So here’s the good news: shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the questionable ingredients that many companies put in their products. Here’s the bad news: Not knowing where else to turn, these same shoppers look to brands that use marketing buzzwords like “natural” and “organic”, assuming they’re safe. But, says Jenise Lee, that assumption is dangerous.

In Canada if just one chemical in a cosmetic is natural or organic, the product is legally allowed to be marketed as entirely natural or organic. Meanwhile, there are a number of brands who work hard to ensure no harmful chemicals are used in their products but struggle to get recognized for their efforts.

So Lee launched CertClean, a certification for safer beauty and personal care products that gives shoppers the confidence to purchase products without carcinogens, neurotoxins and other chemicals that may affect long-term health. And brands get the distinction they need. Most recently, she also launched a campaign on Indigiegogo to raise money to build a review site (“like TripAdvisor for nontoxic beauty”). We sat down with Lee to discuss her company, the challenges of toxic products and why she set off on this mission.

When and why did you start the company?

The death of both my aunt and brother in recent years brought this company to life. Both of them passed due to cancer.

When one in two men and one in three women may be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime (Canadian Cancer Society), I felt compelled to be part of the equation that is committed to making the world a healthier place.

CertClean was born to help our families and friends steer clear from harmful ingredients in our personal care products by easily identifying safer alternatives to conventional beauty products. I am committed to a grand, yet simple vision: nontoxic beauty products found in every home.

What are some misconceptions about cosmetics that you hope people would know?

Misconception #1: Skincare products labelled natural are safe

Consumers are often mislead since: if one ingredient is natural, the entire skincare product can be labelled as natural.  To make matters more confusing, this doesn’t mean that a product labelled natural isn’t safe either! This is precisely why the certification is important…

Misconception #2: Tiny amounts of harmful ingredients won’t cause harm

Remember, a person uses an average of 9 products a day, everyday. And, our skin is our largest organ. Skin care ingredients have been found in urine samples, human fat, and in breast tumor tissues.  Small doses add up!

Tell us a bit about your background and how it brought you here

As a child, I was an avid label reader due to severe skin allergies and nut allergies. I have always been an environmentalist – I was a proud Greenpeace member at age 7! Fast forward, I now have a chemical engineering degree from University of Waterloo, worked as an environmental engineering consultant for five years before getting an MBA from Schulich School of Business. I’ve also been a chairperson and board member for an environmental health charity for over seven years.

Who knew being allergic to nuts would shape my career?

You established Standards that brands need to follow. How did you come up with those?

The CertClean Standards consist of over 1400 chemicals; this list was developed through exhaustive research while working with environmental health experts and advocacy groups. We also engaged with brands and researchers through a three-month public consultation to finalize the Standards.

How can companies become certified?

Companies have to apply and go through a rigorous screening process to become certified. CertClean assesses the product ingredient list to determine if it is formulated without over 1400 harmful ingredients. In most cases, additional information from supplier is required to demonstrate compliance. Once the product is approved, the brand is required to sign a Licensing Agreement which dictates their obligations. For example, if the product is reformulated, the brand needs to inform CertClean before the product is in the marketplace.  It isn’t an easy process!

Tell me about the recent campaign

Thanks for asking! We have constantly been facing the same question, “How can I get my hands on CertClean products in one go?”  I’m excited as our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is two-pronged: 1) We’re raising funds to build a new evaluation system since we’ve already outgrown the original one and 2) as a thank you for your support, we’re offering limited edition beauty boxes filled with CertClean certified products!

This campaign is a great opportunity for those looking to transition to clean beauty. You can find it here

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