When I first started paying attention to the labels on my makeup and beauty products, I thought that if it said green, eco-friendly, natural, or even had a pretty splash of green on the label, it was somehow better for me. But as I started digging and researching, I realized that this wasn’t always the case. I sifted through long ingredient lists and words that I couldn’t pronounce, only to realize that green beauty is, well, a very green industry.
In general, the natural beauty industry is still very young; depending where you live, there aren’t always strict rules for product labelling, making it even more confusing if you’re trying to go green. I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power, so what’s a green beauty enthusiast to do?
Ask an expert.
Paige Padgett is a makeup artist, an expert on green beauty, and the author of The Green Beauty Rules: The Essential Guide to Toxic-Free Beauty, Green Glamour, and Glowing Skin. In an effort to empower myself and others to make healthy choices, we’re stripping down the green beauty industry to get to the root of what really matters. Whether you’re looking for a new product (spoiler alert: Paige gave me the names of specific brands to try!) or to educate yourself before you step in the beauty aisle, arm yourself with this information to help you clean up your beauty routine.
1. What makes a beauty product “green”?
For me, it’s being chemically safe and ideally with primarily natural ingredients. Organic is a bonus – especially for make-up. It’s impossible to find colour that is 100% organic but often you will find organic ingredients. I strive for chemically safe ingredients.
2. What are some of the health reasons to consider a green beauty routine?
Cosmetics are filled with toxic chemicals that are linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and cancer. That’s enough reason for me.
3. What is the difference between organic and natural?
Unfortunately, the word “natural” means nothing in marketing and on labels. There’s no regulation for the term. Organic is more regulated but regulation is a bit lax and ambiguous for the average person. According to the USDA, in order for a product to use the term “100% organic” it must be just that, excluding water and salt. To use the USDA Organic seal a product must be at least “95% organic excluding water and salt.” To use the word “organic” a product must have 70% or more organic. If a product has less than 70% organic ingredients the term “organic” is not allowed on the label anywhere. So you see how confusing it can be. You really have to research it.
4. What are the different eco-certifications out there and which ones should I pay the most attention to?
ECOCERT, a French certification, and USDA Organic are the most common in the US for cosmetics. There are others such as NSF International (NSF), Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS) and Organic Consumers Association (OCA) which are US organizations as well as BHID, a German certification, The Soil Association in the UK; Certech, a Canadian organization and Australian Organic are all respectable seals and should be sought out.
5. When looking for a green beauty product, what ingredients should I see at the top of the label?
Natural ingredients you can pronounce. For example, castor seed, apricot seed, or sunflower seed oil are first in a lip gloss. The closer they are to the top of the list, the higher concentration of the ingredient.
6. What green beauty swaps do you suggest?
Look for white willow bark and grapeseed oil instead of parabens and essential oils instead of fragrance.
7. What are your favorite green beauty resources?
My go-to resource is the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can also check out the companies who signed the compact for safe cosmetics (the EU directive) at safecosmetics.org and, of course, paigepadgett.com.
8. If people choose not to 100% go green, what are some harmful ingredients you recommend that they avoid?
Omit fragrance. By eliminating fragrance you can cut out 30-300 potentially toxic chemicals. More than 90% of chemicals in fragrance are petrochemicals. Phthalates are especially of concern since they are fragrance and are linked to a birth defect in boys. If you see the word fragrance, perfume or parfum, don’t buy it.
9. What do you feel is the most common misconception people have about green beauty?
That one must sacrifice beauty and performance to be clean and environmentally friendly. You don’t have to sacrifice performance, taste, or beauty. Especially today; there are so many gorgeous and luxurious chemically safe and eco-friendly products on the market. The colors have come a long way too. They are no longer muddy. You can have vibrant pinks now.
I do artistry for celebrities, television, and magazine shoots using chemically safe make-up and it’s always glamorous. There are so many options out there; you simply have to find what works for you. As with all cosmetics, people prefer different textures, colors, smells, etc. You have to learn about every product individually to know if you like it. It is the same for all cosmetics.
10. Being a make-up artist – is it realistic to be able to do your job well by only using all-natural, green, clean make-up?
It used to be hard to be 100% clean as a professional artist because brighter, more vibrant colors are needed but that has changed in the past 5 years. I approach green beauty like a diet – in terms of our skin, it eats a high percentage of what you put on it (60%). At this point, I always say if you are clean all week and you want to wear the neon lipstick on the weekend, then wear it. It is the 80/20 rule — you can pick and choose your chemicals for the other 20 percent.
11. What is a green beauty expert? What does it mean to be green?
Green beauty expert means that I specialize in chemically safe and eco-friendly make-up. For me, being green is both a micro and macro issue with respect to the health of the individual and the environment.
12. What are the top major toxic chemicals to watch out for? Why?
Look out for parabens, fragrance, and petrochemicals. Parabens are in nearly everything so you are getting much higher accumulations of them than other chemicals and fragrance has potentially hundreds of toxic chemicals. Petrochemicals are linked to so many diseases such as birth defects and cancer.
13. You tell people to become a “box turner.” What do you mean? Read the packaging and ingredient labels?
When a company is clean they will nearly always incorporate it into their marketing. They are proud of it. And the more specific they are the better. Transparency is everything. But you still have to know what you are looking for like key words, certifications, stamps, and seals. Some are great, others mean nothing.
14. Do your green beauty interests extend to all facets of your life?
Definitely. I think everyone should realize that little changes have big impacts. For instance, I purchase used cars, forego plastic bottles and any plastic bags when shopping – the usual stuff. But greening my personal and professional beauty kits had been one of my biggest efforts for the environment. Eating organic is also a huge part of who I am. I’m a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian (I only eat eggs and dairy) and I buy local produce. These are things everyone can do as they are not difficult. I look forward to doing more on a larger scale in the future.
15. Can you suggest specific “Paige approved” products to replace the everyday essentials in our makeup bag?
Mascara: W3ll People
Blush: Ecco Bella
Foundation: Zuzu Luxe
Eye Shadow: Zuii Organic
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