Kelly O’Brien has been getting increasingly obsessed with the chemicals in cosmetics. So this month, she decided to bin her regular routine and go 100% organic


Ditching the chemicals in cosmetics to be 100% organic fantastic

Kelly O’Brien has been getting increasingly obsessed with the chemicals in cosmetics. So this month, she decided to bin her regular routine and go 100% organic

Ditching the chemicals in cosmetics to be 100% organic fantastic

For generations, women have been putting their lives on the line for vanity, rubbing poisonous materials all over their bodies.

While this trend may have started with the ancient Egyptians, who used eye shadows made from copper and lead, unsavoury skincare practises have been commonplace in many eras — including this one.

This month I decided to give up my usual skincare brands and replace them with organic alternatives.

Why? Because the more I read about the cosmetics industry, the more I hate it. Big-name brands with misleading marketing ploys essentially trick consumers into buying products laden with thousands of synthetic chemicals like parabens, synthetic colours, and phthalates that contain carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals which, according to multiple cancer institutions, can increase the risk of the disease.

Researchers found one-in-eight of over 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals. There’s also the fragrance loophole, which allows firms to mix whatever chemicals they like and list them under “fragrance” on the bottle. Since fragrance is considered a trade secret, manufacturers claim it’s confidential — they don’t have to tell us what’s in it.

I first started to think about the ingredients of beauty products two years ago when I gave up shampoo.

I embarked on a few weeks travel armed with only carry-on luggage — I had to pick and choose what liquids I could bring and after googling my problem, decided I could live without shampoo for a while. It turns out hair is actually self-cleansing and shampoo is a completely unnecessary product that beauty companies just make us think we need. Plain water, a baking soda and water mix, or some organic “shampoos” are totally viable alternatives. While your hair will get greasy for a few weeks — the scalp is used to having its natural oils stripped away and continues to overproduce this oil until it adjusts to the new natural method — it soon evens, leaving hair smoother and shinier than ever. And, most importantly, chemical-free.

After a year of No ’poo, I wrote about it for this newspaper and the response was phenomenal. My Twitter account was inundated with questions, and I was asked to talk on Today FM, Midlands 103, and a host of other regional stations.

Based on the feedback I received, I realised Irish people are becoming extremely conscious about the products they put in and on their bodies.

It led me to wonder what other products I could give up. So I decided to take my experiment one step further and replace the large majority of my daily beauty products with organic alternatives.

This meant giving up make-up wipes completely, and swapping out my cleanser, toner, moisturiser, body lotion, eye cream, and deodorant for more natural options.

I was typically using either a Nivea or Vichy cleanser, a Simple toner, Johnsons face wipes, and either a Vichy or No 7 moisturiser. I was also using a Garnier anti-wrinkle cream and an Estée Lauder eye cream.

These were the products I used on a daily basis, but as the experiment went on I became aware of other items I could replace — lip balm, hand cream, face masks, foot lotion, and even hand sanitiser.

For the whole month of January, I used nothing but organic skin care, and made three discoveries.

Firstly, I came to the conclusion that one of the ingredients in my old, brand-name, high street cosmetics must have been irritating my skin. Every week I would usually get a couple of spots, which I ignored thinking they were stress-related, or that I was just more prone to them.

But when I started using only organic products my skin cleared up immensely.

Secondly, I realised that doing the swap, cutting out brand-name skin care, was easy. Almost all the products I tried did the exact same thing as its predecessor.

Giving up shampoo was hard, because the fallout meant dealing with greasy hair for a few weeks. But giving up brand name cosmetics was far less hassle. In fact, it was somewhat anti-climactic.

Thirdly, I learned how many great Irish companies are making organic skin care products.

The Handmade Soap Company, for example, is based in Meath and has been making a natural range of products since 2010. I’ve been using their Lavender Rosemary & Mint body lotion (€16) a lot this month, but also liked their hand cream and bubble baths.

Kinvara Skincare was another favourite of mine — even though they only produce three items they’re all fantastic, costing between €20 and €28 each. I particularly liked their Absolute Cleansing Oil, finding it a far deeper clean than the face wipes I used to use.

Flourish Organics are based in Killarney, Co Kerry, and produce some lovely lip balms. I also tried their Eye Contour Cream (€22.50) and their Rose Face Cream (€35), though the clincher, for me, was their Peppermint Foot Lotion (€9.50) purely because it’s so soothing and tingly.

In fact, it had never even occurred to me that I could even get such a thing as organic foot lotion, but it makes sense. Another product I didn’t realise I could substitute was hand sanitiser. I came across only one of these this January, produced by EO Ireland costing €7.99 for 60ml in either Peppermint or Lavender.

I carry it with me everywhere now, it’s really handy to have just in your bag or at work.

Outside of Ireland, my favourite organic cosmetic company is Pai —cruelty-free, vegan accredited and based in the UK. I tried out their Avocado & Jojoba Hydrating Day Cream (€36) and Lotus & Orange Blossom BioAffinity Skin Tonic (€36), which were great, but I fell in love with their Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser (€20). It did what it said it was going to do, it felt great, and it smelled even better.

In terms of deodorant though, I was a little disappointed— none of the organic roll-on alternatives I tried provided as much sweat protection as I’ve come to expect.

The best one I tried,, was Dr Hauschka rose deodorant, but it’s an almost extortionate price at €16.95 per 50ml bottle. But it was the best one of the lot, though even that means reapplying it two or three times during the day. Overall though, I found going organic easier and cheaper than I thought it would be and I’ve decided to keep it up. Price-wise, assuming I run out of products every two months or so, going organic will probably cost me an extra €80 to replace products every two months — which works out at around €10 a week more than I usually spend.

But since everyone’s skincare routine is different (mine is decidely midmarket), anyone who goes into Boots and buys whatever’s cheapest will find organic dearer. On the flip side, for anyone who consistently buys dearer brands such as Estée Lauder, Lancome, Dior or YSL, going organic works out around the same price, if not a little cheaper.

So now that I’ve gotten my skincare sorted, I might as well take the plunge and see what kind of cosmetics I can swap out. Somehow I don’t think the transition will be as smooth as this one was.


Parabens: preservatives used in lotions, shampoo and other cosmetics. Some parabens are classified as endocrine disruptors because they mimic estrogen in the body. Higher estrogen exposures are linked to higher risk of breast cancer.

Phthalates: plasticizers found in nail polish, synthetic fragrance and plastic packaging. These hormone-disrupting chemicals have been linked to early puberty in girls, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer. Some phthalates also act as weak estrogens in cell culture systems.

Fragrance: secret mixtures of chemicals used in perfumes and scented cosmetics. “Fragrance” may include phthalates, synthetic musks (which may disrupt hormones) and ethylene oxide (a mammary carcinogen). The companies are not required to list these on product labels.

Ethoxylated compounds: dimethicone, PEG-40, ceteareth-12 and other compounds with the syllables “eth” or “PEG” in them are used in a wide variety of cosmetics. These compounds are formed by processing with ethylene oxide, a mammary carcinogen, and can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, also a mammary carcinogen.

Metals: found in a variety of cosmetics as colorants, sunscreens or contaminants. Iron, nickel, chromium, zinc, cadmium, mercury and lead have been found in higher levels in women with breast cancer than in women without breast cancer.

(Source: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics)

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