Green beauty—also referred to as natural, vegan, nontoxic or clean beauty—is a complex topic with so many variables it can make your pretty little head spin. I’m going to quickly touch on the “hows” and “whys” of going green with your beauty routine and focus as much as possible on real-life tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years. Skincare and beauty (hair and makeup) are so personal; the things people enjoy using and the styles we prefer vary immensely. Besides that, the choices you make and the path you take to become better and healthier will always be up to you. Don’t ever feel bullied or pressured to be at a certain level of perfection when it comes to your health. The most important thing you can do is to be as educated as possible. That way, your decisions are as crystal clear as they can be. I’m hoping that some of the ideas laid out here will having you thinking about something new to try and inspiring you to question and experiment with the way you navigate your self-care practices.
Why Go Green or Vegan?
Going green or vegan with your personal-care and beauty routines is a personal choice that, in almost every way, can be positive and beneficial to your own health as well as the environment and planet. It’s important to keep in mind that “green” and “vegan” do not mean the same thing in the beauty industry. “Cruelty-free” does not equate to vegan (free of all animal products). If you’re following or starting a plant-based diet, it’s very likely that eventually this lifestyle will spill over onto other aspects of your life. In the past decade, we’ve seen an enormous surge in information on and availability to self-care products and practices. One of the great things about going green or vegan in your beauty routine is that you can do it as slowly or quickly as you choose to. The most important step you can take on this journey, as in most of life, is to learn as much as possible and make the most informed decisions that you’re able to make. Please use the tips and resources in this article to your advantage! Always help others—don’t become a judgmental vegan. Keep an open mind and heart.
Resources for More Detailed Information
The Internet is a seemingly bottomless pit for information on green beauty. Here are some of my favorite resources on several different platforms.
You’ll find the most extensive and trustworthy information in books. Check your local library or flip through these books in your nearest bookstore for an overview on green beauty, but I cannot recommend enough how important it is to read published books as opposed to just website articles as much as possible. Make it a goal for you in 2016 to choose and read one of these wonderful resources!
- No More Dirty Looks by Siobhan O’Connor
- Eat Pretty by Jolene Hart
- The Honest Life by Jessica Alba
- The Green Beauty Guide by Julie Gabriel
- Organic Body Care Recipes by Stephanie Tourles
- Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore
- Natural Organic Hair and Skin Care by Aubrey Hampton
- Homemade Beauty by Annie Strole
- The Natural Beauty Solution by Mary Helen Leonard
- Toxic Beauty by Samuel S. Epstein
YouTube helps us keep up with trends, products, tutorials and reviews in video format! I watch these channels, but there are hundreds if not thousands of other options.
- Wife Life: Rhian is an all-vegan, all-cruelty-free makeup lover. She is 100 percent vegan but not 100 percent toxin-free. She also has nice product reviews, book reviews, cleaning tips and more.
- Teri Miyahira: Teri, however, is steadfast when it comes to clean and nontoxic beauty care but not 100 percent vegan. If you are choosing to be 100 percent vegan and avoid things such as beeswax, be sure to double-check all the products she recommends.
- Brittany Vasseur: Brittany has an excellent channel on home cleaning, organization and generally DIY lifestyle tips. She has some nontoxic beauty tips and recommendations. I also love her housecleaning tips using natural ingredients.
- Kristen Leanne: Kristen is a longtime professional makeup artist who went “cruelty-free” mid-career. You can watch her backlog of videos as she makes the common transition to 100 percent cruelty-free products.
Watch Wife Life’s Rhian in a Get-to-Know-Me Video
Some other vegan and/or green beauty channels with a wide range of product reviews are:
- Sarah Nagel of Holistic Habits
- Emma from Chemical Detox
- Natasha St. Michael at Raw Radiant Health
- Andie of The Green Queen
- Naturally Laura Kathryn
A great thing about watching a professional makeup artist is that you can “veganize” all their looks and ideas. My advice is to take tips from anywhere and customize them. I watch so many other makeup artists, professional aestheticians and beauty gurus on YouTube for their ideas. I am personally equipped (and so are you) with the tools and knowledge needed to detoxify and veganize most of the makeup ideas I get from these fun-to-watch YouTube starlets. A few of my favorites include Jaclyn Hill (JaclynHill1), Kathleen Lights [Fuentes] (KathleenLights), Emily Fox (BeautyWithEmilie), Kandee Johnson (KandeeJohnson) and Nicole Guierrero (Nguerriero19).
