I fell in love with beauty products as a child, sitting on the side of my parent’s bathtub watching my generally low-maintenance mom apply her signature rum-raisin lipstick before a night out. I was enthralled by the shiny black-and-gold case, and I loved watching her line her lips, blot and smile. My fascination with beauty products did not subside as I got older; I built up an impressive assortment of random cosmetics purchased for their bold claims and sometimes simply for the beautiful packaging.
By my mid-twenties, my idea of beauty began to shift. I began to see it as a positive side effect of overall health and happiness. I started drinking my body weight in green juices, filling my grocery cart with obscure and trendy ingredients (spirulina, chlorella, acai berries and nutritional yeast, to name a few) and eschewing anything “unnatural.”
As I focused on what I put in my body, I also had to think about what I put on it. I didn’t want to offset all those smoothies by smearing my skin with the equivalent of a Diet Coke. It was easier and far more intuitive to change my diet than it was to change the products I used. So I started to read the labels and ingredient lists on beauty products just like I did with items in the grocery aisles. I talked to people at my local co-op, learning the nuances of country-specific product labeling. Turns out the EU’s labeling regulations are stricter than in the U.S. and many companies include Latin and scientific names, as well as ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product, unlike in America.
At that point, I also began to better understand the concerns surrounding parabens (a preservative added to products that could potentially impact the endocrine system, leading to cancerous tumors, birth defects or developmental disorders), sulfates (added to create a lather but known to be a skin irritant) and phthalates (a plastic used to promote consistency and make products easier to pour that is thought to impact hormones). More often than not, I was encouraged by those in-the-know to explore the food aisle rather than the beauty counter, stocking up on coconut oil and olive oil as a moisturizer, apple cider vinegar as a facial cleanser (when mixed with water and witch hazel), and coffee grounds and salt to make an energizing body scrub. These safe and organic alternatives made incredible substitutes to the commercial varieties.
Then there were the products that left me feeling a little too natural. At first, I gave up on concealer after determining it was impossible to find a natural product that matched my skin tone. I also doggedly wore natural deodorant even though I couldn’t find an option that worked with my own personal chemistry. My routine was clean but it was joyless, and the fact that I sometimes smelled a little bit and couldn’t hide my hereditary dark circles certainly did not help me to feel beautiful.
Eventually, I realized that too much of a good thing can be not so good, and that I needed to find balance. I continued to use the natural items I liked, such as rosewater toner and olive oil soap, but some tried-and-true favorites were added back into my routine (though I did finally find a natural deodorant; see below for a recipe source). As with most things, simplifying my process led to more enjoyment in my everyday. With that in mind, here are a few lessons that have proven useful:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no one product that can do it all – natural or otherwise.
- Simple is always better.
- What you put in your body is more important than what you put on it. Drink a lot of water, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and eat some healthy fats (unless you want wrinkles!)
- It makes everyone look – and feel – better.
And some resources to help you make smarter choices:
Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore
An incredible book that explains how and why to achieve a more natural beauty regime. There is a recipe for a deodorant spray in this book that I am currently using and that really does work!
Skin Deep Cosmetics Database from the Environmental Working Group
A directory of almost any consumer beauty product. Enter in your product information and find out what is in it and how natural it really is.
Why Your Beauty Products Should be American Made
Some advice from the founders of two of my favorite skin care brands, S.W. Basics and One Love Organics, about what to consider when buying a beauty product.
Rita Mehta is the founder of The American Edit, an online resource that finds and champions U.S.-made products and their makers. She lives in Minneapolis.