Why do we love makeup so much? This question probably yields a six page answer, but in short, it’s because makeup allows us to make a statement. Our lipstick can read feisty or sassy while our mascara can say beachy or boujee. Your eyeshadow is another statement tool. Do you want to be glam-classic or glam-glitter today?
Applying eyeshadow is an art for most women. Sometimes we even use more than one shade to create a certain look. But that delicate eye area isn’t just a medium for women expression- it’s a median for toxins, including the ones that come from our personal care products.
Women use an estimated twelve personal care products every day (twice as many as most men) (1), and the last major legislation to address ingredients in cosmetics was decades ago.
Cosmetic companies have taken advantage of this lax oversight and lack of consumer education and have filled our eyeshadow and other cosmetics with ingredients that are poisoning us. If this sounds like strong language–it is!
There are some extremely concerning toxins lurking in the makeup we use every day, but my goal isn’t to scare you. My goal is to inform you and then inspire a switch to the best natural and organic eyeshadows out there. I’ve been using natural eyeshadow for years now, and I can’t wait to introduce you to some of my toxin-free favorites.
Contrary to what most people think, you don’t have to make sacrifices when it comes to performance, coverage, or pigment. You can have natural eyeshadow that is both beautiful and safe. I’m sharing the research with you to help you better understand what’s at stake when it comes to the eyeshadow you’re using–and also to provide you the best natural eyeshadow alternatives.
You won’t have to spend an arm and a leg, and you won’t have to compromise on quality.
When Was the Last Time You Read the Ingredient List on Your Eyeshadow?
It sounds silly to read the ingredient list on an eyeshadow– but consider how thin your eyelids are and how easily our delicate eye area absorbs dangerous chemicals like lead and other heavy metals. And… consider that when you put on eyeshadow, it stays there for at least 8 hours.
When it comes to eyeshadow, foundation, eyeliner, lipstick, or any other kind of cosmetic, my goal is to find a product with as few synthetic ingredients as possible and no added fragrance. Here are some of the toxins I make sure to avoid when I’m shopping for natural eyeshadow:
If “formaldehyde” takes you back to high school biology lab and frog dissection, you’re on the right track; formaldehyde is a powerful preservative. It’s used frequently in cosmetics to preserve and stabilize other ingredients. But it does not belong in our organic eyeshadow!
There are several valid concerns about the use of formaldehyde. First, it’s rarely listed directly on the label. This is because cosmetic companies use other dangerous chemicals that when combined, release formaldehyde. Second, formaldehyde reeks, which means manufacturers rely on synthetic fragrances to cover it up (I’ll explain why synthetic fragrances are so troubling below) so instead of listing formaldehyde- companies list “fragrance”.
Bottom line, formaldehyde is toxic. It’s considered a Group 1 human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, and is a known endocrine disruptor (2). Formaldehyde use in cosmetics is banned in Japan and significantly limited in the European Union (2), and even mega corporation Johnson & Johnson has pledged to completely remove formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from its products altogether.
Until then, however, our only option is to carefully scrutinize ingredient lists. While you won’t usually find formaldehyde on your eyeshadow ingredient list, here are the most common formaldehyde-releasing ingredients used in cosmetics, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) (3):
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
Parabens are another commonly used preservative that can cause huge problems. In a 2004 study, five distinct parabens were found in 95% of analyzed breast tumors (4). On its own this would be a concerning study, but when coupled with the numerous studies (the EWG counts at least ten) indicating that parabens are strong hormone disruptors (4), the accumulated data is damning for these toxins.
When it comes to finding the best natural eyeshadow, you need to make sure that your natural eyeshadow is free from these hormone-disrupting cancer-causers. You typically won’t find “paraben” listed on the label; instead, look for words that include “paraben,” and look for ingredients that begin with the following prefixes (5):
As I’ve already mentioned, fragrance is often used to cover up unwanted smells in personal care products, including makeup. But if fragrance sounds healthful and like it might belong in a natural eyeshadow–it doesn’t.