Another tip for finding great videos on YouTube is simply to use the search bar for something or someone in specific you’re looking for. If, for example, you’d like to make your own vegan oatmeal face mask, then search for it on YouTube! I have found some very helpful and awesome videos using this method. Great videos often come from people who don’t necessarily have an entire “channel” or dedicate their career to YouTube. Try doing this and look for the most popular or most viewed videos on your particular concern. There are countless videos on natural acne cures, hair care and making your own products at home. You can also search for interviews with specific beauty specialists. For example, Nadine Artemis from Living Libations, a wonderful toxin-free Canadian brand, has done many public speeches and interviews that are on YouTube but, again, are not necessarily on her one channel. Search for interviews with Nadine, Rose Marie Swift, Jane Iredale, Tata Harper, May Lindstrom and anyone else you read about or come across in life.
Last but not least are the vegan vloggers! Vegan vloggers often have videos in their catalog on morning and/or evening skincare routines, favorite products and tips and tricks. Check out Rawvana, SupremeBanana and the Queen of Green herself, Megan Elizabeth, for excellent guidance and ideas. Megan has several videos dedicated to this topic that are just waiting for you to view! Megan is not only a longtime vegan and raw foodist but also experiences allergies and chemical sensitivity from an array of mainstream ingredients. Most of her recommendations are food-grade, allergen-free and all organic. Below, enjoy her playlist of four videos: “Natural Beauty Products,” “Raw Organic Makeup Tutorial Updated,” “Raw Organic Makeup (Make Your Own)” and “My New Favorite Natural Products.”
Watch Megan Elizabeth’s Playlist “Natural Beauty, Makeup and Skincare”
Blogs and Twitter
Blogs and Twitter are great for stabilized information. Simply using Google to search for a particular topic will lead you to helpful blogs and websites. I personally love using Twitter to follow people with good blogs. That way, you won’t forget to check a particular blog on a regular basis—just use Twitter and click on the links or tweets that appeal to you.
On LogicalHarmony.net, Tashina Combs has created an index of vegan and cruelty-free products that is an extremely useful resource. She also has reviews, tutorials, informative articles, recipes, lifestyle tips and more. Logical Harmony has an e-mail newsletter updating its recipients on the latest cruelty-free and vegan beauty products. Get on the list!
Go Straight to the Source—the Shops!
Following a “green beauty” shop or brand on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook is an excellent way to learn about green beauty products and practices. Instagram is a completely free resource of great content available at your fingertips! You can scroll through all these stores at absolutely no cost and do your own research on what might work best for you. After finding some potential products to buy or try, make sure to Google some reviews from “real people” before purchasing. Remember, these stores want to make sales at the end of the day. But many of them also care deeply about your health and your trust. Some of the top green beauty shop Instagram pages are: Credo Beauty, The Detox Market, Eco Diva, Petit Vour, Vegan Cuts, Follain, Fit Glow Beauty, Think Dirty, Shop Conscious Beauty, Beauty Counter and Spirit Beauty Lounge.
What Do All the Terms Mean?
Let’s go over the most common terms in the green beauty movement. First, there’s “cruelty free.” This means that the product is not tested on animals, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s vegan or toxin-free.
Second is “vegan.” Look for the “V” for “vegan” symbol on the label, or sometimes it’s written along with cruelty-free as “cruelty-free and vegan.” This is a guarantee of no animal products but not one of toxin-free. The third term to look for is “food grade.” This means you can actually eat your beauty product! This is the highest and most strict label, and it won’t be very common. Again, food grade will not mean that a product is vegan, but it does ensure safety for use on the skin.
Let’s not forget the “leaping bunny” certification that is seen on many products. Remember, this indicates that a product is not tested on animals not that it is (or isn’t) vegan. Lastly (for now), is “organic.” Organic is obviously a great term to find on your products, but, once again, does not indicate “vegan-ness.” Any skincare or beauty product with 75 percent or more organic ingredients is going to be quite safe for use on the skin. Remember that some small, independent companies use organic or even home-grown ingredients but cannot afford to become organic-certified. If a product claims to be organic but lacks the certification, ask them. You’ll get a good feel for their authenticity if you call or e-mail someone from the brand.
