Thinking about going green/natural/clean/organic with your beauty regimen can be beneficial—for you, your skin, and the environment, but it can also be confusing. The terminology is similar in sound but dissimilar in meaning, and the rules and regulations are notoriously lax which ups the standards for the research we should do as consumers. We turned to some of the best pro’s in the biz to get the scoop on how to be a smart, consumer of some of the best beauty buys around. From apothecary-like brands to the beauty section at your local Whole Foods—there are great options waiting for the informed, conscious customer. Here’s to becoming one of those.
I asked Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi (Founder & Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the George Washington Medical Center) what consumers new to the natural beauty space should look out for—”Don’t fall prey to marketing. There is little oversight in the skin care marketplace for claims like “natural” and ‘green.'” Sometimes these products can be very irritating, even though they are made of “natural” ingredients.” So that’s #1—and it’s pretty simple. Read the ingredients.
(Also, a disclaimer: this means knowing the difference between these confusing, and seemingly interchangeable terms: natural vs. clean, green, eco-friendly, eco-chic, organic etc.—there are tons of words that get thrown around).
The Basics of Natural Beauty Shopping
Plus, as Jillian Wright, one of my favorite natural beauty experts and aestheticians says: “Read the ingredient deck and to see what’s in your products. Grass is natural and so is gasoline but you are not going to put it on your face. The more you know about ingredients and what they do for you, the better choices you will make.” It can be tricky as “There are no official definitions right now in skin care and one should always make a habit of checking ingredients in a product to ensure it has organic ingredients when possible,” notes Joanna Vargas, Celebrity Facialist and Founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection.
That being said, being conscious of ingredients doesn’t mean cheating your skin out of ingredients that will benefit you the most and help you achieve a clear and glowing complexion. “If you have rosacea, pigmentation, or acne, you may need stronger ingredients that don’t necessarily fall under the natural category,” Wright explains. “Natural products are better suited for people who have very few skin issues.” If you’re fighting skin conditions like those mentioned above, Wright advises seeking the advice of a doctor or clinical aesthetician, and also “looking for ingredients like kojic acid, glycolic, lactic, salicylic acid, or retinol (vitamin A) to help fight these very challenging skin issues. There is no cure for acne or rosacea, but you can also help minimize and control them through diet and lifestyle.”
In case caring for your skin isn’t enough motivation, cleaning up your beauty routine is well, more than skin-deep: “Good environmental practices are also important and goes with the same sustainable mentality. Think about how the company creates their packaging and do they give back?” Wright notes. Certain brands actually do make efforts to give back whether it’s like Acure, which Wright explains “supports the 5Gyres.org institute which is active in banning micro beads in cosmetics and trying to minimize plastic in all of our oceans,” or Wright’s line which comes in eco-friendly (and creative!) plantable packaging.
There are tons of brands that do pay attention to using ingredients that we don’t need to be afraid of putting into contact with our bodies. For a handy resource check out EWG’s Skin Deep database which rates tons of products based on their ingredients.
But if you want to get started, like, stat: we’ve made a few selections for each part of your routine (and body), to make getting started easier, and fun too.
Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic Calendula Cleanser ($26, NYR Organic)
Calendula is a key natural ingredient for its calming properties, making it a great star ingredient for this 54% organic, vegan cream cleanser from Brit-fave Neal’s Yard Organic Remedies.
Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Essence ($125, Tata Harper Skincare)
Tata Harper’s made (and farmed) in Vermont 100% natural products have made her a beauty editor favorite. This essence sets the tone (pun intended) for a radiant complexion and uses alpha and beta hydroxy technology to minimize pores and even the skin tone.
Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask ($75, Dermstore)
Joanna Vargas’s luxurious exfoliating mask combines lactic acid and fruit enzymes for exfoliation plus kaolin clay to draw out impurities and deep clean the pores.
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, ($80, Sephora)
Vitamin C + Ferulic acid combine to correct and prevent UV damage and free radical damage. These two powerful ingredients also reduce wrinkles, firm, and brighten the skin. Plus, if you don’t already use Vitamin C, it’s an all-around excellent addition to any skin routine.
Promise Organic Ultra Moisturizing Argan Creme Facial Cream with Avocado ($14.99, CVS)
Promise’s PH balanced moisturizer boasts benefits for the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Moroccan argan and avocado oil are both restoring and hydrating. A bonus? The company gives 1% of all proceeds to The Nature Conservancy.
Beautycounter Lustro Face Oil 1 in Calendula ($64, Beauty Counter)
This is the face oil is a great face oil to try if you don’t typically like face oils. I don’t, as I often find them irritating. This one, however, is perfectly non-irritating, and not too heavy. I like to mix a drop into my moisturizer for the calming goodness calendula offers.
