Smart Beauty 101

Meet Amanda, a rising senior at Vanderbilt University and a current willa intern! You’ll be seeing videos from her in the coming months to help educate you on the importance of a safe beauty routine. We thought you’d like to know how she got her start and why she’s so passionate about you making smart beauty choices. ☺

So, Amanda, how did you become interested in the beauty industry?

As a sophomore in college, I was struggling to find a major that really attracted my interest. I decided to take a semester off to follow a passion I’d always had for the environment. I worked for the Breast Cancer Fund, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to eradicating toxins in the environment linked to breast cancer, in San Francisco. While there, I worked on research related to chemicals in cosmetics. This was an eye opening experience for me, as I learned that the cosmetic industry in the United States is pretty much unregulated. A lot of the chemicals I was looking at were linked to harmful health effects, and yet continue to be allowed in personal care products. Some chemicals are even banned or restricted in other countries, like Canada and the European Union, but are still allowed in products in the United States. I couldn’t believe everything I was learning.

After this experience, I decided to create my own major in Environmental Studies and Public Health to adequately address the overlap between human health and the environment. Now, safe beauty is not only my passion, but also my major! It is so important to educate others on preventable environmental exposures. Plenty of people are conscious about the food they put in their bodies, so why shouldn’t it be the same for cosmetics?

Our skin is our biggest organ, and with the increasing evidence of harm for certain chemicals in cosmetics, it is important to be aware of the products we use daily. Knowledge is power, and I love educating others on ways they can improve their awareness and make better decisions for their health.


What are some chemicals to avoid? 💀

One of the biggest offenders is a class of chemicals known as parabens (anything that ends in –paraben ie. methlylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben).You have probably noticed labels that say “paraben-free”, but what does this mean? Parabens are often used as a preservative in products, but are also increasingly being linked to endocrine disruption. Breast cancer is a major concern, as levels of parabens similar to those in personal care products have been found in breast cancer tissue.

Another important chemical class to avoid is phthalates. They are often found in perfume, face wash, and lotions. These, like parabens, are also linked to endocrine disruption.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) is another chemical with negative health impacts. This is because when used in personal care products, it can often form a toxic byproduct known as 1,4-dioxane. What’s crazy is you will never find 1,4-dioxane on a product label. Of course, there is so much more I can say on the subject of chemicals. The cosmetic industry has a lot of work to do. In the meantime, you’ll be hearing a lot from me this summer about safer alternatives and ways to make better choices when it comes to your beauty routine.

Start Fresh

How do you suggest we find safer beauty products? It seems like everything says clean and organic on it these days.

I totally know what you mean! Unfortunately, a product that uses the word “pure” on the label does not necessarily mean that it’s safe. Even the word “organic” doesn’t guarantee that harmful chemicals aren’t present. While all of this can be overwhelming, the important thing to remember is that it is all about reducing your risk. You don’t have to immediately throw out everything in your bathroom cabinet. It can be an easier process, just by replacing your products with safer ones as they are used up. So, remember to avoid any ingredient that ends in –paraben and/or -phthalate, as well as products that have SLS on the label. Easing into change is a much more manageable goal for those with a busy schedule.

I truly believe that knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better decisions you can make.


Darbre, P., Aljarrah, A., & Miller, W. (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol, 24, 5–13. (