Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beauty Is Skin Deep

Recycled from the brain of Green Bean who went to Back to School Night instead of blogging. This post originally appeared at my new defunct personal blog, Green Bean Dreams.

Sitting at a table with friends and green moms I'd never met, I listened to the Whole Foods cosmetologist discuss skin care: what to avoid, what was safe, what brands had the fewest ingredients. I posted about my Safe Skin Care class a few weeks back but didn't think to share the details of what I learned until I read through the Beauty . . . Or The Beast chapter of Diane's MacEachern's Big Green Purse.

When I embarked on a cleaner beauty routine, I did it for the sake of the environment. I wanted to cut out packaging, ditch plastic bottles and reduce resources sucked up by needless beauty products. The toxins contained in those products - and my personal health - hadn't really factored into my decisions. Discussing skin and body care with toxin-free gurus, The Smart Mama and MamaBird, at Blogher, coupled with my Whole Foods skin care class and The Big Green Purse, motivated me clean out the rest of my medicine cabinet.

The best way, I've found, to find a cleaner product is to read the ingredients. Here is a list of ingredients deemed unacceptable by Whole Foods Market's Premium Body Care standards. An even easier way, though, is to pick products with fewer ingredients and to aim for only ingredients that you can identify. The unpronounceable ones are generally bad but, in particular, you want to avoid the following:
  • phthalates

  • parabens (usually these show up with "paraben" being the last part of a multi-syllable word)

  • trislosan

  • propylene glycol

  • sodium lauryl sulfates
Below are the skin and body care products I use. I've gradually migrated to them over the last 15 months or so. As a result, changing products hasn't been especially expensive. When I run out of something, I pick a replacement that is less toxic, with less packaging and/or less impact. Dropping some products or using them less as both Burbanmom and The Big Green Purse also keeps costs low. Better still, try, as Diane MacEachern and my Whole Foods instructor suggested, and go a day or two a week without any make up or hair care products. Give your body, your bank account and the environment a break.


I use and love my Burt's Bees shampoo bar. Some folks dislike the residue but I've always felt that it means my hair is clean. I notice no difference once my hair is dry. It only has about 14 ingredients - all recognizable - and has the added benefit of no plastic packaging.

I use a vinegar rinse in lieu of conditioner. I got the recipe from Life Less Plastic last winter and have been loving it ever since. It is super cheap, I'm in control of all the ingredients and it has virtually no packaging. Bonus - I reused a plastic bottle headed for the recycle bin as my dispenser. Here's how to make it:

1 liter of hot water (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup vinegar
1 bag of herbal tea, for fragrance

I'm not one of those people who feel that they can pass up on hairspray entirely. My hair just won't let me. Instead, I use Aubrey Organics Natural Missst hairspray. This one has a bit more ingredients than I would like (anyone have an alternative??) but it works great, even watered down a little, and I don't use it every day. Unfortunately, the bottle is plastic but I eek out as much as I can and then recycle the #2 bottle.

A couple times a week, I've got some unruly hair going on and will whip out my texturizer to subdue strands. I use John Masters Organics bourbon vanilla and tangerine hair texturizer. This was a recent purchase and I love the way it works . . . and smells. Makes me hungry. It comes in a glass bottle with a plastic lid.


Preserve toothbrushes, made out of recycled yogurt bins (#5 plastic) and recyclable through a return envelope available at the purchase site, seem to be the best bet.

I purchased my lip balm from the beekeeper at my farmers' market. Although the tube is made out of plastic (next time, I'll see if she can do it in a glass jar), the product is local, contains a handful of recognizable ingredients, and helps keep local bees buzzing.

Eco-Dent dental floss is hands down the most eco-friendly floss I've found. It is vegan waxed and comes in a paper (not a plastic) box that is printed with soy ink. The floss tends to come apart between teeth that are very closely spaced but it works well for me and my kids.

