Clean Beauty

by Amber Walker

As a biology student in college, and later, during my career in pharmaceuticals, I learned about something called a "tox screen." This test, ordered by doctors, allows them to see if a patient has any toxic drugs or chemicals in their system, providing more understand of a patient's condition. 

I am using some creative license with the term, "Tox Screen" here at Nine Pines. We want to express a clear visual element for you to see what is not find in our products.  When choosing ingredients found, or not found, in our product formulations we consider safety, medical literature, and the impact on humans, animal, plants, and our environment. 

Nine Pines approaches optimal skin health using an only-the-essentials philosophy. We are not trying to be trendy or greenwash clean beauty. Many popular skin care brands (and often, too many small makers) will use the tiniest amount of a trendy ingredient just to market a product. Usually, the ingredient is a fly-by-night that will be replaced with something splashy and new when the industry needs to increase sales again. Even when a maker chooses a relatively clean list of ingredients, they overlook a preservative or colorant...and sadly, they usually use a hormone disrupting fragrance oil to achieve strong, long lasting scent. Our products are made with the highest quality natural ingredients with proven longevity at effective concentrations—always consciously-sourced, and organic whenever possible.

I actively review the medical literature, and there's some real science evolving about the effects of common beauty industry ingredients on the health of our bodies and the planet. Below, I will summarize the reasons why we are committed to steering clear of ingredients with too many questions marks around them.



Fragrance is a broad category that we avoid for several reasons. First, it can be listed as a single ingredient without listing all the components it comprises. This is concerning because most synthetic fragrance contains both petrochemicals and phthalates, and some have hundreds of components! Fragrance oils can mimic hormones and interfere with or disrupt the delicate endocrine system. Second, fragrance is highly allergenic, and can cause severe headaches and dermatitis for the chemically sensitive. Third, the nature of synthetic fragrance is somewhat contrary to our whole philosophy here at Nine Pines: nothing in nature smells exactly the same for days on end, and we don't want you to either! Our products are here to remind you to enjoy life's moments while they're happening. We hope you'll learn to be curious about the subtle shifts in scent as the essential oils in your products change with your body chemistry over time.


FD&C colors, also called food coloring, are dyes that have been approved for food, drug, and cosmetic use by the FDA. Unfortunately, questions are starting to arise about their toxicity (see article 8 below) and most of them are petroleum-derived. Colorants serve no purpose in skincare products like lotions and creams, so we don't see a reason to use them at all in those products. You'll find natural powders and clays in our soaps that create subtle, beautiful color, with exfoliating or skin-softening benefits. We'll leave the technicolor rainbow soaps to someone else.


Parabens are used as preservatives in most conventional personal care products. You'll find methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben—all members of the paraben family. They are very effective in preventing microbial growth in products. This is why they're so popular, especially in companies with very large distributions, as their products can stay on shelf for years. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence to show that certain members of the paraben family of preservatives interfere with natural hormone levels in humans and animals. Specific studies have shown decreased menstrual cycle length in women with high urinary paraben concentrations, and decreased birth weight and gestational age of babies born to mothers with high concentrations of certain parabens in their blood. (See articles 2-6 below.) Of course, it's important that your skincare products remain safe, but we prefer to do this in healthier ways, and skip the parabens entirely.


Phthalates are used in many pesticides, in certain plastics to make them flexible, and in fragrance to make it last longer. They can be absorbed through the lungs, the intestines, the skin, and through the blood stream via IV tubing. Even if you make a conscious effort to avoid them, you probably have detectable levels in your urine. It's a concerning phenomenon because phthalates are xenoestrogens, meaning that they act like estrogen in the body, disrupting our normal hormone cycles. They are being increasingly linked to obesity, breast cancer, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive anomalies. (See articles 1,2,3, and 6 below.)


Sulfates in personal care products are used as foaming agents, prevalent in sudsy things like shampoos, laundry detergents, and even toothpaste. The main reason we don't use sulfates in our products is that they are often dermal irritants, especially sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) can be slightly gentler on the skin, but it's been ethoxylated, and that's a whole new can of worms (see below). Both SLS and SLES are on the no-no list for people with perioral dermatitis, and since that's one of our specialties, we think it's best to leave them out of our products.


Lots of petrochemicals, like petroleum jelly and mineral oil, are used in personal care products to protect the skin and prevent water loss. They are readily available as byproducts of the petroleum industry. We avoid petroleum-based ingredients, in part, because we'd like to do our share to decrease dependence on that industry. But, petroleum-based ingredients often have comedogenic (pore-blocking) properties. Since our skin is an exchange organ, and both mineral oil and petroleum jelly block that exchange, we don't think they are the healthiest choices. This category also includes phenoxyethanol, a preservative approved for use in organic products, but still a petroleum-derived and ethoxylated ingredient. We do use plastic packaging (BPA-free) for a few products where the ingredients needs to be protected from light and contamination, but we are always working to evolve our packaging as new and better options emerge. 


Ethoxylation is a process by which a substance (like a fatty alcohol or a phenol) is treated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. It's a process that has been used ubiquitously in the cosmetic industry to create ingredients that enhance penetration and help stabilize emulsions. One of the by-products of ethoxylation is 1,4-dioxane, which is another carcinogen, and a probable contaminant in any product that contains ethoxylated ingredients. It's readily absorbed through the skin and into fetal blood supply and breast milk, could affect developing cells, and possibly cause malignant transformation. It's also a significant environmental and groundwater contaminant, and causes mutations in multiple other species. (See articles 3 and 7 below.) It's hard to identify all the things that are ethoxylated (many of the ingredients are sneaky), but here are a few:

  • ingredients with words that end in "eth"
  • polysorbates
  • "emulsifying wax"
  • phenoxyethanol
  • ingredients with "PEG" in the name



1. Early Phthalates Exposure in Pregnant Women Is Associated with Alteration of Thyroid Hormones

2. Cytochrome P450-inhibitory activity of parabens and phthalates used in consumer products

3. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and endometriosis

4. Association between paraben exposure and menstrual cycle in female university students in Japan

5. Association of birth outcomes with fetal exposure to parabens, triclosan and triclocarban in an immigrant population in Brooklyn, New York

6. Association of environmental chemicals & estrogen metabolites in children

7. Carcinogenicity studies of 1,4-dioxane administered in drinking-water to rats and mice for 2 years

8. DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues