Why I Switched to Clean Beauty, and Why it Matters

Clean beauty, green beauty, non-toxic beauty, chemical-free beauty, natural beauty, safer beauty, better beauty. These are all the buzzwords we hear surrounding the charge some brands are leading through a very unregulated Wild Wild West, which is the American beauty industry.

My makeup expertise is steeped in technique from being a makeup artist for over a decade, and the products I used were my holy-grail items because of how they performed. I never considered the implications of their ingredient lists, mostly because I was as brand-loyal as they come. If a product could last for an entire day, could create the texture I was going for, and worked for a wide range of skin tones, then it got a rave review from me. I’ve always been picky about how makeup performed in real life, but never considered what effects it had on my health, hormones, fertility, or unborn children during pregnancy. Now, thanks to emerging research, we know that ingredients like lead, phthalates, formaldehyde, synthetic fragrance, and retinol can cause birth defects, skin irritations, hormonal imbalances, and worse, cancer.

Do you know what our largest organ is? It’s our skin. Our pores absorb everything that surrounds us: chemicals we clean with, pollution, fragrance, and so much more. I cannot explain how important it is to swap safer products in your home and on your body, without first sharing with you where it all began for me.

When I first got sick with autoimmune disease in 2014, with myriad health issues compounding before that, I found out through extensive tests that my body’s detoxification process shut down. My immune system could not remove toxins, and as the toxins built up, the inflammation increased. Products I used to clean with for years began to give me bloody noses, I sneezed uncontrollably in the laundry detergent aisle in the supermarket, and my skin was so itchy that I began to scratch uncontrollably. It was time to change everything.

Together my husband and I switched out household cleaners, detergents, hand soap, body products, and even began to use essential oils and homeopathic herbs for acute issues instead of NSAIDS (which have legitimate risks of miscarriage, stroke, gastrointestinal complications, cardiovascular problems, and even hearing loss) . I stopped wearing makeup, nail polish, perfume, and all of my luxury beauty products so my body could lessen the toxic load it was carrying. Every morning I would stare at my unused products (Jo Malone Rose body oil, Tom Ford perfume, Charlotte Tilbury lipstick) and hang my head in defeat. I hadn’t seen my nails without polish in what seemed like decades.

Over the months and years that followed, my lifestyle and diet changes made massive improvements in my overall health. The most noticeable differences were that my eyesight improved, migraines went away, eczema cleared up, and the cracks on my fingers healed. Additionally, my seasonal allergies became almost non-existent, and my digestion was on the mend. All of the systems of my body that were experiencing intense inflammation took a deep breath, and so did I.

There were so many concerned friends and family members asking if I had tried “clean” beauty products, so I dabbled. Most of the skincare and makeup I tried either made my skin break out, or wore off after a few hours of wear. It was frustrating because I don’t like wasting money or walking around with an allergic reaction on my face. I decided wearing no makeup was much more “me” than wearing a “clean” foundation that felt like wiping mayonnaise on my face. Trying clean beauty was too costly all around. Some of the clean swaps I made for body products were game-changers, which I detail here, but makeup like eyeshadow, foundation, and mascara was just not as high-performing as what I was used to.

As my health progressed, I began wearing my old makeup again— favorite brands like Make Up For Ever, Laura Mercier, NARS, Urban Decay, Dior, Marc Jacobs, and others. Colors, textures, and finishes are fun to play with, and make me feel polished. Makeup is an accessory that I love to wear. As a stay-at-home mom, doing my daily beauty routine is one way I take time for myself everyday, so getting back into the ritual was edifying and fun.

And then as this little company called Beautycounter kept coming up again and again in conversation, I finally gave it a try at the encouragement of a friend. My expectations were low, at best, because I was convinced it was a marketing ploy to get people to sign up against their will to buy a year’s worth of products that don’t work. Haven’t we all heard those heart wrenching stories of work-from-home businesses gone wrong? To me, this business was too good to be true, so I convinced myself that it was. I had even been asked by a well-known cookbook author to join her team, but her firm backlash when I said it wasn’t the right time for me, was off-putting to say the least.

beautycounter mini face oils / nicolemcaruso.com

Almost a year later, I gave Beautycounter makeup a try. If I could try it, and honestly see how it performed, then I would know if it was just fancy marketing and greenwashing, or if it was the real deal.

I’m a packaging freak, so opening the thick navy paper boxes with foil lettering immediately sparked my interest. Once I opened the Classic eyeshadow palette, made up of the most incredible warm bronze tones in both mattes and shimmers, I freaked out. The pigment was so strong, the colors looked like dupes from some of my luxury makeup, and let’s be real— I love a magnetic, removable mirror in a compact. Product after product was opened and tested, and it was pretty shocking. I felt like a real dummy for almost talking myself out of it before giving it a try. After 2 weeks of using Beautycounter, I switched all of my other high-end makeup to a box under the sink, and started a new chapter in my life (literally).

The brand’s story, the commitment to product safety and screening, and the mission of advocating for regulation in the beauty industry lit my fire. I couldn’t believe that the last law passed to protect Americans from unsafe, questionable chemicals was in 1938— way before my grandmother was even born. I also couldn’t believe that the European Union has banned over 1400 ingredients from personal care products, and the US is wildly behind with only 30! With the rise of fertility issues, birth defects, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, and other serious health concerns, I knew the research was speaking for itself. There was no more time to waste for me to jump into the mission to get safer products into as many hands as possible.

What’s more? I had a longing in my heart to work again, but knew it had to be from home, doing something I am naturally gifted at. Something that was scalable, so I could take care of my family, and still earn extra income. This business, and these products, were an immense gift, packaged beautifully in front of me. So I took the leap. Now I am SO PROUD to work for a company that ignites change, educates the consumer, and knows that at the end of the day, wearing lipstick and concealer shouldn’t compromise our health.

We deserve better.

And that brings me to my final point, which is that it is always a good time to swap an old faithful product for a safer one, especially once it runs out. Just like doctors in the 1930s-1950s did not know the impact of carcinogens in cigarette smoke as we do now, there are a wide range of questionable chemicals in everything from baby diaper rash cream, to dry shampoo, and everything in between sitting right on shelves of our local stores, at decent prices, that perform pretty well. Now that companies like Beautycounter, and e-commerce sites like Follain and Credo, are committed to curating beautiful products that actually work, and contain safer ingredients, there is a lot of hope for those of us who are skeptical.

My hope in sharing this story is that if you are reading this and you were like me, happy with your products, suffering some health setbacks, and skeptical of spending on mysterious “clean” products, I know how you feel. I want to encourage you to take a baby step. Check out the EWG database called Skin Deep, and educate yourself on what the toxic load of your makeup bag and medicine cabinet is. Empower yourself with information, and make buying decisions based on treating yourself as a temple worthy of care.

What would it be like to feel better than you do today, just from some simple swaps? Have you tried clean beauty before? Let me know how I can help you on your journey. And be sure to check out my IGTV videos for tutorials with my favorite clean products.