Natural vs. “Natural”
Natural products are no longer the exclusive domain of hippies and local food co-ops. Far from fringe, they’re the fastest-growing segment of the cosmetics industry, racking up $30 billion in global sales. But “natural” labels don’t always signify pure ingredients, nor do they indicate efficacy.
Trial and error is often our default method for testing both expensive and drugstore brands. How many products are currently rotting in your medicine cabinet because “someday” you’re going to force yourself to use them up? Vow to wipe the slate clean and start investing exclusively in products that beautify and operate by the “do no harm” philosophy. To save you time (and money), here are seven beauty products you’ll want to use down to the last organic drop.
Shea Moisture Restorative Conditioner, $11
Many conditioners can actually dry out your hair (how do you think they’re going to sell you more product?), but Shea Moisture Restorative Conditioner is hands-down the best conditioner I’ve ever used. It’s made with natural and organic ingredients, including shea butter, argan oil, and sea kelp, and it detangles my hair unlike any other conditioner — meaning no damage from combing out knots. It’s especially good for thick, coarse, or curly hair. (I also use a small amount of the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie on the ends of my hair after showering — it’s a leave-in conditioner, but it doubles as a frizz-reducing, curl-shaping styling aid.) And while I would pay a lot more for it, it costs only $11 and is available at Target and Walgreens.
Acure Organic Argan Oil, $13
Like fat in food, oil in cosmetics is back in fashion, thankfully. After years of seeking out oil-free everything, I changed my ways — and my skin has never been happier. When it comes to my face, I particularly love argan oil. Rich in vitamin E, protein, and essential fatty acids, argan oil is a true superhero for your skin. It’s especially good for aging skin, as it smoothes wrinkles and fine lines. If you’ve never tried facial oil, you’ll be surprised how quickly it absorbs. Many other brands charge several times as much for pure argan oil, so Acure’s price is great, particularly for organic. I like to wear the argan oil at night with an antiaging serum, and use a facial moisturizer during the day. If you have problem skin and are wary of putting oil on your face, Annmarie Gianni’s Herbal Facial Oil for Oily and Acne Prone Skin is light enough to wear day and night (and its unique combination of essential oils smells heavenly).
Primal Pit Paste Natural Deodorant, $11
Despite my devotion to products free of artificial ingredients, I clung to conventional antiperspirants and deodorants for years. Every time I’d read another article about the potential link between aluminum in antiperspirants and breast cancer, I’d convince myself to try another natural alternative — then, inevitably, I’d revert back after deciding that going through life smelling bad wasn’t a viable option.
Finally I found one that works well. Primal Pit Paste will NOT keep you from sweating (though the baking soda and arrowroot does help diminish the moisture), so don’t wear it when potential pit stains may be an issue. It’s lightly scented with lavender oil, and for everyday use it keeps me from smelling — I swear I actually smell better now that I’ve stopped using conventional deodorants; maybe you’ll have the same experience. One stick lasts around four to six months (about twice as long as conventional deodorants lasted me), which makes the price point just right. It’s also organic and paraben free.
Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Full Strength, $45
Chemical peels can be dangerous to attempt on your own and expensive in spas. Enzyme peels, however, are a gentler, more affordable option. All of Juice Beauty’s products are organic and natural, but I like the Green Apple Peel best (my skin can handle the full-strength formula, but if you’re unsure, you may want to try the sensitive skin formula first and work your way up). It brightens your complexion by exfoliating dead skin cells, and it reduces hyperpigmentation and fine lines. There’s also some instant gratification: After smoothing on a thin layer and letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes (some tingling is normal), you’ll see a difference as soon as you rinse it off. If you use it weekly, as recommended, one jar should last three to four months (a little goes a long way).
CosMedix Serum 16, $78
Beauty gurus often say that a retinol cream should be part of every woman’s routine. It makes sense, given retinol’s ability to clear acne, diminish wrinkles, and lighten discoloration. But many drugstore offerings are also loaded with unwanted, harmful ingredients. It’s not the cheapest option on the shelf, but the CosMedix line of products is the best I’ve found for getting maximum results while doing minimal harm. Its formulas are free of harsh ingredients like petroleum, chemical dyes, mineral oil, and benzoyl peroxide, but contain chirally correct ingredients (which are more effective). Infused with CosMedix’s proprietary, near-prescription-strength retinol blend, as well as essential oils, Serum 16 is one of the most powerfully “clean” retinol creams around.
Buyer beware: Some Amazon stores and other unauthorized, third-party sellers sell imitation or out-of-date products, so buy directly from the website or an authorized distributor.
Pratima Rejuvenating Gold Eye Cream, $40
Simultaneously one of the most coveted and contested beauty products, great eye creams are hard to find. There’s no other category in which I’ve gone through more mediocre products in the quest for a keeper. You may argue that a good moisturizer will do double duty — and if that works for you, stick with it. But I personally need a little extra something-something around my eyes both day and night.
If you have sensitive eyes, like me, many eye creams likely make your eyes water or sting — overruling any positive benefits. Sting free and boasting the most natural ingredients I’ve found in any (effective) eye cream, Pratima’s Rejuvenating Gold Eye Cream is my consistent winner. Pratima’s entire skin-care line is ayurvedic; ayurveda is a holistic healing tradition considered to be the world’s oldest health care system. They’re also free of lead, parabens, and artificial colors and scents, and they come in high-quality glass packaging. The eye cream, like all Pratima’s products, is rich with botanicals, essential oils, and herbs (many of which you’ve likely never heard of, so consult the company’s herb glossary for info). If you’re immediately skeptical of the word “gold” in the name, I can assure you: I use it because it works, not because it sounds fancy.
Savage Jenny Lip Gloss, $18
I’m not a huge makeup fanatic, but just about everyone can benefit from a little something on their lips. And yet, when most lipsticks contain lead — and we’re reapplying multiple times per day — the cost of your pretty pout may be higher than you think. Many natural varieties are too sheer and lackluster for my taste, but Savage Jenny is an exception. It comes in a glass pot and goes on as a mix between a gloss and a lipstick, with vibrant color and just the right amount of opacity. It has a slight iridescence to add depth, and, most importantly, no scent or taste (why is that so hard to find?).
It’s made with natural oils, mica, iron oxide, and carmine, without all the other ingredients you likely don’t want to be licking off your lips. It comes in 11 diverse colors (I like Starlet) and one white-tinted, shimmery shade that’s great for layering over other colors. Carry a retractable lipstick brush with you to minimize mess and product waste when applying.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.