In the four years since Ekta Yadav M.D. launched her Skincare Anarchy podcast — which she records daily and has had nine million downloads since inception — she became increasingly alarmed about the lack of regulation she sees in the beauty space, specifically around the interaction of ingredients.

“In the beauty industry, you want to believe that everything is being done right,” said Yadav, a New York-based MD who is currently a researcher and contributing editor to a number of medical journals. “But when you look under the hood, you don’t really know for sure.”

Those concerns provided the impetus for Yadav — who received her MBA from the Carl H Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati, an MSc in medical physiology and biophysics from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, and an MD from St. George’s University School of Medicine in New York — to work on a product certification seal for brands. The S.A.F.E (Scientifically Approved Formula & Efficacy) seal for beauty and wellness products was designed to add an extra layer of regulation to existing certifications, which Yadav said are limited to check lists that eliminate banned ingredients. As a researcher who has published papers in the areas of microbiology, dermatology and oncology, Yadav has long been interested in the connection between skincare and beauty products and overall health.

“I realized that there was no full-blown review process that a brand had to go through when it came to analyzing what they were creating,” said Yadav.

With S.A.F.E, Yadav has aligned with experts across a number of scientific and medical disciplines, including immunologists, toxicologists, and even statisticians.

“It’s not a conventional board,” she said of the group of experts she assembled. Their focus is to examine not just every ingredient that goes into a product, but how each ingredient reacts with others. Brands pay an $1,800 submission fee per SKU to have their products tested and verified as safe to use on the skin, with no risk of allergic reactions

After awarding S.A.F.E seals to seven brands, among them Codex Labs, ME Cosmetics, and Onelogy, Yadav turned her attention to a demographic she considered to be at the greatest risk of being exposed to potentially toxic ingredient combinations — Gen Z.

In turn, Yadav unveiled the TEEN seal in April, which certifies products as safe and healthy on adolescent skin. The first brand to be awarded the TEEN seal is TWiiSH Skin, the Boca Raton-based line founded by beauty editor Elise Minton Tabin. An additional five brands across both S.A.F.E. and TEEN are currently under review.

Certainly, the call for deeper exploration of what goes into a teen’s beauty and skin care products could not have come at a more fitting time. A March 2024 study released by McKinsey indicates that spending by U.S. teens on beauty products will hit $580 billion by 2027.

“We are now facing this problem of teens who want to have fun and play with beauty and skin care products and who don’t look at ingredients. I was speaking with a pediatric oncologist about it, and we decided there must be a standard, some sort of criteria, that determines what these young people are putting on their skin. I’ve talked to an ocuplastic surgeon about how not all eye makeup is safe.”

To come up with the criteria for the seals, Yadav and her team scoured through PubMed, the National Institutes of Health’s vast database of medical literature, to determine what ingredients young people should avoid in certain combinations. Yadav is hoping that those buying products for their teens — namely parents — investigate ingredients before handing over their credit cards. She knows that she has to counter compelling marketing and appealing packaging that drives these purchases.

“I love colorful packaging like the next person,” she said. “And a child will gravitate towards pretty packaging. That comes with its own set of concerns. As adults, we should not be exposing our children to products that haven’t been fully vetted. I want to make sure that even if a brand has chosen to have a beautiful, colorful look, there is some sort of a mark on their product that says, ‘this is teen friendly.’”

It might be early days for both seal initiatives, but Yadav has isolated a number of brands who are a fit for both S.A.F.E and TEEN. In the TEEN space, she would love to work with brands such as Bubble Skincare, Indu, and Kate McLeod.

“Any product that doesn’t have 50 or 60 ingredients, it is less likely there will be allergic reactions,” she said. “Any brand that does true clinical testing, that does the homework it should do, those are great products and should look at a seal like this. Any brand that has science behind it, that has put thought into the ingredients it uses, I’d love to work with.”