Keep these tips in mind for smarter shopping.

How to Buy Natural

The safe-for-you, save-the-environment beauty movement has taken the cosmetics aisle by storm. So what's all the fuss about? Fans of Earth-friendly formulas think they're safer because they contain fewer synthetic chemicals that cause health and environmental concerns. Skeptics say these amounts are too minimal to matter and this is just smart marketing at its best.

There's a silver lining to this cloud of beauty banter. Natural and organic companies are popping up right here in the South, and these products are fun and equally effective. Your biggest challenge will be narrowing down the plethora of choices.

Learn the Lingo: Organic vs. Natural

"Organic" is anything that isn't synthetic or man-made. The USDA seal appears on products that use at least 95% organic ingredients. Anything containing at least 70% organics says "made with organic ingredients." Bottom line--organics are the safest way to feel confident in what you're buying.

Natural products are trickier to navigate. Cosmetic companies call just about anything natural because the government doesn't regulate use of this particular word. The best solution is to know what most experts agree we should avoid.

Natural No-No's

Here are a few ingredients in the hot seat now.

  • Lead―Found within coloring agents of some lipsticks and hair dye.
  • Mercury―Found within preservatives used in some mascaras and eye liners.
  • Phthalates―A chemical used in fragrance to stabilize scent.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate―Used in soaps such as shampoo and hand wash.

Read Beyond the Labels

Don't count on product packaging to clearly disclose ingredients. You'll still have to do your beauty homework. Environmental Working Group's Web site,, offers a comprehensive summary of ingredients of concern and has a database that gives safety ratings for specific products. Another tool is the FDA's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition Web site (

Sensitive Skin Safety Tips

Keep in mind that natural and organic products aren't for everyone. Botanicals--a primary ingredient in these lines--are a major allergen. Consult a dermatologist before trying these varieties.

Our editors tested natural and organic products. They found several that they loved.

  • Blood Orange & Vanilla Body Wash, John Masters Organics: "Gentle wash that smells natural."
  • Calming Chamomile Cleanser for Sensitive Skin, Renée Rouleau: "Great daily cleanser."
  • Sweet Orange & Vetiver Calming Blend Organic Bath Salts, Aromafloria: "First bath salts to bear the USDA organic seal."
  • Immune Boost Mustard Bath Soak, von Natur: "Perfect for soothing tired muscles."
  • All In One Invigorating Lemon Scrub, Kimberly Sayer: "Extremely gentle exfoliant." French Green Clay & Green Tea Purifying Mask, John Masters Organics: "Apply weekly to see noticeably fewer blackheads."
  • White Tea Soothing Complex, Renée Rouleau: "Works wonders to heal aggravated skin."
  • Tangerine & Calendula Healing Light Night Cream, Kimberly Sayer: "Starts reducing dark spots and scars overnight."

Healthy Benefits

  • Use products with around 15 ingredients to cut back on chemicals and increase your chances of tolerating something new.
  • Purchase cosmetics packaged in recyclable materials to reduce environmental waste even if you're not ready to try natural and organic products. mineral makeup

Get Label Smart To Buy the Best

  • Don't assume that mineral makeup is great for everyone. Dry skin types should avoid the popular powder-based formulas that increase dryness and opt for creamier blends instead.
  • Don't trust packaging. The government doesn't regulate what's in mineral makeup beyond the inclusion of actual minerals, so cosmetic companies can still sneak in other stuff.
  • Don't assume that your mineral makeup is free of synthetics. Research what you're buying to avoid fragrance and chemical fillers that bulk up the product.
  • Don't expect a clear line between natural and unnatural ingredients. Many popular lines use bismuth oxychloride, a mineral byproduct of lead and copper processing. Those who buy this makeup for its purity take issue because this ingredient doesn't occur in nature.