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Natural Living

From Green to Greenest

Celebrate Earth Day by embracing all-natural green beauty and personal care products.

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What does green beauty mean to you? Apparently, a whole lot, if the nearly 40 percent annual growth in natural and organic cosmetic sales (in this economy, no less!) is any indication.

One person’s idea of green beauty might mean recycled packaging. Another person might feel the latest product to contain a fairy dusting of organic green tea, used by their favorite actress, is all they need to “go green.” Another might demand paraben-free products (even if they still contain mineral oil or fragrance), and yet another might expect fair-trade ingredients, or a company’s donation with each purchase to an environmental fund (even if the product still contains FD&C colors). What consumers deserve-and should expect-are products that reflect green dedication from the inside out-not just in packaging and company gestures.

Still, setting one’s own criteria for what constitutes “green” cosmetics is far more daunting than setting your criteria for, say, green foods or paper goods.

Very Helpful
Green Hints

Organic standards can and have changed in recent years. Visit Web sites such as to stay posted on the state of the organic seal.

  • Minerals from mineral makeup do not come from plants and therefore cannot be certified as organic. Organic mineral makeup lines have added organic ingredients.
  • Know that all-natural products may be superior (for both body and planet) to products that merely contain organic ingredients or bear the organic seal.
  • &quod;Naturally derived&quod; doesn’t equal natural. We can say that a foaming agent comes from coconuts, but once enough heat and pressure are involved in processing, as with sodium lauryl sulfate, for example, you have crossed the line to something that no longer breaks down readily in the environment, and is no longer harmonious with the body.
  • Always read the actual ingredients list when evaluating toners, body sprays, and other liquid products.
  • Nonaqueous cosmetics, such as balms and oils, are the easiest to preserve, and there is never a need to buy them with synthetic ingredients.
  • Hair color, nail polish, perfumes, and watery or foaming products, such as shampoo, are challenging for manufacturers to keep truly untainted.
  • Many ingredients Americans have been told were perfectly safe have long been banned in Europe.
  • One pure product does not a green line make. The purity range within one product line might differ greatly from item to item. One product might contain several synthetic ingredients while another might be very pure.

The Four P’s: Purity, Performance, Packaging, andPractices
I call my own green criteria the four P’s. Purity is key. We know that chemicalsin products, including those that mimic and disrupt our hormones, are not only able to easily make their way into our bodies, but, once down the drain, will find their way back into the environment and drinking water sources all over the country. Petrochemicals-found even in some so-called natural products-are processed to the extent that they no longer break down readily in the environment, let alone on or in our bodies.

Performance is the major challenge for green cosmetics. After all, the goal of cosmetics is to pick up where nature leaves off. Up until recently, truly natural skin, hair, or color cosmetic products have been defined by very limited capabilities of natural preservatives, colorants, and texturizing ingredients. But recent technical advances in natural preservatives, as well as innovative coloring and texturizing capabilities, have opened the door for in-the-know consumers-and formulators-to identify products that deliver on all of the four P’s. Now that clean cosmetics have been achieved in every product category,
I encourage everyone to read a product’s ingredients list with higher expectations-and higher demand-than ever. The time has come when you can truly have it all.

A Not-Quite-Ready-for-Prime-Time Green Guide
The guidelines below were originally created at the request of a popular beauty magazine. I had worked with the magazine as a makeup artist years ago, and was honored to be asked for my take on green cosmetics. Most beauty editors are aware of my transition away from the conventional beauty world in the early ’90s (I was once a consultant and spokesperson for some of the top cosmetic companies). But I didn’t celebrate their request for my contribution just yet. I’d seen many a good intention crumble under the weight of advertising pressure. Still, the editors assured me they wanted the truth with no holding back. Sure enough, after I submitted the green beauty guidelines below, the magazine decided on another slant for the story.

As April is widely associated with green and Earth Day, I thought this was the perfect time to renew my not-yet-ready-for-prime-time truth about green beauty. Here is my personal take on green beauty, taking into account my own four P’s and still identifying realistic next steps for both consumers and product formulators.


  • Free of chemicals conclusively known to cause harm to people or the environment, such as phthalates, formaldehyde, and synthetic fragrances
  • Recyclable or renewable packaging and displays
  • “Made with organic ingredients,” means product contains at least
    70 percent certified-organic ingredients


All of the above, plus the following:

  • Free of all petrochemical-derived emollient and carrier ingredients, such as mineral oil, petrolatum, propylene glycol (and other glycols)
  • Zero synthetic colors and preservatives (except nature-identical preservatives)
  • Sustainable sourcing and fair-trade practices


All of the above, plus the following:

  • 100 percent natural (i.e., zero synthetics, including dimethicone, sulfates, etc.); note that the word “natural” on the label means nothing and that you can only determine naturalness by reading the ingredients list. Even then, be aware that many natural ingredients have synthetic-sounding names. Certain “nature-identical” ingredients may still be synthesized or processed, though identical in chemical structure to naturally occurring compounds. The choice in accepting these is, of course, personal (I often do, where I am not aware of a better alternative). Web sites such as cosmeticsdata and can help you decide on each ingredient.
  • USDA certified organic, which means at least 95 percent of ingredients-not including water and salt-are organic; or 100 percent organic or biodynamic (the ultimate in sustainable agriculture forms).