“Green” Beauty 101: Identifying Ingredients and Labels

I love when seasons change because so many other things in life get to change as well, like food, fashion, and beauty. We swap out hearty meals for lighter dishes with seasonal produce, pack the chunky sweaters for breezy tops and denim shorts, and go minimal with the skincare and makeup. Just like organic and natural food, there’s a demand for organic and natural beauty.

When it comes to cosmetics and skincare, 100% natural products are hard to find and market because “natural” is such a loosely defined term. If you really wanted to slather something on your skin that was 100% natural, then you should be all up in a Pinterest DIY board. But, there are a lot of other natural ingredients that can’t be picked up at the grocery store so this is where brands come in. They source out ingredients to create a product that’s safer for your skin, but they still might need to use other non‑natural ingredients, you know, for things like shelf-life, consistency, or smell. That’s when all the labels and vocabulary come in to make it confusing for all beauty products to fully be labeled as “natural.”

Here’s a glossary of ingredients you’ll see brands claim they don’t use on their natural products:

  • Parabens – a type of preservative to prevent bacteria. There isn’t enough evidence to prove that this ingredient is unsafe, but there have been studies that it can disrupt endocrine and reproductive systems.
  • Mineral oil – an oil made from petroleum and can clog pores.
  • Phthalates – group of chemicals found in soft plastics like vinyl flooring and shower curtains (what?!) and also cosmetics or fragrances (double what?!)
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate – foam creating ingredient in cleansing products and can cause dry skin.
  • Triclosan – antibacterial ingredient. Like parabens, there’s not enough concrete evidence to prove that it’s harmful in small doses, but there have been studies linking the ingredient to bacteria resistance and skin cancer.
  • Synthetic fragrances – can be derived from petroleum and other toxic chemicals.
  • Gluten (I didn’t know gluten could exist in cosmetics) – proteins found in wheat and can be used as an emulsifier and stabilizer.

And here are some other terms they might use:

  • Vegan – no animal by-products whatsoever – no honey, milk, beeswax, or anything creative like insect shells (see carmine.)
  • Cruelty-free – no animals or living things were harmed in the making or testing of the product
  • Hypoallergenic – unlikely to cause an allergic reaction

Check out the four brands below who claim to not use one or more of the ingredients above and decide for yourself how’d you like to incorporate more conscious products into your makeup and skincare routine.


via tartecosmetics.com

I like to think of Tarte as the Kate Hudson of makeup brands – fun, bubbly, and healthy, been in the game for a while, and knows her worth. Tarte uses “high performance naturals” and is pretty popular since it’s available in major cosmetic retailers like Sephora, Ulta, and Macy’s.

  • Packaging – colorful, cute, flirty. A lot of eco-friendly beauty lines don’t come with the cutest packaging, but you can include Tarte with your other high-end products if you were doing a “what’s in my makeup bag” post on Instagram.
  • Product assortment – both makeup and skincare, but I think the makeup is more popular. Foundation, mascara, eyeshadow, lipstick, blush, concealer, cleansers, moisturizers, self-tanner, and the list goes on.
  • Pricing – a little on the expensive side; foundation can cost almost $40. But, they’re a well-known brand and have well-designed packaging.
  • Availability – online, Sephora, Macy’s, Ulta

NO: parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, synthetic fragrances, gluten
YES: cruelty-free, giving back to charities

Herbivore Botanicals

via www.herbivorebotanicals.com

Still relatively new to the market comes Herbivore Botanicals, a skincare line made from all natural, plant-based ingredients like cold-pressed and essential oils. Think raw resources from the earth: pink and blue clay cleansing bars, rose face mists, and Himalayan soaking salts made in small batches in the USA. It’s almost as if you’ve been transported to a hot spring or a lush forest somewhere because that’s how natural and connected to the earth these products feel.

  • Packaging – minimalistic and everything is recyclable or reusable. Sleek enough to keep out in the bathroom and not hide in your medicine cabinet.
  • Product assortment – only skincare. Cleansing soaps, face oils and mists, and luxurious masks.
  • Pricing – moderately priced. There’s a lot of stuff under $25, but the face oils and masks are the most expensive.
  • Availability – online, Nordstrom, Sephora, Urban Outfitters, and local boutiques

NO: parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, mineral oils, petroleum, gluten,
YES: cruelty-free, recyclable/reusable packaging, vegan, made in USA

Lush Cosmetics

via lush.com

Homemade bath bombs galore. You’ve probably smelled a Lush store 3 blocks away or on the other end of the mall. This popular brand has more than 700 stores across 46 countries and takes pride in their homemade and eco-friendly values. However, do take note that some of their products are not vegan and use honey or milk and some have parabens or sulfates.

  • Packaging – basic, very basic. Anything that isn’t liquid is placed in a paper bag like if you were buying a scone in the bakery section of Whole Foods. Everything else is in a black plastic container that can be recycled. If you collect five containers, you can bring them back to the store for a free mask.
  • Product assortment – mostly known for skincare like fun and quirky bath bombs, scrubs, masks, cleansers, shampoo and shampoo bars, but they also offer a few makeup products like eyeliner, foundation, and lipstick.
  • Pricing – budget friendly. Inexpensive packaging does cut down a lot of costs and they do use parabens or preservatives which are also inexpensive ingredients.
  • Availability – online and in-store.

NO: mineral oils
SOMETIMES: vegan, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrance
YES: cruelty free, handmade, recyclable packaging, giving back to charities


via glossier.com

The chicest brand of all the brands here, due to its inception from Into the Gloss, a popular beauty blog. If Kate Hudson was Tarte, then I’d choose Millie Bobby Brown as Glossier – young, fresh, with a unique and fun personality. Glossier is not marketed as a all natural or organic skincare line, but I’ve included them here because they are transparent about using both artificial and natural ingredients as long as it’s simple. Even the term, “simple” gets lumped into the category of “green beauty.” In their opinion, artificial doesn’t equate to toxic. If you don’t buy into the 100% all natural eco‑friendly beauty bandwagon for any reason or you’re having a hard time finding exactly what you need, I think Glossier is a good midpoint.

  • Packaging – just the right amount of character. Cute, but also classy and not trying too hard.
  • Product assortment – “skincare first, makeup second” is what they like to say. If they’re only going to sell one cleanser, it’s going to be the best cleanser they’ve made.
  • Pricing – moderately priced – I think the prices are comparable to similar products and brands on the market.
  • Availability – online and in their NYC showroom

NO: parabens
SOMETIMES: vegan, fragrance free
YES: cruelty-free, hypoallergenic

Verdict: Out of the four brands listed, Herbivore Botanicals is probably the most natural. It’s hard out there in the green beauty world, I get it, but I hope this was helpful in identifying what matters to you when it comes to cosmetics and skincare. Not all brands are perfect, but let’s pay attention to those who are trying.

*Also, I didn’t get paid to write for any of these brands…I think I need to mention that because of some internet law…right?


Author: naturally sus(tainable)

take care of the planet, take care of yourself -

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