• Ariel Green

Transitioning to a Clean Beauty Routine with Hannah McCall, Clean Beauty for Black Girls Founder

Updated: Feb 24


Reading the ingredient list on the back of a body wash, lotion, or shampoo bottle will have you reaching for Wikipedia. Over the years we've learned about the negative health effects of a poor diet and what we put inside of our body, but what about what we put on it? The average woman uses 12 different beauty products every day, and with most leading brands containing toxic ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and petroleum, our bodies are drinking up chemicals that cause cancer, infertility, and other chronic health problems. It's a little scary, but today's guest will give us some tips on how to transition our beauty routines to incorporate healthier products.


Hannah McCall is an educator, a truth-seeker, and motivator to Black women seeking to put their health & success first. She created and founded Clean Beauty for Black Girls to create a platform for Black women to connect, find safer products and support one another. As a fierce champion for justice and the elevation of Black women, she is working to make the connection between the toxins in our everyday products and the health issues affecting Black women on a large scale.


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TRANSCRIPTION:


Ariel:

Hello and welcome back to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage and educate each other; from gardening to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We're all on a journey to taking care of our bodies and our planets. I'm your host, Ariel Green.


Reading the ingredient list on the back of a body wash, lotion or shampoo bottle will have you reaching for Wikipedia. Over the years, we've learned about the negative health effects of a poor diet and what we put inside of our bodies. But, what about what we put on it? The average woman uses 12 different beauty products every day. And with most leading brands containing toxic ingredients like parabens, dilates, and petroleum, our bodies are drinking up chemicals that cause cancer infertility and other chronic health problems. It's a little scary, but today's guest will give us some tips on how to transition our beauty routines to incorporate healthier products. But first, let's read a review left on Apple podcasts. This one comes from RightfullySo it says, "this podcast is informative and practical. I learned a lot from listening to the episodes about how to live more sustainably. I look forward to more episodes." Thank you so much for the review RightfullySo and remember to leave a review on Apple podcasts, so that we can read it and you can have it highlighted in an upcoming episode. Now, let's get back to the show.


Today's sustainable Brown girl is Hannah McCall. She's an educator, a truth seeker and a motivator to black women seeking to put their health and success first. She created and founded Clean Beauty for Black Girls to create a platform for black women to connect, find safer products and support one another. As a fierce champion for justice and the elevation of black women, she's working to make the connection between the toxins in our everyday products and the health issues affecting black women on a larger scale. I'm so excited to have you here today, Hannah, thanks for joining us.


Hannah:

Yeah, thanks for having me.


Ariel:

So the question I always like to start out with is for you to tell us about how you became interested in sustainability and also how you became interested in clean beauty, if they're related.

They're actually are related. Honestly, it started with, I had LASIK eye surgery a few years back and I was just so freaked out about everything they said to be careful with your eyes afterwards. And I didn't wear mascara or eye shadow for like twice as long as they told me. And then I started to look at the ingredients of things, because I was like, "I don't want to ruin what I just paid thousands of dollars for." And it made me step several steps back. And I was like, "wait a minute, this is insane that there's these bad ingredients that were like putting right onto our eyes." And I took that step further just with everything that goes on in the life of black women and black people in general and I was like, "if they're bad, when they go on our skin, what happens when we throw them away? Where are they going? Are we being re-exposed to the chemicals in these ingredients?" And it was kind of a Aha moment where, I stopped looking at sustainability as something you do because you love the earth and I started looking at it as a health issue.

Yes, absolutely. So when you started looking at the ingredients and the products, were you already interested in sustainability and environmentalism?


Hannah:

Yeah, I was a little bit, but I would say super passively.


Ariel:

Right.


Hannah:

It wasn't something I talked about. The conversations didn't go any further than the ones I was having with my child, to be honest. So the whole world opened up.


Ariel:

Right. So what types of things did you find when you were looking at the ingredients of these products?


Hannah:

As far as what?


Ariel:

As far as the different chemicals and stuff in it, what was the most alarming to you?


Hannah:

The most alarming to me was parabens only because they show up in almost everything, including plastics. It's just crazy to me. They show up in everything and it's the most alarming thing about them to me is, they've been categorized as safe to some extent, because in each product they are like an allowable dosage, that's great. But what happens when I have the allowable dosage, infiltrating my system times 10 throughout the day? And then again, we throw it away and it goes into our landfills and it's still coming back to us.


Ariel:

Yeah. And also to, what is the allowable dosage? Is it okay just for me to use this one product, but then like you said, everything has parabens in it, so I'm sure we're getting way more than the allowable dosage.


Hannah:

Exactly.


Ariel:

Yeah. So then what led you to start Clean Beauty for Black Girls?


