A few weeks ago, my friend Neda asked me to do an interview on her blog Healthy with Nedi and I jumped at the opportunity. It occurred to me as I was writing, that it was the first time I had really put most of this information down on paper (so to speak). So, I wanted to share the interview here with you today. If you find this information valuable, chances are other people will too, so please share with your friends and loved ones! Knowledge is power.
Alice Panikian’s Non-Toxic Beauty Secrets
I met Alice many years ago and we bonded over feta cheese… but not just any feta, Bulgarian feta. If you guys haven’t tried it then I suggest you do asap. Anyways, not to get off topic, I love following my beautiful friend on Instagram and I am always so amazed at the information she shares with her community. Alice has the most gorgeous skin and I decided to interview her so we can all learn a bit more about non-toxic beauty as well as the ingredients/brands we should avoid.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
Well, like Neda, I too am Bulgarian! I grew up in Canada, and in 2006 was crowned Miss Canada and competed at the Miss Universe competition. About eight years ago, I moved to New York City to pursue modeling. Getting my makeup done over the years turned me into a bit of a makeup junkie. Any time a makeup artist would use a great product on me, I would make note of it and then go blow all my money at Sephora! About five years ago, I was diagnosed with a reproductive disease called endometriosis, which is an extremely underdiagnosed disease, but is said to affect 1 in 10 women. Through years of research, I began to learn more about the role of chemicals in our environment, food and personal care products play in the progression of endometriosis and other diseases. More recently, I’ve become an advocate for non-toxic beauty and have made it my mission to spread awareness on this very important topic. I went years unknowingly exposing my body with toxic chemicals through my makeup and personal care products. I wish I had known then what I know now!
What made you look into non-toxic beauty?
While I was researching endometriosis, I discovered that it is an estrogen-dependent disease and that many women who have endometriosis are typically estrogen dominant. Estrogen dominance can also lead to things like breast cancer, so I knew I needed to avoid food (like soy), which can act like estrogen in the body. I also learned that parabens (common preservatives found in many personal care products) act as xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen) in the body and can also contribute to estrogen dominance. This throws your hormones completely out of whack. At that point, I started checking my products to see if any of them contained parabens, and to my shock, many of them did. I was really upset by this and even reached out to a few of the brands I used to inquire. One responded and told me that they were in accordance with all local and international regulations. When I read that, I decided to dig deeper. I wanted to know who was responsible for regulating the cosmetics industry. I thought surely the FDA had strict regulations in place to safeguard our health. I was wrong. The FDA has extremely limited regulations in place and essentially, cosmetics companies are self-regulated. Which means, they get to decide what to put in your products, and they don’t need anyone to approve it or test it for safety. I was mind blown!! Over the past few months, I’ve researched a lot on my own and I’ve decided to start sharing this knowledge online in the hopes that I can help shed light on this issue and in turn prevent other peoples’ exposure to cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting chemicals. The reaction has been great, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.
Are there any films / documentaries you can recommend on non-toxic skincare?
The documentary Stink! is a MUST WATCH film about the chemicals industry and the complete lack of regulation in the United States. It is eye opening and really makes you a more conscious consumer. Another great video, that is only eight minutes long, is this one. It focuses primarily on cosmetics and personal care products and the broken system that is currently in place to bring these products to market.
What is your favorite beauty product atm?
I am a huge fan of RMS Beauty Un-Coverup. It’s great for daytime wear. It’s light and natural looking, but buildable if you like more coverage; plus, it has a wonderful texture. The entire RMS line is excellent and nontoxic!
Can you walk us through your morning & evening beauty routine?
Morning – I wash my face only with water (this is great in the winter because it keeps your skin from becoming dry). Then I use witch hazel toner all over my face, which is a natural astringent and minimizes oil production. I use Weleda Wild Rose Day Cream and mix about 6 drops of Herbivore Orchid Oil into it, and pat into my skin. I let it absorb for 5-10 minutes and then I apply my makeup. My favorite non-toxic makeup brands at the moment are RMS, W3LL People, and Ilia. Once I am finished applying my makeup, I like to set it with Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin Spray.
Night – I wash my makeup off with Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser and then I either do a second cleansing with NuVsio Mineral Mask, or I dry my face and apply the same product as a mask and leave it on my face for about five minutes (I do this about twice a week). After rinsing it off completely, I dry my face and apply my Witch Hazel Toner, which I let dry. Then, I apply 5 drops of Ren Bio Retinoid Oil to my face and neck, followed by 10 drops of Herbivore Orchid Oil. I take a pea sized amount of NuVsio Mineral Enriched Balm Concentrate and use it as a night cream because it helps seal in all the moisture, then I finish up by using Weleda Skin Food as an eye cream.
Do you recommend any face masks that will help us get glowing skin like you?
My current favorite face mask is made by a Canadian brand called NuVsio. It is mineral enriched, and I use it about twice a week. It’s gentle, but very effective at minimizing pores, improving texture, and drawing out impurities. The cool thing about this product is that it can also be used as a secondary cleanser if you really want to detoxify the skin. It leaves my skin feeling divine.
Are there certain brands we should avoid?
