It seems there’s an option to “go organic” with just about everything these days — and I’m glad! Organic makeup brands are just one great way to detox your beauty and personal care routine from the toxins you’ve probably been exposed to your whole life.
But does organic makeup really work? How do you know if you’re getting an amazing product or just something that claims to be “natural”?
Let’s look at the issues with conventional makeup. Then, I’ll walk you through the way to find your new favorite organic makeup brand… and share a few of my picks to give you a chemical-free makeup list, too.
WHAT’S ACTUALLY IN MY MAKEUP?
It might come as a shock that some makeup brands actually contain ingredients like lead and formaldehyde. Silicone? Endocrine disruptors? Carcinogens? These are all common things to discover on your makeup’s ingredient list.
It can be hard to know who to trust, with the confusing labels and the “greenwashing” many companies do.
Greenwashing is what happens when a company tries to make their ingredients and manufacturing look very healthy and environmentally friendly… even when they aren’t. Many companies greenwash in their marketing, acting like a mandated change to a formula was made by choice because they want to offer a “cleaner” product (1).
Even once you’ve figured out you’ve found a few honest organic makeup brands, the stuff that goes into making your favorite foundation or lipsticks is confusing. How do you know what ingredients to avoid?
Truth is, there are a lot of very yucky chemicals in makeup that simply have no business on or around our bodies.
About one in eight of the ingredients used in personal care products is a known toxin. Altogether, that makes up over 10,000 or so ingredients that could be hiding in your makeup (2).
Here’s a quick overview of some of the worst ingredients to avoid in cosmetics.
Paraben-free products are popping up everywhere — and for good reason. Companies use parabens to extend the shelf lives of their products. However, these preservatives act like estrogen hormones (making parabens a type of xenoestrogen) and can lead to estrogen dominance.
Some of the major effects of xenoestrogens in the body are male and female infertility, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, obesity, endometriosis, gallbladder disease and erectile dysfunction (3,4,5,6).
Although one paraben is considered a “weak” xenoestrogen, there’s no real way to know how many you’re exposed to every single day (7). Their effects probably get magnified when you absorb or ingest parabens from multiple sources.
Sad fact: parabens are found in foods, too.
Take a quick glance through your makeup bag and personal care drawer. Chances are, you’re going to find “fragrance” listed as an ingredient on most of the products there.
Where does the “fragrance” come from? Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine. There are over 10,000 chemicals it could be!
Synthetic fragrances are linked to kidney damage, autoimmunity, cancer, allergies, asthma and more (8). They are also linked to hormone disruption and can make autoimmune conditions even worse.
Some synthetic fragrances are a class of harmful chemicals called organic solvents, which cause your body to produce autoantibodies. These are produced when your immune system thinks healthy cells are actually foreign invaders.
High numbers of autoantibodies in your system can lead to pretty hardcore illnesses, ranging from eczema and celiac disease to Hashimoto’s and multiple sclerosis (MS) (9).
Other fragrance chemicals are phthalates, another class of endocrine disruptors that’s often found in plastics. Phthalates are easily absorbed into skin, so they’re worth avoiding in your beauty and personal care products. High-quality organic makeup brands steer clear of all synthetic fragrance.
Another class of preservatives in makeup, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are ingredients to avoid in makeup. Organic makeup brands won’t have these ingredients.
Used as food additives to improve shelf life since the late 1940s, you’d think these chemicals would be safe beyond any doubt.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. BHA and BHT both disrupt hormone function and may increase your risk for certain cancers (10,11).
Like parabens, it’s tough to know how much BHA and BHT you’re ingesting or absorbing. It’s just in so much stuff! Their known toxicity is why the European Union has banned their use in foods and cosmetics.
Organic makeup brands avoid all forms of formaldehyde. This ingredient can be tricky to spot on a label — manufacturers typically don’t label “formaldehyde,” but rather use formaldehyde releasers.