Hannah:

Well, two things. One is, I didn't have the knowledge and I think it's safe to say often when we walk into a space and we're the only one that looks like ourselves, you're not alone in it. There's other people that don't have the knowledge either. And so it started as like a blog where I was just like, "learn with me, then I don't have to be alone." And then I started to realize that finding clean products is often a deterrent to us using clean products. I saw the opportunity to create a platform where I could connect with black women business owners who are already doing the work, they're already making clean products and they're making them for us. And that's always evolving. I'm like, "well, clean beauty that involves to," just like a clean life. Toxins are everywhere." They would be our finances, our thoughts so it's an evolving concept, but that's what happens when you put black women in a room together I think.


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. When you started the blog, were you mainly looking or discussing the topics in relation to chemicals in the products or did it start with, here are these different products that you can use.


Hannah:

It initially started as strictly education where I would take one product that we all use, or I would take one chemical that was in a product and I would just dive into it. I would start making the connection of black women using more products than our other peers in different demographics and us having more hormone-related health issues and starting to dive into that. But now I've evolved to not just giving the bad news, but then also giving the good news of like, "but here are some things you can use."


Ariel:

Yeah. So what are some of the harmful ingredients in beauty products aside from parabens that we should be looking out for?


Hannah:

Another one is phthalates and that usually comes with parabens and most of the ingredients that I think that I'm going to talk about deal with endocrine disruption, they encourage the growth of cancer tumors, but parabens and phthalates, those are found in like your shampoos, your moisturizers, your deodorant. Fragrance is a huge one simply because it's categorized as a trade secret. So companies don't have to disclose to anyone, no regulation, no anything. What they use, what type of chemicals they use in fragrance and fragrance is in literally almost every single product we've had. And it's just crazy because we also don't have the research as to what it's doing because we don't have the information about the chemicals. Heavy metals are a huge one. We've kind of heard about heavy metals back in the days of when lead was a big issue, but it kind of stopped there, but heavy metals are in almost any product you're using that has color. So like your eyeshadow is your foundations, your concealers, there's an element of heavy metals in them. It can be okay, but again, the testing just isn't there. And the other one is paraldehyde. I think it goes without saying that that doesn't need to be in our products, but unfortunately it's in nail polish and it's in a large majority of hair products for us.


Ariel:

Yeah, I've read somewhere that a lot of products marketed to black women have some of the worst ingredients on it.


Hannah:

Yup. The EWG (Environmental Working Group). They did a study, I think it's like three or four years old now, but they found that of the products they tested 75% of them rated medium to high on a risk scale. Just our products. I was like, "Oh great."


Ariel:

That's insane. And really, you can see the effects because the millennials, gen X have grown up on these products.


Hannah:

Right.


Ariel:

I'm starting to see a lot of these effects, with people having fertility issues, myself included . Where it's like...yeah. And there's a direct correlation to the food that we eat and the products that we use that have these chemicals in it that cause cancer and these fertility issues and endocrine issues in general.


Hannah:

Yeah it even goes to like what we're using in the kitchen. What type of pots and pans we're using? Are you storing your food in plastic? But nobody told us that these were things that were going to cause long-term issues.


Ariel:

Yeah.


Hannah:

I think the reproductive one, it's such a huge one that is so easily categorized as a health issue, as in you did something wrong and it's just not. I think it's like 70% of chronic issues and diseases are environmental, they're caused by our environment so it's worth looking into.


Ariel:

Yeah, absolutely. So then that kind of leads you to the question to why are these chemicals included and these products? Especially in the US where we have the ability to do all of this testing and stuff as opposed to the European union where they have long lists of chemicals that they've banned. Do you think that the US is making any progress with getting rid of some of these chemicals?


Hannah:

The US on a large scale, no, not yet. The FDA just had a hearing last fall, I believe, where they were asking for the right to test chemicals and to hold companies accountable, because right now they really have no ability to enforce legal restrictions. It's really up to companies to do their own testing and to make the right decision. And that's ridiculous. They're not going to do that, but I will say I'm with California and the Safe Cosmetics Act that they just passed. I think that alone stand, well, let me say what it is first. So they passed an act that blocks the use of 24 different chemicals in any products. I think it's 2025 when they expect to actually implement it all. Because it takes some time, but they're not going to let you use PFAS, formaldehyde, parabens, things like that. And I think that they kind of set a precedent and they also are creating a blueprint that's going to show companies, you can still be profitable. You could still be viable and still put the health of your customers first. And I think with them doing it, you hope that other States will follow suit and then you have a whole coalition and strength to push for that legislation at a federal level.


Ariel:

Exactly. So the Safe Cosmetics Act is only for California?


Hannah:

Right. I mean, leave it to California to be like, "you're not doing enough."