What does this tell you about the terms we have in green beauty? It tells you there is no official certification for safe products! There are thousands of ingredients, thousands of brands and products, and infinite opinions on what is truly safe and healthy for us to use on our bodies. This is one of the reasons that green beauty must be a personal decision at this point in time (until our products are regulated in additional ways). We are warriors, soldiers, crusaders for health and natural beauty. We are bound together yet strung apart. We are in this together, yet each alone. Life is so exciting, isn’t it?
Ingredients to Look out For
When it comes to vegan beauty products, there are some top ingredients to look for when choosing a product. First, there is beeswax, also known as Cera Alba. Beeswax is a huge issue in the beauty industry, especially in natural beauty, because it is widely used as an emollient and sticking agent. You’ll find beeswax in mascaras, lipsticks and lip glosses, many lotions and creams, and some hair products. Beeswax itself is nontoxic, which is why a lot of organic and green brands use it so ubiquitously.
Another nonvegan ingredient is carmine, made famous for The Food Babe’s protest against carmine in pink-colored Starbucks drinks. Carmine is used as a red dye in lipsticks and blushes and (spoiler alert!) is made out of crushed beetle heads. Look out for carmine toward the end of the list of ingredients. Because these are listed in order of the amount used, and only a small amount is needed, it likely will be toward the end (so don’t stop reading after the first few words)! Other than not being vegan, carmine is disgusting (OK—that’s subjective). And since alternatives to this dye choice have been created, there is no good reason to support or use bug heads in your makeup. What really grinds my gears (rant alert!) is that carmine can be found in some “cruelty free” brands and products. I’m personally not sure how crushing any animal’s head can be done in a cruelty-free manner. This is a great example of how and why to always question authority, the media and every choice you make for yourself that affects your health, ethics and financial decisions.
A few other ingredients that may be found in green or organic products include silk (found in many powder products), honey (found in some face washes and lotions), milk (used in some cleansers), yogurt (ask your aesthetician before using this in a facial) and retinol (some forms are animal-derived).
Regarding ingredients to look out for in terms of toxicity, I’m afraid this is a much more complicated and answerless topic. There are many research studies and myriad books and articles you can read on the effects of toxins found in beauty products on the body. I couldn’t possibly tackle this topic in one short article, nor do I have the expertise to do so. But let’s go over some of the big ones that are best to avoid as much as possible.
First, there are parabens. Parabens are basically preservatives whose effect on estrogen has been linked to fertility issues and breast cancer. Here is a blurb from a story on parabens in Best Health Magazine:
Their names are a mouthful—methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. You’ll find them listed on thousands of personal care products such as shampoos, mascara, foundations and body lotions. But over the past few years, a debate has been building among scientists, product safety regulators and cosmetic manufacturers about whether these ubiquitous chemicals, used for almost 70 years, may actually be harmful to our health. Some of the questions being asked: Is the rising incidence of breast cancer linked in part to the fact that parabens, which have a weak ability to mimic estrogen, have been found in breast cancer tumors and can be isolated from other body tissues? Are declining sperm counts and increasing rates of male breast cancer and testicular cancer related to the fact that these chemicals can be absorbed into our skin, potentially disrupting our endocrine systems? We don’t know yet. But some researchers feel there may be reason for concern.
Check out another article on parabens in Real Simple Magazine.
Secondly, you want to stay away from sulfates. Sulfates help create lather in soap and shampoo products. They are very drying to the hair and can cause hair loss. Sulfates are basically derived from poison, and although they won’t kill you, they may be worth avoiding. You can read more about sulfates in The Huffington Post.
Third, we’ve got phthalates. Phthalates likely are bad for us, but we can’t seem to prove how or why. The good news is this: There are plenty of companies avoiding phthalates, sulfates and parabens. Look for this to be written on any packaging. If it’s not written, don’t assume it’s free of these chemicals. Read more on this topic in The Guardian. Here’s an excerpt:
Name a major public health concern over the past two decades and there’s likely some link to phthalates exposure. In the past few years, researchers have linked phthalates to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and [Type 2] diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues.
Keep phthalates away from babies and pregnant women, too, according to this article in The Baby Center.
Petroleum is neither vegan, nontoxic nor sustainable. Look for this in many lipsticks and lip balms as well as first-aid care and hair products.
How Can I Monitor My Product Use?