A lot of people use baking soda or homemade toothpaste instead of store-bought. I'm sorry. I'm a dentist's daughter and I just cannot do that. I use Jason Sea Fresh Gel and have for several years. It tastes good, works well and comes in a recycled plastic tube that is allegedly recyclable. Where and how, I have no idea. It has more ingredients than I would like, though. Anyone have a store-bought toothpaste without tons of ingredients that they love?


I'm not one to use a bunch of skin care products. First, I'm lazy. Second, I have sensitive skin that reacts to virtually everything. Here is what I do use, though:

I love the California Baby sunblock products. They seem to be the least toxic available and work really well. We've been using these - especially the stick - for several years.

I was a dedicated Cetaphil user for years but finally ran out a couple months ago and made the switch to a less toxic brand, Earth Science. The lotion applies beautifully, my sensitive skin loves it and it is paraben free. The ingredient list, though, is littered with long, methyl-sounding ingredients - not on the Whole Foods "No!" list but still . . .

For hand cream, I use one that comes in a glass jar from a local beekeeper. I love stuff like this that you can get local and can readily identify all five ingredients. Plus, it works great on dry, gardener hands.


I told you I was makeup-lite. This really is all I own. Because I use makeup only a couple times a month, it was the last thing I got rid of. After attending the Safe Skin Care Class, though, I decided that the stuff I had was better off in a landfill than on my body or down the drain.

I purchased some concealer from Lavera, an organic brand that specializes in sensitive skin. It is made with a long list of ingredients, only about half of them recognizable, and comes in a plastic tube (sorry Beth! but sometimes a girl has GOT to cover up a pimple). It does work really well and is way better than that three year old tube of Cover Girl I was using.

I also bought a Lavera compact for face powder. I'm not completely thrilled with the ingredients or packaging on this one but I am happy with how it works, it is less toxic and I will only use it a couple times a month.

Last on the list is my mascara - I had to take it out of the box for its photo op. It is from Zuzu and our Safe Skin Care Class instructor loves it. Again, it comes in a plastic tube that cannot be recycled so thumbs down on packaging. However, the mascara is made from nine ingredients - all of which are easily identified. Does it work? Totally!

There you have it. If beauty is skin deep, I'd like my skin to be as toxin-free as possible. What about you? What beauty secrets do you have to share? Anything homemade? Less toxic or less packaging than I've listed here?


Provillus said...

Greta blog!When I was looking for hair related blog, I came across your blog and found it informative.You can also visit for hair Treatment.

knutty knitter said...

I use soap, water and baking soda for body and hair. There is a natural deodorant cake and the soap is hand made.

I do use a dentist recommended toothpaste and floss.

There is a face thingy somewhere but I couldn't find it when I last tried to use it (about 4 years back). I'll probably toss it when I do find it (if ever).

There is also a lipstick which I never use except on other people for stage productions.

Thats it really.

viv in nz

Tammy James said...

I just found out olive oil is a great eye make up remover!

BrioII said...

I use a Gripit Floss Holder - - to floss daily and keep my teeth and gums healthy. These handy devices come with their own floss supply that can be advanced in seconds and refilled from local drug and grocery stores. They last a lifetime and don't clog landfills. I've had one for 35 years.

Simply Authentic said...

Great post! Wasn't sure if you've ever utilized the Skin Deep database to research products, but it's what I use to look up the ingredients and potential health impacts of what I use and had been using:

I too use Burts Bees shampoo bar, body soap, face soap, and chapstick that rate low in the data base and recently discovered the Sea Fresh Jason toothpaste--LOVE IT! I also use Preserve's toothbrushes and razors--although the razors aren't my favorite I continue to use them due to the enviro factor.

The whole chemical load of the personal care product industry is something I'm really passionate especially for women who then can pass on their chemical body loads to the fetus---so was glad to see you post about it again!!

Hope you have a great day!

Amy in Tacoma said...

