Painted On

By Cindy Cafferty

October 3, 2008 5 min read


Looking gorgeous doesn't have to hurt the planet

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

You've heard the slogans. You've seen the ads. You've probably sat through an infomercial or two.

Environmental awareness is spreading like wildfire, and the cosmetics industry has caught on. Websites and large health foods chains such as Whole Foods have started offering "natural" products.

Consumers are no longer limited to major drug and department store brands -- those that are least likely to be kind on your skin and the environment. The products are good for the environment and even better for you -- right?

The caveat is that the cosmetics industry is fairly unregulated. Instead of relying on independent sources to enforce standards, they are completely self-administered. "That's a huge issue right now," said Robyn Bloom, founder of and noted authority on the chemical make up of makeup products.

For the consumer, it means an uninformed eco-friendly dreamer can find herself in a beauty nightmare. Bloom and other industry pros suggest the best way to keep the environment and yourself beautiful is to arm yourself with a few facts, know the ingredients that shouldn't be in a product and opt for those that use the least packaging or allow you to refill original packaging.

The list of what can be found in cosmetics is a long one and likely to be overwhelming to the average consumer. However, knowing the main chemical offenders and deciphering some of the green language goes a long way to making smart and environmentally-friendly purchases -- without having to forsake the beauty in beauty products.


"If an ingredient is at all questionable or can't be pronounced, chances are you should avoid it," advised Bloom. Some of the most common culprits include:

* Parabens: Frequently used as preservatives, these can clog pores and, according to Bloom, have been linked to breast cancer. "Parabens are used by many of the large companies and are a product that should be avoided," she said.

* Phthalates: These ingredients are found in some fragrances and nail polishes and are used to extend the wear of the product. Phthalates are restricted in the European Union and California. Though the Food and Drug Administration deems them safe, like parabens, they have been linked to hormonal disorders as well as toxicity.

* Bismuth Oxychloride: Though it comes from minerals and is found in many mineral makeup products, it is a by-product of lead and copper processing. It can also be a skin irritant, particularly in warm weather.

* Micronized minerals: Micronized titanium dioxide and micronized zinc oxide are the most commonly used minerals. While titanium and iron dioxide are staples in mineral makeup, the safety of the long-term use of micronizing the ingredients is yet to be determined.

Other ingredients that don't do well for your skin or the environment include mineral oil, lanolin, PABA, petrolatum and propylene glycol.


Natural refers to ingredients derived from nature -- herbs, minerals and essential oils -- that don't use synthetics. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it is important to remember the top ingredients to avoid when looking at these products.

Organic refers to ingredients generally grown without pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones. They generally don't contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. However, it's important to remain cautious: Although there are independent companies who will certify organic makeup, there is no FDA certification for non-food organic products.

Some companies go through the process of certification for a portion of their products. Yves Rocher, a French company catering to local and international clients, is launching a new organic line, Culture Bio, in February 2009. The line offers seven eco-certified products.

"To have the Ecocert certification, you need a minimum of 95 percent natural ingredients and at least 10 percent organic ingredients," said Christina Hare, director of communications for Yves Rocher. "Our line has 98 percent natural ingredients and 85 percent organic ingredients."

Bloom's Purelycosmetics, Yves Rocher, Cargo and Lush cosmetics, to name a few, also concern themselves not with just what's in the makeup, but what the makeup comes in. Along with offering a variety of natural ingredient choices, they also have minimal, reusable or biodegradable packaging.

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