1. Read all ingredients carefully.
2. Look for the certification symbols on the packaging of products.
3. Use third-party websites and apps
4. Employ outside resources for recommendations.
Websites and Apps
- Think Dirty: Rates ingredients in products for toxicity (app only)
- Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep: Has both an app and a website but is not often updated
- Good Guide: Rates household products, foods, and some beauty products
The Biggest Obstacles in Green Beauty
I happen to believe that the biggest obstacle in green beauty we’re facing today is simply access to green beauty, followed by transparency and certification issues. Many natural products are hard to find and obtain. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a Whole Foods Market or other “health food store,” you can obtain most of what you need that way. Slowly, products and companies are gaining access to mainstream shops such as Target (Dr. Bronner’s, E.L.F. Cosmetics), Ulta Beauty (Pacifica, NYX Cosmetics, Juice Beauty), Sephora (First Aid Beauty, Tata Harper, Tarte, Farmacy, ILIA), and Ricky’s (100% Pure). But to navigate these muddy waters, you need to know what you’re looking for and still read everything carefully. My two pieces of advice for finding the best natural beauty products for your needs are to always ask for samples (or buy samples) and to find these things at physical shops. My final, most powerful, yet most difficult piece of advice is to make your own beauty products. The books I have listed above along with many blogs and online resources will help you learn how to do so. I will briefly list a few ideas in the sections to follow.
A Warning to All Beauty Product Consumers
My biggest warning to all consumers is not to expect or hope that any one company or brand will be vegan, toxin-free or reliable across the board. I think the best thing you can do for yourself in terms of convenience and ease is to pick and choose the individual things you use on your body and bring into your home. Remember that some organic brands use beeswax, carmine and other nonvegan or toxic ingredients in some products but not others. Take personal responsibility and control of each little choice you make each day.
The No. 1 Rule of Beauty
I have a rule on beauty that I hope will inspire people. After reading Marie Kondo’s books The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, I feel even stronger about this practice, as she has the same theory on the items you keep in your home. The No. 1 rule of beauty is that you should enjoy what you’re doing. Whether it’s an essential oil regimen, a skincare practice or a makeup product, take a moment while you are doing or using this to inquire within. Close your eyes, tap into your intuition and ask yourself, “Do I love this?” and “Is this good for me?” As a vegan and/or a sharp, aware, inquisitive person, this should be pretty easy for you. In the moment when you ask this question, remember that you can continue or stop the particular practice at any time. Joy, pleasure, comfort and happiness is to remain at the core of your beauty practice at all times.
I have two other beauty rules to live by, which I will add to this section as well. Rule No. 2 is to always keep an open mind. You can learn a lot from any person or any resource in life. Don’t just look for 100 percent vegan or 100 percent perfectly clean resources to learn about beauty and makeup. Take in all of the advice and information that comes to you and filter that information through your own personal life lens. You can make anything vegan, toxic-free, green, homemade, etc. if you have knowledge and tools to do so. The third rule was taught to me in my makeup artist course. Rule No. 3 is to never be brand loyal.
Here’s a little tip to keep in mind: There is a pecking order when it comes to clean and green beauty. The order goes something like this: mechanical/physical, food-grade, natural, nontoxic, cruelty-free. Mechanical or physical beauty practices are ones that are done with no chemicals whatsoever. Good examples of this are skin brushing, haircuts, tweezing your eyebrows, using jewelry/stickers/fashion, face exercises, self-massage, and so-on. Next in the order is food-grade beauty. This includes using anything you can eat (without any harm) in your beauty routine. Next is natural beauty, which includes products that are completely nontoxic but not edible. Next are nontoxic products, which are alternatives to mainstream chemical products. Lastly, there are cruelty-free products, which are not guaranteed to be toxin-free but a good alternative for transitioning or occasional use. I’ll give examples of each for the following categories: self-care, skincare, makeup, hair care and nails.
One Last Note
One final thing to mention on this topic is the extreme importance of understanding your “type” for each of your adorable and beautiful body parts. Other than understanding your personal taste and style, which is intuitive, it’s extremely helpful to understand your type. This way, you can take recommendations from people with similar types. If something doesn’t work for you, just remember that you need to match up with your type. I’ll give you some examples of my type(s). That way, you can have a starting-off point. You can check to see if perhaps you’re the same, the opposite or somewhere in-between the examples I give.
