Psst! Put down that smudge wand for a sec. Do you know where it came from or the sacred origins of smudging? How about that crystal necklace? Did it come at the cost of a child’s health?
Yes, we know that sounds dire. But in some cases, the aim for wellness comes at the expense of the environment, marginalized groups, and even children forced into labor.
The intention here isn’t to dissuade you from self-care. Your wellness is important. Instead, it’s to encourage a deeper understanding of which self-care practices might be careless to others or the earth. Here are some wellness trends that require closer scrutiny.
Yeah sure, crystals are pretty. And maybe you swear the one by your bedside eases you into sleep or the one you squeeze in your hand at the office wards of the negative energy emanating from the next cubicle.
But the truth of the matter is that there is no scientific evidence that crystals have healing or calming powers. In fact, crystals have been debunked to be disease cures — but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you. What you may be experiencing is the placebo effect, which science actually backs.
If that’s so, then what’s the harm? Well, it could be a lot. Your crystal’s positive energy could be infused with something extremely negative: possible human rights violations.
This year, in June and September, The Guardian published pieces on the dark side of crystals. “While a few large mining companies operate in Madagascar, more than 80% of crystals are mined “artisanally” – meaning by small groups and families, without regulation, who are paid rock-bottom prices.”
Last year, Emily Atkin investigated where ‘healing crystals’ came from for The New Republic and noted that even some crystals from U.S. mines “have contaminated ecosystems and drinking water.”
In 2016, the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), an independent research group, raised concerns about forced labor, including that of children, plus unsafe conditions for workers in tourmaline extraction and trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The child labor coalition says the United States is a top destination for precious gems (such as diamond, ruby, emeralds, etc.) that have resulted from child mining.
Maybe your ex finally moved out of your pad and you want to clear the space of any negative vibes. Enter the smudge stick. Burning white sage has gained popularity for cleansing.
But long before smudge sticks landed in Sephora checkout carts, indigenous people of the Americas were persecuted for their ceremonial burning of sage. Now that smudging has reached the mainstream, people like to call it “witchy.”
The trend is cultural appropriation, which is reason enough to abstain from it. But if you’re still bent on burning, another important issue is at hand.
White sage, although not currently on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) threatened and endangered species list, is being watched closely for risk. Plus, it’s often illegally harvested. Depletion of the plant hinders its use in traditional indigenous ceremonies.
Palo santo wood has gained popularity as a companion to burning sage or even as an alternative. But the practice also raises issues of cultural appropriation and sustainability.
Palo santo is a tree native to South America, where shamans burn pieces or small bundles of the wood for cleansing. Western cultures “borrowing” the practice, encourage the illegal destruction of the tree.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) now lists palo santo as endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species.
The herbs and wood in smudging wands aren’t the only botanical concerns when it comes to wellness practices.
Ever since NASA first reported they had air-purifying abilities, houseplants have been on trend for decades. You’d have to cover every inch of your abode in greenery to make any kind of dent in indoor air pollution. However, that hasn’t stopped people from amassing ferns and palms and boasting of their plant-parent prowess on the Insta.
But are those plants a protected species and were they ethically sourced?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists more than 365 protected plants traded on Amazon and eBay alone. Plus, the demand for houseplants encourages growers to employ “plant hunters” who take new varieties from jungles.
Surrounding yourself with foliage might be soothing, but it becomes less so when you consider how the plant trade impacts your carbon footprint with packaging materials and shipping procedures.
Natural ingredients found in makeup and skin care may seem harmless and even safer for the environment. But by now you probably know that’s not the full story. We’re sorry to report that what makes us feel confident isn’t off the radar either.
Mica is a shimmery pigment in blush, bronze, and more, but unfortunately, mica has strong ties to child labor. About 25 percent of the world’s mica is collected illegally in India, according to the Responsible Mica Initiative, a group working on mapping the mineral’s supply chain.
The initiative says more than 20,000 children mine mica to help support their poverty-stricken families. This practice puts them at risk for severe accidents and lung diseases.
So how do you know who collected the mica in your product? The issue is complicated because it can be hard to trace the source of a mica supply.
But, as a cosmetic consumer, you can check to see if your brand is a member of the initiative to end child labor. Brands, mica collectors, and nonprofits are working together to stop the practice while still supporting communities that need the income from mica production, and who you support can help drive this initaitve.
Copper has been proven to heal the skin, reduce and prevent wrinkles, and banish bacteria. It’s used frequently in skin creams and also mascara.
But copper also has links to child labor, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.
Bakuchiol functions a lot like retinol in that it has anti-aging properties, though it’s considered to be less irritating. But the skin care ingredient is extracted from the seed of the Babchi plant, which is found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world and is unfortunately endangered.
Researchers are working on new propagation methods. But until that happens, you may want to avoid purchasing products with this ingredient to help decrease demand and mitigate the plant’s continued destruction.
Extracts from endangered plants aren’t the only red flags when it comes to cosmetics and skin care ingredients. Risk analyst group Maplecroft helps companies map and assess supply chains for social and sustainability concerns. And it’s found issues with several common ingredients, such as:
- candelilla wax
- carnauba wax
- shea nuts
Not necessarily. In an ideal world, using natural ingredients would be better for the environment — and you! — than toxic chemicals, but transparency matters, as well as understanding how our shopping habits can hold companies accountable.
“Ethical consumerism is here to stay,” Maplecroft writes on its website. “And it has significant influence over the shopping decisions made by millennials, so scrutiny of what goes into the millions of cosmetics produced every year will continue.”
In short, if you support ethical and sustainable brands in your efforts for self-care, more brands will follow suit and work to protect valuable resources and horrible practices like child labor.
Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.