Ariel:

Right. Exactly


Hannah:

Yeah, its just for California but I think it was a monumental case because nobody else has done it yet. It's going to be hard for companies to have to adhere to these laws in California and then sell a lesser product somewhere else because your customers are going to know now so we'll see how it goes.


Ariel:

Yeah. So there's been a lot of talk about the chemicals in our products of course then I think a lot of people are starting to hold companies accountable for that, where you see, like the Love, Beauty, Planet products and stuff where these larger companies are kind of trying to make a response to the people complaining about all of these unhealthy ingredients. Do you think that having people hold these companies accountable is going to push them to make better products even if there is no legislation. You think that they will continue to make products?


Hannah:

I think it's layered. I think that... and I'm not going to say any companies because I don't want to get in trouble. But I think the problem is we all know we have tunnel vision, so I think when we learn about a couple ingredients and once we've had that repetition of people telling us they're bad, companies will remove that from the ingredient list or they'll just change the name on the back, it's true. Because again, with no regulation, there's nobody to tell you that what you're doing by listing... You can put fragrance-free on the front and then list it as like aroma or essential oils on the back and it can still be fragrance, it's literally the same thing. But with no repercussions, companies can do that and just completely dupe us. But I do think that with the evolution of the knowledge that we're getting access to, obviously we're going to know that as well and keep pushing back. I think the bigger push for companies to do the right thing is all of these smaller black owned companies who are doing it their selves and creating their own blueprint for what works. I think the growth of that is going to make bigger companies have to change.


Ariel:

Absolutely. I 100% agree because seeing too how these black owned companies and other companies of color, women owned companies are creating products that are better than the leading brands. I'm sure it does kind of put a fire under them where it's [inaudible 17:14]


Hannah:

But it comes back to a lot of those companies are ran by white men and how do you possibly expect to create a product that we're going to get excited about when we have somebody who looks just like us and knows what we need? You're going to have to hire different people.


Ariel:

Absolutely. Yeah. 100%. What are some of your favorite Clean Beauty Products right now?


Hannah:

That's what gets me really excited about this. That's what excites me about growing this company is because I'm just inspired every single day by these women. Some of my favorites are MNA Essentials. I don't know how this woman does what she does, but it's gold. Baby powder was a big thing for us and she creates this powder...Living in DC, the swamp, it gets real humid in the summer and I just remember being like the sticky leg life is not for me, but what am I supposed to do? And she sent me this body powder and I made everybody I know smell it because everybody was floored. But she's great. Sabreen Cosmetics it's three sisters who lost their grandmother to breast cancer and created a lip line, a clean beauty lip line, they're amazing. Elements of Aliel, she's more skincare base and Aja Naturals, both of those two are kind of what you just said, they're just better products. The first time using some of these things in your head, you kind of naively think " you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. It's a small business." But then using them, your skin is like," Nope, this was made for you." "That cocoa and Shea butter, this is for you. "


Ariel:

Exactly. What are the ways that you find some of these companies?


Hannah:

Well Instagram is where most of my communication happens, but any more they're finding me. And that's what I think is really exciting because I can't find everybody. Right?


Ariel:

Yeah.


Hannah:

But it's exciting that they're taking over this clean beauty industry and finding me and like, can you elevate me? Absolutely. That's what I'm here for. So I think that's exciting. I honestly got into clean beauty kind of side note because of beauty counter. And then I created Clean Beauty For Black Girls because we just needed our own space. But I will say that through beauty counter, I have found a lot of small clean beauty companies just because I think they elevate the conversation, they put it on the map. But Instagram is god.


Ariel:

Definitely. So what tips would you give to someone who is looking to start transitioning to a clean beauty routine?


Hannah:

The first thing I generally say is don't believe in perfection. I think a lot of us don't even get started because you just look at your cabinet of hair products alone or your skincare products and it seems overwhelming to even try. You're like if "I don't know now I don't want to know." But I always just say, EWG has a healthy living app where you can scan the barcode on your products and it will rate product from like one to eight, I think. Yeah, so that's super easy to do and you'll be surprised. Some things won't be as bad, I have a few things I'm not willing to give up because they're only a three and I'm alright, we can deal with that for now. But my general suggestion to approach it is either take the three products you use the most and replace those with cleaner or do the scanning thing and find the two worst offenders in your cabinet replace those or like, if you want to be super passive about it, the next time you run out of something, replace it with a safer alternative. I think that's a really easy, slow roll approach to things.


Ariel:

Yeah. I think those are great tips for me. When I started transitioning my beauty routine it was also like you for the harmful ingredients. The first thing that I switched were my body wash, well actually deodorant, that was like years and years prior...


Hannah:

I feel like if you do anything, please switch your deodorant.


Ariel:

Yeah. That's definitely one of the worst things. There have been many studies that links aluminum and deodorant to breast cancer and Alzheimer's.