Plants and their natural fragrances have brought us joy and have been used for medicinal purposes for years (they still are!) but when you see the term “fragrance” on an ingredient list today, it can indicate the presence of one (or more) of over 3,000 different chemical ingredients (6). The type of fragrance found in your conventional makeup is not derived from a natural source.
Most of those 3,000 ingredients are derived from petrochemicals (6) and include truly nasty ingredients.
The most concerning chemical for many experts–and especially for women–are phthalates. Phthalates have been completely banned in Europe but are used widely in cosmetic products in the United States (7), despite being known to:
- Cause hormone disruption in babies and mothers when the pregnant or nursing mother is exposed (8)
- Cause ADHD, autism, and other neurological disorders when babies are exposed in utero (9, 10)
- Cause infertility in both men and women (11)
- Cause cancer (the EPA classifies phthalates as carcinogenic) (11)
When it comes to finding natural eyeshadow, it’s vital to make sure your ingredient list doesn’t include any of the following ingredients, since these are the places phthalates will be hiding (7):
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reports that unless talc is known to be asbestos-free, this common makeup ingredient may contain a very potent carcinogen (12). Talc with asbestos is a carcinogen no matter where and how it is used, while even asbestos-free talc is a carcinogen when applied to the pelvic region. In short, talc should be avoided in your eyeshadow, especially if the manufacturer can’t provide you evidence that it is asbestos-free.
Aluminum powder, also called aluminum, pigment metal, or LB Pigment 5, is a neurotoxin that shows up in eyeshadows and other eye makeup. Studies suggest that aluminum powder is toxic to internal organs and a potential cause of nerve damage (13). If you searching for the best natural eyeshadow, there’s no room on the ingredient list for aluminum.
Help! I Need a New Organic Eyeshadow!
If you’re like me, at this point in your research you’re probably frustrated and overwhelmed; there’s so much to learn about and so much to avoid! Where’s a girl to start? Fortunately, you don’t have to recreate the wheel. I’ve made it as simple as possible for you to find the best natural eyeshadow (and the best organic foundation and natural eyeliner and natural lipstick).
Here are a few tips for finding a natural eyeshadow or other organic makeup products that don’t contain toxins or harmful ingredients:
- Use an app like EWG’s Skin Deep to look up specific products. Not all products have been added to the database, but if you can’t find your product you can still use the app to look up individual ingredients on your ingredient list.
- I’ve found it helps to start with a reputable company like Beautycounter that’s committed to keeping out the nasty stuff. I’ll share more about their natural eyeshadow options below, but keeping my options limited to a single high-quality manufacturer seems to help with decision fatigue and overwhelm, especially if you’re just getting started.
- If you’re pressed for time, my rule of thumb is to avoid products that list fragrance and try to limit the number of synthetic ingredients, especially the ones you can’t pronounce.
- You can save a ton of time by bookmarking my list of the best natural eyeshadow options below. I’ve done the research so you don’t have to!
My 8 Favorite Picks for The Best Natural Eyeshadow
Zuzu Luxe and Gabriel Cosmetics are two lines from the Gabriel family of cosmetics, and one of my favorite things about them both is that they’re available at Whole Foods!
One of the most frustrating things about switching to new makeup is not being able to try it out first, but most Whole Foods have testers available for most of the brands’ most popular colors. That’s not the only thing to love, however–both have great natural eyeshadow color options available, sans nasty stuff.
Think velvety, rich, and long-lasting. A killer combination of sea fennel extract and jojoba seed will create a perfectly blending, soft finish of classic color.
I’ve raved about Kjaer Weis lipstick before, because it’s one of the most luxurious lipsticks I’ve ever used. Ditto for the brand’s natural eyeshadow. You won’t find a huge range of colors and the intensity is more traditional and classic than dramatic, but you’ll find cream eyeshadows (these can be hard to find in natural eyeshadow options) that are out-of-this-world luxuriant.