Formaldehyde releasers do exactly what it sounds like they might — they release formaldehyde into your products over time.
Using a “natural makeup brand” that uses formaldehyde releasers will result in higher and higher amounts of this known carcinogen. The longer you keep your products, the worse it’ll get.
Common formaldehyde releasers (read: look for this on a label) include (12):
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
Petroleum-based ingredient petrolatum is a synthetic ingredient that organic makeup brands don’t typically use. They opt for other hydrating ingredients that are sourced from food or other natural products such as coconut oil, cocoa butter, essential oils, olive oil or jojoba oil.
The biggest concern with petrolatum in your makeup is the chance it’s contaminated. PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are frequently found in petrolatum and are linked to cancer (13,14).
Baby powder in your foundation might seem innocuous. It’s not.
Talc, also labeled “talcum powder,” is associated with increased risks for ovarian and lung cancer. It can also make it harder to breathe and cause lung or respiratory disease down the road (15,16,17,18).
One reason talc may be so dangerous is because it naturally occurs very close to asbestos, a known carcinogen. This is just another one to avoid when you’re looking for organic makeup brands.
Perhaps a little less looming than some of these other ingredients, mineral oil simply isn’t great for your skin. It’s a petroleum by-product, which means it’s actually a synthetic makeup ingredient.
Mineral oil is also frequently contaminated with PAHs and may make skin age faster than normal. Some reports show that it may also promote acne.
Bismuth oxychloride is a coloring agent used in many mineral makeup brands. The EWG rates it as a 1/10, meaning it’s generally pretty safe (19).
However, many organic makeup brands avoid bismuth oxychloride altogether. It shares similarities to heavy metals and is chemically similar to arsenic and antimony. Many users share that it irritates the skin and might make acne worse.
Plus, bismuth oxychloride is the stuff in a lot of mineral makeup that gives you that strange, glowy sheen (20).
This ingredient may not be dangerous enough to avoid entirely. However, it might be worth finding a natural makeup brand without it that you like, especially if you have sensitive skin.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY MAKEUP IS ORGANIC?
Natural makeup brands go by many words, like “organic,” “natural,” “non-toxic,” “toxin-free” and “mineral.” What most people want to know is: Is my makeup organic?
The answer is yes… and no, not exactly.
See, only foods can be USDA-certified organic. That means they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and have been grown with specific processes to avoid any chemical contamination.
There’s technically no such thing as USDA certified organic makeup. However, organic makeup brands typically list which ingredients they use that are USDA-certified organic.
But it doesn’t mean that it’s made from only organic ingredients. Legally, a natural makeup brand can use the word “organic” under nearly any circumstances.
Obviously, this makes it more complicated when it comes to figuring out if you’re using high-quality, organically sourced, ethically made makeup. Typically brands that market themselves as “organic” are at least using natural ingredients, but you still have to be sure that this is the case.
Here are a few things I look for when choosing a great organic makeup brand:
The best natural makeup brands will be totally open about every single ingredient in each product they sell. Some of my favorite companies even list the reasons ingredients are used and why they’re truly naturally sourced, even though their name looks like a chemical description.
A “No-Go” list
Most natural makeup brands were probably created when a sharp entrepreneur learned about the dangers of harsh chemicals in makeup. A lot of great organic makeup brands will list on their website the stuff they don’t use. On that list, look for parabens, fragrance, BHA/BHT, formaldehyde, petrolatum and talc, to start. This is the most basic list of ingredients that you don’t want in your cosmetic products.
Synthetic pigments can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead. When companies use plant-based pigments – often straight from colorful produce like beets or berries – it’s a better option than using the harmful synthetics on the market. The challenge with plant based pigments is that sometimes you can’t get the pop of color that most of us are used to with conventional brands.