YES, lots of them! I don’t want to name names, because frankly, there are too many to mention– but I highly suggest downloading the Think Dirty App. It is an amazing resource and has a database of over 900,000 products, so you can scan or search for a product you’re curious about, and the app gives you a rating out of 10. 0 being the least toxic, and 10 being the most toxic. There is a tab that allows you to see the ingredients list and you can even click on each individual ingredient to learn what role it plays in the product, as well as any health implications there may be. Unfortunately, the database is not totally complete, so you may not find certain products on it. EWG’s Skin Deep page is another excellent resource that allows you to search by brand, product or even ingredient and applies a similar rating system. If you’re curious about a particular product, but you can’t find it on Think Dirty or EWG, I suggest just looking up each ingredient yourself on EWG or even on google. It can be time consuming, but you start learning a lot about which chemicals to avoid. Also, if a product has over 20 ingredients, consider switching it for a simpler formulation.
What are some harmful ingredients that are commonly found in beauty products to look out for?
There are over 80,000 chemicals in existence and only a small fraction of them have been tested for safety, so the lists of chemicals to avoid is incomplete to say the least. But there are some commonly used chemicals with known adverse effects.
Here are a few to watch out for:
- Parabens – They are endocrine disruptors and linked to breast cancer.
- Fragrance – This could be composed of dozens of chemicals, which may or may not be toxic. The point is, companies that include “fragrance” or “parfum”on their label, are not being transparent about what is in their product.
- BHA – Probable carcinogen, causes liver damage and reproductive problems in animals
- Triclosan – hormone disruptor found in toothpaste, soap and deodorants.
- Polyethylene – probable carcinogen, skin irritant, terrible for the environment and end up in our lakes and oceans, where marine life consumes them.
- Oxybenzone – Endocrine disruptor found in sunscreen linked to endometriosis and altered sperm.
- Petrolatum – aka Vaseline. Probable carcinogen. This suffocates your pores and traps bacteria in your skin. Is a byproduct of oil refining crude oil, which means it is not sustainable.
- Coal Tar – This ingredient is found in mascara, lipstick and even hair dye. It is a known carcinogen and is usually contaminated with heavy metals, which are toxic to the brain and nervous system.
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate – Foaming agent found in shampoos and conditioners, toothpaste, body wash, etc. Possible carcinogen, possible cell damage with prolonged use, skin irritant, bad for the environment.
- Phthalates – Carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor, reproductive and developmental toxin
To name a few…!
You recently shared some info on Instagram about sunscreen. Can you recommend a good brand or a specific ingredient we should look for when purchasing sunscreen? What about day creams that contain SPF?
I’ve heard that Suntegrity is a great brand for sunscreen. I haven’t tried them yet, but their products are made with non-nano zinc-oxide, which is the most effective non-toxic ingredient you can find in sun care products. Titanium dioxide is also great, but not as effective at blocking out UVA rays.
A good thing to do prior to applying sunscreen is to first use a lotion that contains antioxidants (other than Vitamin A). Antioxidants help offer extra defense against the formation of free radicals. If all you’ve got is chemical sunscreen, this step can be especially helpful because chemical sunscreens themselves have been linked to the formation of free radicals.
Avoid any products that contain Vitamin A, Retinol or Retinyl Palmitate if you plan on being in the sun; I cannot stress that enough. They are fine on their own but can lead to tumors and lesions when combined with the sun.
For the face, W3LL People makes a great product called Bio Tint, which contains SPF 30. It works like a tinted moisturizer, which is great because one of the main complaints people have with Mineral (physical) sunscreens is that they can leave the skin looking white, as they are not easily absorbed by the skin. Suntegrity also makes a similar product that comes in four shades, and I’ve heard good things about Josh Rosebrook’s Nutrient Tinted Day Cream with SPF 30 as well, but it is a pricier option.
What is your diet like? Are there certain foods that you avoid to maintain your perfect skin?
I definitely do NOT have perfect skin!! I will say that it has greatly improved in the last four months after switching to all non-toxic products and actually making my skin a priority. With regards to my diet, I know there are certain foods I should avoid because I have endometriosis. They include dairy, gluten, red meat, sugar, alcohol and processed foods. I’m not a psychopath about my diet though, and occasionally do eat these foods, but as a general rule, I try to avoid them. One thing I struggle with is coffee! I have an almond milk latte every day, but coffee is definitely something I should be avoiding.
Where is your go-to spot for facials?
You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I don’t get facials!! I’ve only had a handful of facials in my life and as a result, don’t really have a go-to place. I did get an amazing HydraFacial once at JTav Skincare in Manhattan and would definitely do it again. My skin felt amazing afterwards!
Any other self-care tips you want to share?
Honestly, in addition to switching your skincare and makeup to nontoxic alternatives, consider switching your feminine care products as well! Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the US. Which means, you’re exposing yourself to harmful pesticides every time you use a tampon or pad. The average woman uses over 16,000 tampons in her life!
The best thing you can do for your reproductive health, wallet and the environment is to get a Diva Cup (which is a reusable silicone menstrual cup that can be used for up to 10 hours at a time). But if that isn’t for you, definitely switch over to organic tampons and pads that don’t have any other ingredients. The crazy ingredients they put in tampons (Polyester, Polyethylene, Viscose rayon, etc) are appalling, and companies like Tampax are not transparent about the ingredients they use. Safe, organic feminine products are available at places like Whole Foods, Thrive Market and Amazon. There are also companies link Lola and Cora that deliver them right to your door as often as you need them, though this tends to be a pricier option.
Where can we find you online?
You can follow me at @alicepanikian on Instagram or on my new blog TheBronde, where I post recommendations and generally try to spread awareness about lack of regulations and the use of chemicals in our cosmetics and personal care products. I believe we as consumers not only deserve to know what is in the products we buy, we deserve for our products to be safe. Until that day comes, the best we can do is stay informed and seek out safe alternatives.
*For 20% off my favorite Nuvsio mask, use the code LOVEALICE
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