Origins Original Skin Renewal Serum With Willowherb, ($39, Origins)
Origins has been using the best of nature to make powerful skincare since before paying attention to skincare ingredients was a thing. This serum is made for us 20-somethings—and works to target a skin “#quarterlifecrisis.” It’s powered by natural ingredients: algae reduces oil, chestnut seed extract refines texture and willowherb boosts glow. As for the company—Origins will recycle your #productempties (any brand), any day, creates its packaging from largely recycled materials, has planted 500,000 trees and raised $53 million for breast cancer awareness.
Nourish Organic Refreshing & Balancing Face Toner ($14.99, Nourish Organic)
Refreshing rosewater and calming witch hazel combine in this soothing, balancing, but also, non-drying toner.
Jillian Wright Breakout Blocker Clarifying Serum ($75, Jillian Wright)
Breakout Blocker addresses redness and congestion with probiotics, Chinese herbs, and tea tree.
Aromatica Calendula Soothing Relief Mask & Aromatica Sea Daffodil Hydro Charge Mask ($6 each, Peach and Lily)
Aromatica is the only Korean skincare brand to beauty brand to earn EWG’s Skindeep Champion Status for its organic and toxin-free formulas—making this 100% organic cotton sheet mask one of, if not the most natural option around. The orange contains calendula—a must for irritated, red skin, and the blue will force feed your skin hydration via one of the brand’s signature ingredients, sea daffodil.
Naturopathica Pumpkin Purifying Enzyme Peel ($56, Naturopathica)
This peel is a great example of the strength of well-chosen natural ingredients. Pumpkin is not only a powerful antioxidant but also contains Beta-Carotene which promotes cell turnover, making it a great exfoliant. This mask sloughs away dead skin cells to reveal a glowing, decongested complexion.
Beautycounter Color Pinch Cream Blusher ($34, Beauty Counter)
Beautycounter does extensive testing to make sure their products are up to the highest standards, using the best organic ingredients, and contain no traces of metal. This pretty pink pop of color is something you can feel good about putting on your cheeks.
The Organic Pharmacy Champagne Lip Gloss ($33.95, Organic Pharmacy)
An organic, high-shine gloss that smells just like real-deal Champagne.
Bite Beauty Best Bite Rewind Kit, ($25, Sephora)
The ingredients that go into a Bite lip product (the line focuses its attention solely on lips) are good enough to eat. Not that you should, ya know, bite off a piece of lipstick, but the brand uses natural, food-grade ingredients—without sacrificing any of the pigment or staying power. This little kit in its cute tin container makes a. a good deal and b. a cute gift as the holidays near!
Vapour Organic Beauty Halo Illuminator ($36, Vapour Beauty)
Comprised of 70% organic ingredients and 30% mineral pigments, Vapour’s (very portable) illuminizer is both safe and effective for that dewy glow, whenever you need it.
Acure Coconut Straightening Shampoo & Acure Coconut Straightening Conditioner ($9.99 each, Acure)
Acure’s Straightening shampoo + conditioner duo uses Brazilian keratin, marula oil, and coconut water to achieve straight, but also hydrated, nourished locks.
Aromatica Tea Tree Purifying Tonic ($19, Peach and Lily)
Combat dandruff flakes and as well as an itchy scalp with extracts of organic tea tree and peppermint.
Rahua Voluminous Dry Shampoo ($32, Rahua)
Rahua’s 10% natural dry shampoo formula combines the absorbent qualities of cassava and clay to eat up the scalp’s dirt, sweat, and oil + star anise for its antiseptic and fragrant properties.
Jason Foaming Shower Oil ($10.99, Amazon)
Shower oils as your washing method of choice is the trend du jour, but Jason’s combines all the hydration of an oil (+ shea butter) with the lather of a body wash you’re used to.
Nature’s Gate Pomegranate Sunflower Body Wash, ($16, Amazon)
This vegan, good-for-you body wash is both hydrating and anti-aging, thanks to the antioxidants pomegranates are rife with.
Jenni Kayne x Earth tu Face Rose & Geranium Lotion ($65, Jenni Kayne)
Inspired by designer Jenni Kayne’s garden, this lovely smelling lotion uses the bare minimum of necessary ingredients to achieve soft skin and a lightly not-at-all overwhelming floral scent.
Jason Sheer Spray Soothing Aloe Vera Lotion ($8.99, Target)
If you never needed lotion until after you hit your second decade (far after laziness had already set in), then spray lotion is the (relatively) recent beauty industry innovation for you. Here’s the best part about Jason’s variation—it’s good for you, and made with safe ingredients in spite of being something you spray from a can!