What You Need To Know About Natural Beauty Products

Wendy Rodewald
What's really in your face cream?

What’s really in your face cream?
Photo: Getty Images

If you’re looking to green your beauty routine, it can be hard to know where to start. Natural, organic, vegan, paraben-free: companies slap all kind of buzzwords on their packaging, but the truth is not all “eco-friendly” beauty products live up to their marketing. Even more frustrating, lots of them don’t really work.

But greener cosmetics are worth seeking out. On average, women use 12 personal care products containing 168 different ingredients every day, according to a 2004 survey by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an industry watchdog organization—that’s a lot of different chemical compounds being absorbed by our bodies. And in the US, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test every ingredient that goes into beauty products. The agency also doesn’t regulate the word “natural” on product labels, which means any product can say it’s natural, no matter what’s in it. Even products certified as USDA Organic (the same government-regulated label used for food) can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients.

So what’s an eco-minded beauty buff to do? Get informed, of course. Online databases like EWG’s Skin Deep and GoodGuide score products on the amount of potentially harmful ingredients they contain, while more and more beauty brands are taking a sustainable stance on manufacturing and what goes into their products.

Many retailers have dedicated themselves to vetting the products they sell, too. Whole FoodsWhole Body department is one of them. The retailer has been screening every last shampoo, face cream and bar soap on its shelves with its Premium Body Care standards since 2008, examining not only ingredients but their impact on the environment and efficacy, too.

We asked Whole Foods Global Quality Standards Coordinator Jody Villecco to give us a quick rundown on how to make more natural, greener, more eco-friendly choices when it comes to our beauty routines.

Do “natural” products work as well as traditional formulas?

Yes, definitely. At this point, natural personal care ingredients have a proven track record, where there is no longer a step down or trade-off in functionality compared to conventional cosmetics products. With innovation and scientific research supporting the benefits of many new plant-based ingredients, natural personal care products are being increasingly perceived as comparable to mainstream products and efficacious in their own right. This change has been made possible by greater availability of safer, more natural raw materials due to the dedication of innovative raw ingredient suppliers, as well as the willingness and enthusiasm of vendors to reformulate unacceptable products.

What are the top 3 ingredients consumers should avoid?

1. Formaldehyde releasing preservatives—including diazolidinyl urea, dmdm hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. Under certain circumstances of formulation and storage, these ingredients have the potential to release formaldehyde in very small amounts. These are banned and/or highly restricted in other countries. Because there are higher quality preservatives available, we do not allow these ingredients in Premium Body Care.

2. Chemical sunscreens—including oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate. Chemical sunscreens have safety concerns since many have been shown to have endocrine disruption activity, and they also seep deep within the skin to work. These are not allowed in the Premium Body Care standard, especially since we offer physical sunscreens, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, as safer alternatives.

3. Triclosan—This anti-bacterial ingredient does not break down in the environment and may contribute to bacterial resistance. There are also potential safety concerns. Furthermore, a recent FDA advisory panel report stated that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soaps. We do not allow triclosan in any of the personal care products at Whole Foods Market.

Does adopting a natural/organic/sustainable beauty routine mean you can’t smell good or wear makeup?

Not at all. It does not have to be all or nothing when it comes to natural beauty products. You can pick and choose the natural products that fit your particular beauty routine, based on efficacy, safety concerns or personal preference. In some cases, you won’t notice the difference in the functionality of natural lotions/moisturizers, facial care products, lip balms, hand sanitizers, or mineral make-up, which are easier to formulate naturally. In addition, natural scents are becoming more sophisticated in their scope, so you can still smell beautiful. Natural deodorants—my favorite is the Weleda Rose Deodorant Spray—can also help here.

We actually created some how-to makeup videos, like ‘how to get a natural looks using mineral makeup,’ that can be found at wholefoodsmarket.com/makeup.

What are some of your personal and staff favorites?

Favorites include:
· Alaffia, especially their luscious shea butter-based lotions, their Everyday Shea body wash, their Beautiful Curls line and their African Black Soap.
· Badger, which has a wonderful line of non-nano, physical sunscreens.
· Mineral Fusion make-up, which is comparable to conventional products in product selection and color palette—especially their nail polish.

Pangea’s Italian Red Mandarin with Rose lip balm is a staple, one always in my purse, another in my bathroom. I swear by Weleda Skin Food— it’s perfect for my sensitive skin and occasional irritation. I also use Weleda’s Calendula Baby Face Cream. It’s pretty much the only thing that keeps my face looking fresh. Who says it’s only for babies? Another favorite is our 365 Everyday Value Essential Oils (my favorite is peppermint.) They are very muli-purpose— I put a few drops in a mist bottle and use it as a DIY room freshener, and sometimes I put a few drops in the bath.

What natural beauty boosters do you swear by?

Read more: Natural Beauty Tips Every Girl Should Know