Hannah:

When I first started dating my boyfriend and the first time I was in his room and I saw he had a clean aluminum free deodorant I was like, "Oh Jesus! I don't even know how you figured it out but good job."


Ariel:

Seriously! And then I think also body wash and lotion are important too.


Hannah:

Yeah. That's very true, lotion for sure.


Ariel:

Yeah. My mother-in-law recently got me some, lotion from bath and body works.


Hannah:

I knew you were going to say that.


Ariel:

I felt so bad telling her like, no, I don't really want this.


Hannah:

I know.


Ariel:

It's difficult.


Hannah:

I get it. That used to be the thing though, all those different smells and this different seasons and I'm just like you really got us.


Ariel:

Seriously! Yeah. And the air freshener, the candles and it's just all of that. It's just putting toxins into your home and your body.


Hannah:

Yup. I'm surprised that they still are as big as they are.


Ariel:

Right. I think the same thing too, but I think sometimes we can be in a bubble because we're back and forth, we're following all these people who are into clean beauty and environmentalism, how can these people still buy these things? But there's so many more people out there that we need to reach. So you having your platform and having this platform, I think it just helps to be able to give people like bite-size ways to make changes in their life and also give them the information that propels them to want to make changes. Because once you find out this stuff, it's really difficult to go back.


Hannah:

I totally get that. I even catch myself. I ran out of conditioner the other day and I just had some conditioner that was that I replaced. And I was like "okay, whatever, I'm going to use it one time won't hurt." And just like the overpowering smell of it, I was just like "you're giving yourself cancer, I don't know what else to tell you." You're right, once you know, it's so hard to unknow it.


Ariel:

Yeah. Definitely. Speaking of shampoo and conditioner, how do you feel about shampoo bars?


Hannah:

I love them. Definite learning curve and you really have to find what works for you. And I think the best thing in doing that is whoever you're going to buy it from, just ask them, they have the answer. So before you trial and error yourself, just tell them about your hair, tell them what to use. But yeah, I liked them. I haven't used a conditioner bar yet. I don't know if I trust it, but again, that's just me not knowing. But I definitely think if you're going to be a more sustainable person, that's probably one of the most effective things you could do, change your deodorant and start using shampoo bars because that plastic is just, it has no place.


Ariel:

Yeah. A hundred percent. All right. Now last question is how can anyone be more sustainable with their beauty routine?


Hannah:

So I think two of the biggest things... I know me and my friends have just wondered why we never did it before was, get a reusable microfiber cloth to take your makeup off. Don't use the wipes, mother earth doesn't want that. Reusable cotton pads for your toner, those are a game changer too. Like we said, the shampoo bars, glass containers, I think those are a big deal and actually refill them. A lot of companies are moving to glass containers that you can refill. And I think that's such a game changer and like any tools you use. I use an exfoliating scrub brush and for the longest time I just completely overlooked it and I found like a bamboo one on Amazon. Great. It'll last forever, things like that. So I think it's really simple, well you can keep it simple. Once you just start looking around and being like, what's plastic? Let me start there.


Ariel:

Yeah. And what am I throwing a lot of way of.


Hannah:

Yes. Like again, hair products.


Ariel:

Exactly. One other question I want to ask you is for Clean Beauty For Black Girls, what is your dream or what do you have planned for the future?


Hannah:

I was literally just thinking about this. We are in the process of filing for our 501c3 status, to become a nonprofit. My dream is to...it's multi-layered. One, I want to have an annual conference where we elevate the game changers in the clean beauty and sustainability game. And I want to create a community where we can match angel investors with women trying to start these companies. And then, I also want a scholarship fund to be set up for young kids who their dream is to start a company of whatever in this space so that's we're going. I'm just going to claim it. That's where we're going.


Ariel:

Yes. That would be amazing. That's so exciting. I hope that you can reach those goals and everything, but I mean, I really see a need for it so I have no doubt that you'll get there.


Hannah:

Thank you. I appreciate that.


Ariel:

You're welcome. Alright Hannah where can everyone find you?


Hannah:

cleanbeautyforblackgirls.org and on Instagram, we are @cleanbeautyforblackgirls. Same with Facebook, and we also have a LinkedIn page, so you can search the hashtag #cleanbeautyforblackgirls.


Ariel:

Perfect. Thank you so much for joining us today, Hannah. This was really a great chat learning about clean beauty products for black women, made by black women. So super excited to see what all you accomplish.


Hannah:

Thank you.


Ariel:

Thank you so much for listening to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. Be sure to subscribe and share it if you loved it and leave a review. You can find us on Instagram @sustainablebrowngirl and check out our Facebook community, we would love to have you there. Until next time, let's continue to make healthy choices for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Thanks for listening.