Since my teen years, I had struggled with really bad dandruff, and red, itchy breakouts on my face. No dandruff shampoos seemed to help my scalp, and no treatments suggested by dermatologists helped my skin.

In my early 20s, in desperation, I slathered my skin one night with petroleum jelly, and the redness and itchiness went away. From that, I concluded that the only problem with my skin was that it was dry and sensitive. However, I found that no matter how hypoallergenic most skin care products claimed to be, my skin still reacted to it. It was only when I began making my own products a few years ago (I was a new mother concerned about what my daughter was ingesting through me), that I finally solved these problems. (continued in next comment)

Amy in Tacoma said...

It took a while, but here is what I do for my skin:

Every night, I cleanse with a small bit of powdered milk mixed with water, and moisturize with a mixture of pure aloe vera gel and vegetable glycerin. In the morning, I moisturize with a 50/50 mixture of melted shea butter and extra virgin olive oil, with a little vitamin E oil added.

Once a week, I exfoliate with a mixture of baking soda and water; mask with a mixture of yogurt, milled flax seeds and yeast, and tone with green tea, and then moisturze as usual.

I use grapeseed oil to remove makeup, and dab on a little jojoba oil around my eyes to deal with lines and bags.

I'm now in my early 40s and my skin didn't look this good 10 years ago! And no more breakouts!

Amy in Tacoma said...

For hair, I wash with Trader Joe's TeaTree Tingle Conditioner. My hair is very curly, and washing with conditioner is recommended for "Curly Girls." I had tried baking soda washes for a while, but it was too drying.

I rinse with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. This has SOLVED my dandruff problem like nothing else.

I moisturize my hair daily with a mixture of water, olive oil, aloe vera gel, vegetable glycerin and essential oils.

As with my skin, my hair and scalp have never been in such good condition. My only struggle (and if you're a wild curly head like me, you know what I'm talking about), is that I haven't worked out the best natural products for styling. I found a recipe online for a gel you make from flax seed and water, and that helps tame my hair a little bit.

So making my own products has been a godsend for the health of my hair; for the style (at least for now!), not so much.

daharja said...

Hi - I can't help wondering why companies make fantastic, eco-friendly products, then screw up on the packaging by putting their products in composite plastic, or even just straight plastic containers that are unlikely to be recycled.

I've started writing to the companies whose products I use, demanding better, more sustainable packaging.

Why not? Their products are supposed to be for *us*, after all!

I'm gradually shifting to more eco-friendly products, with some backsliding, but in all cases there's no excuse for cruddy, wasteful packaging. And I think companies are starting to take this sort of issue seriously, but will only make changes if we demand them.

ecofriendlybeautycarelover said...

thanks for the info! I was looking for some skin care tips. The ingrediants to avoid list was really helpful too! i found this great hair product at that works really well :)

Green Bean said...

Provillus: Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

Viv: Less is more, no doubt!

Tammy: Ohh, olive oil. I've never thought of that. Interesting how alot of those old fashioned, more natural remedies (e.g., olive oil, coconut oil) really are the best.

Brioll: Interesting! I've never heard of that. Thanks for sharing.

Simply Authentic: Thanks for mentioning the database. It came out after I first wrote this post and, as you can tell, I didn't have the time to go back through and update much. The database is a fantastic tool and I totally recommend it to everyone!

Amy: Wow! What a wonderful list. I'm going to have to digest this bit by bit and apply a fair amount to my life. Sounds like we've got similar skin and hair - except mine's not curly. :)

Daharja: Great point! I'm totally happy with the products but the packaging still needs to shape up. I'll have to start writing those companies as well. If we're going to spend a bit more on a product, it might as well meet all the characteristics we're looking for!

Beauty Care Lover: Thank you for stopping by. I'll have to look at the hair care link.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Great blog, something I really worry about a lot. I searched around and I found a company in Ireland that actually sell a range of beauty products that don't package their products in plastic. And it's not glass either, all the packaging is biodegradable. I think its great.
the name of the company is White Witch


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