therefore lead to breast cancer. But the Cancer Council of Australia points out that even the most potent dose of parabens shows “10,000 times less activity than naturally occurring oestrogen”. And studies performed in 1984, 2008 and 2012 by the US-based body Cosmetic Ingredient Review, and published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Toxicology, back this view. Parabens, the science says, are safe for use in cosmetics.

Nail polish

Did you hear that singer Sheryl Crow got breast cancer after leaving her water bottle in a hot car? No? Then you’ve missed another misleading Facebook post doing the rounds. The best lies contain a nub of credibility, and in this case, it is that plastic bottles contain the cancer-causing chemicals dioxins. Except they don’t. What some plastics (and nail polishes, hairsprays and fragrances) do contain are phthalates, which in high doses in the blood may affect the development of unborn children. The jury is out on how such high doses occur, however, as the body rids itself of phthalates faster than it absorbs them. The Cancer Council reports that even “the highest estimate of exposure is still well within the margins of what is considered safe”. Just to be extra sure, though, pregnant women might want to consider putting the French tips on hold until bubs is born.

Shampoo

If you haven’t checked the label on your shampoo for sodium lauryl sulfate at some point in your life, you simply haven’t been paying attention. SLS – the foamy factor that makes toothpaste, shampoos and soaps feel like they’re doing their job – is a favourite scapegoat of the clean beauty brigade. Yes, the stuff stings like crazy when it gets into your eyes, but no, it doesn’t do any worse damage than that. Both the Cosmetic Ingredient Review organisation in the US and the National Industrial Chemicals Notifications and Assessment Scheme in Australia agree that while SLS can irritate eyes and skin, it is otherwise safe to use.

Sunscreen

OK, this is where general loopiness gets dangerous. Science has firmly identified 13 environmental factors* that cause cancer (as opposed to genetic factors like rogue genes) and the big shiny star in the sky tops the list. Not using SPF50+ sunscreen on the say-so of a so-so actress is evolution’s way of weeding out stupid. All the ylang-ylang and calendula in the world won’t save you if you don’t slip, slop and slap with the real stuff.

So, go ahead and do what you’ve always done to make yourself feel beautiful, safe in the knowledge that you’re not hurting anyone, least of all yourself.

* Scientists estimate 90-95 per cent of cancers are caused by lifestyle factors. We wouldn’t end this story without sharing the other 12 known culprits:
1. tobacco
2. alcohol
3. obesity
4. too much red and processed meat
5. not enough fibre
6. not enough fruit
7. not enough vegetables
8. not enough exercise (60 minutes five days a week is recommended)
9. certain infections and viruses (eg. Human Papilloma Virus)
10. hormones (eg. Hormone Replacement Therapy)
11. the Pill (it causes some cancers and prevents others)
12. inadequate breastfeeding (who knew?)
(Source: Cancer Council Australia)

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