- Face skin: Acne-prone, slightly oily, fair, warm undertones with pink flush, balanced
- Lips: Prone to chapped, can be dry
- Eyelids: Oily, shiny
- Nails: Average, can grow very long or break easily, prone to hangnails
- Body skin: Balanced, fair, can freckle, warm undertones
- Hair: Course, long, doesn’t need to be washed often
- Mechanical: Neti pot (two times a week), skin brushing (two times a week), pin-rolling on scars (one time a week)
- Food-grade: Coconut oil for dry patches only, hydrogen peroxide dabbed in the ears to remove ear wax (dab lightly with a Q-Tip and rinse with water)
- Natural: Bentonite clay for body scrubbing
- Nontoxic: Essential oils for fragrance and aromatherapy (rose oil, grapefruit oil). Blends from 21 Drops are convenient and helpful for oil newbies.
- Cruelty-free: I use only Dr. Bronner’s soap on the body. Allafia Black soap is also good.
- Mechanical: Use a soft brush to wash your face
- Food-grade: Lemon juice as toner, baking soda for facial scrub
- Natural: 100% Pure’s Vitamin C Serum
- Nontoxic: May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver Clay Mask. Fig+Yarrow makes excellent dry-clay skin masks (meaning you mix with water or apple cider vinegar at home).
- Cruelty-free: Yes! To Blueberries Eye Cream. Check out the line called One Love Organics. I like their scrub, eye balm and dry shampoo.
Here is a great list of how comedogenic (or pore-clogging) different oils can be for your skin
- Mechanical: False (synthetic!) individual eyelashes by Ardell, any jewelry I make or find on Etsy 🙂
- Food-grade: Rub cooked beets on your lips and cheeks for a natural stain
- Natural: Hurraw Lip Balm in Cherry for a bit of color
- Nontoxic: W3ll People Mineral Foundation (used on spots or all over)
- Cruelty-free: Armour Lip Gloss, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Definer (vegan), Lily Lolo Mascara
- Mechanical: Clip-in (synthetic!) extensions by Hair-Do, cute barrettes from J. Crew, Nume Hair Wand for big waves
- Food-grade: Apple cider vinegar rinse (after shampoo and before conditioner)
- Natural: Argan oil
- Nontoxic: Calia Shampoo, Acure Conditioner
- Cruelty-free: Kevin Murphy Hair Masque (deep conditioner)
Ahhh, fingernails, the canvases of the hand! Fingernails and toenails are fun to take care of and are fun to look at and decorate. Mechanically, filing and clipping your nails is the best way to take care of them. If you have any sort of nail fungus issue, I suggest keeping your nails very short. Soak your nails in a diluted solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. This will help kill bacteria that lives under the nail. Try to avoid clipping your cuticles as much as possible. It’s fine to clip a hangnail or broken cuticle; it happens quite often. Manicurists cut cuticles to “clean up” the look of the nail, but this creates an unnecessary reason for the cuticles to grow back on their own. Gently push back your cuticles with a tool or the soft touch of your finger. Rub essential oils such as tea tree oil, castor oil, coconut oil or lavender oil on your nail beds to increase moisture and softness.
Nail polish can be tons of fun if you’re into that sort of thing. I personally did not paint my fingernails for more than 10 years, but now I like to again. You’ll notice that a lot of new nail polishes say “5-free,” “7-free,” and “10-free.” This is referring to the most harmful chemicals that are found in mainstream nail polishes. Obviously, the more “free” of chemicals, the healthier it will be for your nail. Keep in mind, however, that these polishes still have the smell of paint. In case you’re looking for a nail polish with no fume, you’ll want to look for water-based paint. These paints are used slightly differently from mainstream brands so refer to each for proper usage. Three brands that have created water-based nail polishes are Scotch Naturals, Aquarella and Sun Coat (red colors contain carmine). Zoya is 5-free and can be found at Whole Foods Market. Pacifica is a nice brand for 7-free polish and can be purchased at Ulta Beauty. The brand 100% Pure carries 10-free polish and can be bought online or from one of their few but special storefronts.
- Mechanical: I like to grow my nails as long as possible and file them into an almond shape. Alternatively, I keep my toenails as short as possible to avoid toenail fungus, a condition that runs in my family.
- Food-grade: A hydrogen-peroxide soak is great for the toenails. I also like to use coconut or cocoa butter on my cuticles.
- Natural: Jojoba oil is perfect for the nails
- Nontoxic: Aquarella water-based clear top coat
- Cruelty-free: PritiNYC 5-free nail polish
Check out Jenny Lapan’s transformation story!