Why to Go Au Naturel with Beauty Products

Experts explain how to look great without the frightening chemical intake: Say hello to natural makeup and beauty products.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Women use an average of 12 personal-care and beauty products every day. It may sound extreme but makes sense when you think about it. We’ve got our moisturizers, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, shaving creams, perfumes, hair products and makeup, which includes everything from mascara to foundation, concealer, eye shadow, lipstick, bronzer and so much more.

Now the scary news: According to the Environmental Working Group, an organization which looks at the intersection of public health and the environment, one out of every five personal-care products on the market contains chemicals linked to cancer, 80 percent contain ingredients that commonly contain hazardous impurities, and 56 percent contain penetration enhancers that help deliver ingredients deeper into the skin. Yikes.

Marisa Weiss, director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Medical Center and president and founder of breastcancer.org, urges people to think about what we put on our bodies in the same way that we think about what goes in them, and to err on the side of caution, since some ingredients in beauty products are still mysteries.

“We don’t have answers to some of these questions and until we do, so it’s better to be safe. Avoid hormones, parabens and phthalates,” she advises. “They may [individually] have a weak hormonal effect, [but] when used regularly they could have more of an impact.”

When you consider the number of products in our arsenal, it certainly starts to add up. Juliene Ebner, founder of Philly’s Juju Salon and Organics, notes a 2007 study, which found that the average woman absorbs almost five pounds (!!) of chemicals from beauty products every year. Which means: our devotion to looking good may be getting us into trouble, ladies.

So how can you protect yourself from chemicals while still looking your best? One option is to explore the all-natural arm of the beauty industry, investing in some truly organic, natural makeup and beauty products—those free of the parabens, petrochemicals (a.k.a. petroleum byproducts) and synthetic dyes and fragrances. But be cautious when buying.

“Reality is that the word ‘natural’ is not defined or regulated,” warns Weiss. “It’s used as a marketing tool to connect you to the product and make you think it’s going to take care of you.”

To ensure that you’re buying truly healthy products, Weiss suggests using the EWG online database, which allows you to look up specific products and see if they make the cut. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is another good source of information.

But what about cost? Aren’t organic, natural beauty products more expensive than the CVS-issue stuff? Not necessarily, says Ebner; organic products run the gamut in pricing.

“It’s how you use the product that may break your bank,” she explains. “When you buy, remember that the ingredients are pure and highly concentrated. Use accordingly, meaning, you don’t need a quarter of a cup of shampoo to wash your hair and you definitely don’t need to wash, rinse and repeat.”

If your products are seriously without preservatives, they won’t keep long so try to buy small amounts. Use less, use wisely and, if on a budget, buy only what you truly need.

Another idea is to think simple solutions. Weiss uses agave coconut oil as a moisturizer, and suggests corn starch as a good antiperspirant. Just put it into a knee high, and dab it into your pit or any crease that needs a de-sweating—voilà!

If you’re wedded to a brand that doesn’t happen to be organic, we get it. Just try to buy other daily-use products with the least amount of bad stuff.

For more healthy-living advice, see the Think Pink Live Green website. And for other staggering beauty stats, click here.

Looking for a place to buy your natural products? We asked our experts for their favorites:

Hylunia: A doctor created the line for his own children who had sensitive skin and allergies. Claimed to be so truly organic you could literally eat it!

Poofy Organics: Makes all-natural washes and creams, including sunscreens that boast 10 simple ingredients; seven are organic.

René Furterer: All of the active ingredients used for this line are essential oils and plant extracts, harvested from all around the world.

Sevi: A full line of handcrafted vegan beauty products. Is it a coincidence sevi means “love” in Turkish? I think not.

Volta Organics: A Philadelphia business that makes beautiful and high-quality skin, hair and body products. Pick ’em up at many Whole Foods locations.

>> Do you use any organic or natural personal care products? Which are your favorite, and where do you get them? Tell us in the comments!