While plant-based pigments are ideal, thankfully there is a middle of the road. You can still use highly pigmented color without exposing yourself to a barrage of chemicals and toxins. As a general rule of thumb, products pigmented with iron oxides are considered safe while those pigmented with coal tar dyes (they often show up as FD&C or D&C on the label followed by a 5-digit number) should be avoided. Coal tar “is a known carcinogen derived from burning coal (21).” Not what you want to be applying to your skin or lips.
A lot of us turn to natural makeup brands after learning that we have skin or other reactions to conventional makeup. The best organic makeup brands will make sure to use no allergenic ingredients so that your skin actually gets healthier the more you use their products.
Gluten Free certification
It’s odd that we even have to go there, but yes, gluten free makeup is a thing. Unfortunately, gluten shows up everywhere. Until recently, it wasn’t normal for any makeup to be tested for gluten contamination. If you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, this might be a big key in eliminating skin or digestive issues your makeup could be causing.
HOW TO FIND ORGANIC MAKEUP
Feeling a little overwhelmed by what to avoid and how to choose? Before I get to my favorite natural makeup brands, let me give you two resources that will help you on your search!
This is your one-stop shop for buying from the best organic makeup brands. They have an extensive chemical-free makeup list of virtually any product you can imagine.
If you aren’t sure where to start, The Detox Market also offers a Detox Box, which functions as a subscription for a featured brand every month. That way, you can test out a number of different products to choose the one that you buy over and over.
Personally, I LOVE the detox box subscription because it allows me to discover new products that have already been vetted by a company that I trust. For more details on the detox box and how it all works, click here.
The next time you find yourself browsing, head over toEWG’s massive database of cosmetic ingredients, products and brands.
EWG’s Skin Deep Database features ratings and descriptions of nearly 75,000 cosmetic and personal care products.
They rate products on a scale of 1-10, one being the cleanest. Some products are even EWG-certified, meaning they are manufactured ethically and contain no questionable ingredients at all.
You can even find the Skin Deep Database (and their household products database) via the EWG Healthy Living mobile app. This is a lifesaver when you have questions about ingredients but you have no clue if it’s safe or not.
THE BEST ORGANIC MAKEUP BRANDS
Before we get started with the list of my favorite organic makeup brands I’ll go ahead and share that these are brands that I personally use (currently) or have used in the past and have been very happy with the results. So, I’m not just giving random recommendations – I actually have experience with these products.
Second, remember that companies can always change their ingredients and formulations. My current experience with these products and the integrity of the companies that make them is that they are safe and natural/organic brands that I trust. That being said, I can’t possibly check every single ingredient in every single product for every single brand.
So give the ingredients list a once-over to spot any offenders and at the very least, familiarize yourself with what a clean ingredient list looks like. Here’s my favorite organic makeup brands:
Gabriel and Zuzu Luxe are 2 different brands under the same ownership, Gabriel Cosmetics. Gabriel was one of the very first organic makeup brands I found back when I was making the switch to clean beauty nearly 10 years ago now. And they’re still one of my favorites.
They’ve been in the natural beauty business since 1992 so they really know what they’re doing. It also explains why the brand has such great formulations that are non-toxic and get the same kind of results you’d expect from conventional brand – they’ve had some time to get it right. The other plus is that this is a vegan skin care line that is completely cruelty free.
There were two things that stood out to me when I first started using Gabriel and Zuzu:
1- The Robust Product Offerings
These lines of makeup have everything you need in one place so that you can easily replace your toxic, conventional brands of makeup. Foundation, eyeshadows and primers, blush, lipsticks, lip glosses, lip primer, lip pencils you name it – this organic makeup brand has it all. And does it all well.
2- The Shopping Convenience
We do a lot of shopping at Whole Foods. Gabriel and Zuzu are both available in every Whole Foods I have ever been in which is so great because the store usually has testers of each product so that you can try before you buy. You can also find this brand in many natural health food stores. If there’s no health food store near you, you can also conveniently order online.
I have been pleased with every product I have purchased from Gabriel and Zuzu Luxe, but my favorites are the powder foundation by Gabriel and the Liquid Liner by Zuzu.
