Updated: Oct 6, 2018
Have you ever wondered what's in your cosmetics? Is there lead in your lipstick? Other toxic ingredients that you're not aware of? Well, you're not alone if you're scratching your head wondering if it's safe to use makeup. This is especially true with all the labels (green, sustainable, eco-friendly, nontoxic, all natural, etc.) - some labels may be truthful, while others may be false representations.
Jen Novakovich, Director at The Eco Well, is just as passionate about cosmetics, and knowing everything there is to know about the ingredients. She's passionate about understanding the science behind the products, and pulling back the curtain on green washing. Jen uncovers the story of ingredients in cosmetics, and helps to demonstrate what's truly nontoxic and sustainable in the cosmetics industry.
Many people who are working towards a zero waste lifestyle choose to start making their own cosmetics to avoid unnecessary packaging, and skip the toxic ingredients. Lucky for us, Jen shares a DIY recipe below for lip balm!
ZWC: Jen, first of all I'd like to thank you for interviewing with The Zero Waste Collective! You're a woman of many talents; you run The Eco Well, which is a Canadian education platform focused on promoting sustainability, transparency, and science in cosmetics. You run a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, among other things, and an annual trade show, The Eco Market. I realize I'm not even covering every facet of your work. Can you share how you started The Eco Well? Did you ever expect your business to expand this much?
Jen: Thanks for inviting me to collaborate Tara! The Eco Well was launched in 2016. I had been working in the natural health and cosmetics industry throughout and since completing my undergrad at the University of Guelph, mostly as a science writer but also with several brands in various positions. As someone who’s always been very science-oriented, I became really frustrated with these industries - particularly, with the misinformation that I’m sure a lot of your followers are aware of. I started my graduate studies in cosmetic chemistry and had the idea of creating some sort of platform for cosmetics focused on making accurate information about cosmetic products, ingredients and sustainability, more accessible to everyone.
In February 2016 I started The Eco Well as a science blog, by June, I left my secure salaried position to go all in, after a summer of entrepreneur mentorship through a few different local hubs, The Eco Well was officially launched as a business in September. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then, and I definitely did not expect my business to grow the way that it has.
I feel like the work that I do through The Eco Well, as well as The Eco Market, which was launched in 2017, is really my life’s calling and I’m so grateful that I had the courage to invest in myself the way I did in 2016. I’m also incredibly grateful to have my partner, who supported me all along the way, especially in the early months when I wasn’t making much revenue, and this past year, when he came to work for The Eco Well and The Eco Market full time.
ZWC: Your goal is to empower your community to make more informed decisions when purchasing or formulating cosmetic products. The Eco Well offers classes on green cosmetic formulating for all levels. Can you tell us about the importance of knowing and understanding what ingredients are in our cosmetics?
Jen: There’s so much misinformation out there, especially on the front of packages. What is natural? Green? Hypoallergenic? Because these terms are currently not legally defined, there's a lot of interpretation on the manufacturer and marketing side of things.
In my experience consulting, these terms on labels, as well as ingredient lists in general, are WAY too commonly inaccurately represented on labels. I do product reviews for a few different stores to help them decide which products to bring in and I’d say this is the case for about 80+% of the products I look at.
If you want to use products that fit into your own green or natural or even hypoallergenic ethos, it’s really up to you to learn about the ingredients. Here’s the the really unfortunate thing, there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there on google and other beauty blogs regarding ingredients.
Whoever you get your information from, I would make sure they’re giving you evidence based information. You can also go a step further and flip Google to Google Scholar, or head on over to PubMed, to look at the evidence for yourself :).
Note, look for multiple replicated studies and not just single unreplicated ones for a better picture of what’s going on! Stay tuned, I’ll be publishing a podcast with a toxicologist friend in September where we’ll take you through how to look at research effectively!
ZWC: You also have a science podcast where you interview scientists and industry leaders about all things cosmetics. Based on your experience running this podcast, is the cosmetics industry changing for the better (i.e. more sustainable and using healthier ingredients)?
Jen: It definitely is. Compared to a lot of other industries, I think many people will be surprised to hear that the cosmetics industry has really led the way on a lot of fronts, regarding especially sustainability.
For example, The Round Table On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is really being driven by the cosmetics industry, who is currently using only a small portion of the worlds usage of palm, to ensure more sustainable and ethical palm production.
The Responsible Mica Initiative is another example of the cosmetics industry, who again uses only a small portion of mica compared to other industries, trying to make sure that things are being done right and not via child and slave labor.
There are a lot of companies in the cosmetics industry working to develop really exciting green alternative ingredients, packaging options and waste solutions, working to develop means for moving to a circular economy, especially in Europe, and so much more.
Like any other industry, there’s still a lot of hurdles to overcome, and I personally think the misinformation problem is a big one to overcome. At the end of the day though, I feel proud to be a cosmetic scientist and to have the opportunity to work and collaborate with so many other green innovators and leaders in my own industry.
ZWC: I have to ask... how do you have time for everything you do??
Jen: I thrive when I’m busy! I also have the luxury of working like a mad woman from September until May, and then having the option to take the summers off, for the most part, to have down-time and to regroup for the next year.
Thanks for sharing your experience running The Eco Well. We’re grateful because you’re also sharing a DIY recipe for lip balm:
15-20% Candelilla or Beeswax
80-85% Carrier Oil (Olive, Rice Bran, Coconut, Shea Butter, Almond Oil, etc)
0.5% Essential Oil of your choice
0.5% Vitamin E
Note: I like to list ingredients out in percentages because it’s simple to convert the recipe to any amount! Below is what it would look like for ~100 grams!
15 grams Candelilla Wax
85 grams of Coconut Oil
0.5 grams of Vitamin E, or about 10 drops
0.5 grams or about 10 drops of essential oils
For accuracy, using a scale is the best way to go, but unless you have a scale to measure to 0.0g, you may have a hard time measuring out your essential oils.The drop method for measuring your essential oils is a good place to start, but since each essential oil will have different drop sizes based on their constituents, this isn’t the most accurate way of doing things.
The suggested amount of essential oils may seem a wee bit low, but since the skin on your lips is so thin and sensitive, 0.25-0.5% is a good target to avoid risks of sensitivity.
Note: when your choosing essential oils, be sure that they’re not going to cause photosensitivity, such as those in the citrus family with the exception of Sweet Orange and a few others. My favorite go-to is peppermint!
Pour your oil and wax into a double boiler or pot (double boiler is the best way to go but a pot is a great option if your short on time). Melt down on low heat. If your using more heat sensitive oils, such as olive oil, add them in after your wax has melted down and then remove from heat pretty quickly afterwards.
After your mixture is off the heat, add your essential oils (optional)
Pour your lip balm mixture into your packaging of choice and wait 10 minutes for the mixture to solidify
Enjoy! And watch the video here!