For the powder foundation, it’s often hard to match my skin tone and this is one of the few organic makeup brands that offers darker shades that truly match my skin. I use their foundation powder to “set” my tinted moisturizer after application.
I also love the variety of shades offered by Zuzu for their liquid liner. Black Pearl and Storm are two staple colors that I keep in my makeup bag all the time. If you’re wondering what the difference is between the two brands, there’s not much. Gabriel is more of the “classic” of the two natural makeup brands while Zuzu is a bit more modern and has different shades of makeup. They are both beautiful brands that are highly effective without a bunch of toxins.
This is another “one stop shop” organic makeup brand. Despite the funny spelling, W3LL People (pronounced well people) is actually a really solid natural makeup brand. They call themselves “the ultimate toxin-free eco-luxe cosmetic (brand) made in small batches with premium natural and organic ingredients.” Sign me up!
One thing this brand has going for them is their repeated features in Allure Magazine – the authority on conventional makeup and beauty products. Their Expressionist Mascara has won the Allure “Best of Beauty” Award on more than one occasion and I can agree that it’s gooood. Really good.
Over the years they have expanded their product offerings so that now you can completely replace all of your conventional makeup products in one place. What I also love about this organic makeup brand is that they really think about how they put their products together. Much of their product selection is multi-use or comes in a dual color palette so that you can get multiple looks from the same product.
One of my favorites is the Nudist Multi-Use Cream Stick. I love to throw this in my purse to naturally color lips and cheeks. I also like to use the Nudist Lip Butter to hydrate lips and also add a hint of color. And of course, the Expressionist Mascara does not disappoint. If you want to get more bang for your buck by getting multiple uses from the same purchase, this natural makeup brand allows you to easily consolidate products without compromising on quality.
Not all mineral makeup brands are created equal. There are some household name brands in the mineral makeup industry that I personally would not recommend using. Orglamix is a mineral makeup brand that actually goes the distance to provide safe, non-toxic beauty products that are free of harmful chemicals and garbage ingredients.
I found this brand about 5 years ago when I used to run my beauty blog. At the time it seemed they were just getting started. The thing that impresses me most is that their makeup is highly pigmented with gorgeous pops of color which is sometimes hard to come by when you’re shopping organic makeup brands.
I first started with their eyeshadows, which I have to say offer the most gorgeous shades of any organic makeup brand in the industry. You will not find a company that has more color variety yet still offers the same high standards that you would expect from a natural makeup brand. They have nearly every shade you could think of and they are beautiful. I have several of them. They get their gorgeous shades by using mineral pigments.
These days they have expanded their line to include foundation, blush, lip color, concealer and even skin care. Orglamix is a great choice for you if you love makeup that’s creative, fun and with beautiful colors.
Since I’ve been using natural and organic makeup brands the last several years, I can relate to so many women that find it frustrating (and overwhelming) when you’re trying to make the switch to non-toxic beauty. Unless you’re a complete nerd (like me) that wants to research products and ingredients, getting rid of all of your conventional makeup products can seem like such a daunting task.
Over the last several years, the natural beauty industry has done a great job of offering more full lines of products so that you and I can shop in one place and upgrade everything all at once. Beauty Counter is one of those companies that has thought of everything.
They have makeup, skin care, body care and even a kids’ line. Their mission is to provide safer products, but they also know that you’ve come to expect a certain level of quality and they’re meeting that need as well.
Everything from the packaging to the products themselves is a nod to the polished conventional products that you may be used to using without any of the major hazards that you’ll find in your typical drug store brands.
I have loved Beauty Counter for a select few products that I think they do really well with:
1- Tint Skin Hydrating Foundation
Easily my favorite foundation. It goes on like silk, blends in beautifully and actually has a wide variety of shades to match darker skin tones which can be a little tricky. This was the first brand of liquid foundation I ever tried and I love it. I use Gabriel’s Powder Foundation to “set” after application.
2- Touch Up Concealer Pen
Their concealer is easily my favorite. I love the design of the pen – you literally click the end of it to release product. This helps to control how much comes out and the pen makes for precise application.
On the whole, I love this organic makeup brand. I think Beauty Counter is a much better choice than any of the toxic, conventional makeup brands available. That said, their products aren’t perfect. Some of their lip colors use coal tar dyes such as D&C Red. While there’s no conclusive evidence that such an ingredient is harmful, it’s one that I personally like to avoid.
What I also love? Their transparency. The Environmental Working Group has a full analysis of their company right here. It includes any ingredients of concern and what Beauty Counter products they show up in. And there are very very few “hazard” ingredients on the list. The ones that are there, pose a low to moderate threat. Overall, I think this is a great brand to choose if you’re just getting started with natural and organic makeup.
If you need a makeup brand that’s also going to improve your skin, look no further. Jane Iredale is your girl. Another mineral makeup line, Jane Iredale is known as the skincare makeup. This brand does double the work, providing effective beauty products that are nourishing to the skin.
If you have issues with your makeup causing breakouts and clogging your pores or you just have sensitive skin in general, her products are light and formulated with ingredients that promote a radiant complexion.
This is another brand that has a wide variety of products and shades to meet your needs. In terms of color palette, Jane Iredale has more of a classic look – so think berry tones, reds, and various shades of light and dark pink. If you like a more natural look and/or nude or understated color palettes, this is a really good brand to take a look at. This is also a good option if you’re someone that has acne-prone skin.
There’s also a skin care line to peruse as well. My favorite products by Jane Iredale have been the Bronzer and Lip Color selections.
While this is definitely not an exhaustive list of the organic makeup brands that I use, I chose these 5 because I’ve used (or still use) each one of them and they have a comprehensive selection if you’re looking to overhaul your beauty bag. I’ll be adding to this list as I’m able to try more brands.
A Word of Caution
Some people have asked me about Tarte Cosmetics and whether or not they are a good brand to use for natural and organic makeup. I’ve used Tarte before and I never would again. Back in the early years when I first started using natural and organic makeup I really struggled to find brands that actually made any kind of powder or foundation to match my skin tone (thankfully, there are many more options available now – see above).
In my quest to find a natural brand that worked, I went to a Sephora store and asked them if they had any natural or organic brands of makeup. This was my first mistake:
One thing you should know when you are shopping for natural makeup is that 95% of the sales associates don’t have a clue what they’re talking about when they say, “This line is all organic” or “This line is all natural.”
Now that I’m not so new to all of this, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that a brand or product is natural or organic only to take a peek at the ingredients and be disappointed at best – alarmed in the worst scenarios. Don’t just take the salesperson’s word for it.
The Sephora sales associate led me to the section of the store that had all of the Tarte products. She went on about how it was vegan and all organic and I fell for it (By the way, generally speaking most of the people selling you your makeup and personal care products don’t have a clue what the difference is between vegan, organic and natural).
Minutes later I was walking out with their Amazonian Clay Foundation. It sounds natural, doesn’t it? Amazonian Clay. And it worked beautifully. I absolutely loved it and against the better part of my judgment I did not properly research the ingredients until much later.
When I did get around to looking into the ingredients I was so surprised to find that the first ingredient in my clay foundation was TALC! Upon further research with the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database I was super surprised to find that several of Tarte’s products were extremely high on the hazard list.
They have since discontinued many of those products, but they still have several products that are moderately hazardous. And even still, I question the integrity of the company because they were promoting their brand as “natural.”
This is a classic case of greenwashing. I do not use or recommend using Tarte as a natural or organic brand of makeup. For a full-on analysis of this brand’s products, click here.
Now, I want to hear from you. What natural and organic makeup brands have you tried? Which ones do you love? Which ones do you want to know more about but they didn’t show up on this list? Drop me a comment below!
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