Everything at Kjaer Weis is free from petroleum-based ingredients, parabens, artificial colors and fragrances, and petrochemical emulsifiers. Plus, I appreciate that the company focuses heavily on reducing packaging waste.
Beautycounter utilizes what it calls its “Never List,” the ingredients it will never use in any of its products. These include:
- Synthetic fragrance
and quite a few more!
The company was named a “Game-Changing Beauty Brand” to watch out for by Elle magazine when it hit the market in 2015. Developed by Christy Coleman, a celebrity makeup artist who has worked with everyone from Miranda Kerr to Heidi Klum- Coleman knows her makeup.
Beautycounter is a great one-stop shop for skincare and makeup. If you want sophisticated, powerful, long-lasting shadow available in tons of colors- beautycounter’s will elevate your everyday look. This is also one of the best matte organic eyeshadow options.
If you’re a fan of the Urban Decay Naked palettes, you’ll love Lily Lolo’s palettes. Natural beauty brands often focus on makeup or skincare and natural eyeshadows can seem like something of an afterthought, so I love how Lily Lolo focuses on creating gorgeous pigments and shades to create the best natural eyeshadow. The best part about this brand is that there are no heavy metals used to create that metallic look!
If you’re an eyeshadow lover, this will probably be your favorite brand to try–and don’t forget to snag the Lily Lolo Primer, either, as its genius dual color application will add intensity and staying power to your eyeshadow. Lily Lolo offers beautiful organic vegan eyeshadow palettes as well as a TON of individual shades.
I’ve raved before about Ilia’s Pure Eyeliner (you can find my review here), and I’m also a fan of Ilia’s eyeshadow and eye brightening primer. The colors are limited to two different four-color palettes, but the primer helps your entire look -and your dollar- go a lot farther.
RMS Beauty is a natural makeup brand that’s gotten a lot of well-deserved attention from the fashion community. The company is exceptionally transparent about its ingredients and includes a full ingredient glossary on its website. You can find cream eyeshadow as well as organic pressed eyeshadow options. RMS Beauty is a great brand if you prefer the “no makeup” look.
Orglamix natural eyeshadows are available in a full range of shades- and I mean full range. These shadows can be used wet or dry allowing for an easy blend and a natural, long-lasting finish. Think shimmer, sparkle, duochrome, and metallic. Orglamix has it all.
100% Pure offers fruit pigmented shadows and palettes perfect for any look. Palettes include punk princess, sex kitten, mermaid, rose gold, better naked, and pretty naked. So basically, harness your inner ego and decide which one you want to try out- you’ll be hooked.
I hope you’re as excited as I am about all these amazing natural eyeshadow options–which will you try first? Drop a comment below!
- “Exposures Add Up — Survey Results.” EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/
- “Carcinogens in Cosmetics.” Safe Cosmetics. Retrieved from: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/known-carcinogens/
- Congleton, J. Exposing the Cosmetics Cover-Up: Is Cancer-Causing Formaldehyde in Your Cosmetics? EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/research/exposing-cosmetics-cover/formaldehyde-releasers
- Human Toxome Project. EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/sites/humantoxome/chemicals/chemical_classes.php?class=Parabens
- Ettinger, J. (2019) 7 Ways to Avoid Parabens and Phthalates in Personal Care Products. Retrieved from: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/how-to-avoid-parabens-and-phthalates-in-personal-care-products/
- Price, A. (2016) Dangers of Synthetic Scents Include Cancer, Asthma, Kidney Damage and More. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/dangers-synthetic-scents/
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2018). Phthalates. Retrieved from: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phthalates/
- European Commission (2018). Phthalates May Affect Baby Boys. Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/7na1_en.pdf
- Engel, S. M., Miodovnik, A., Canfield, R. L., Zhu, C., Silva, M. J., Calafat, A. M., & Wolff, M. S. (2010). Prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with childhood behavior and executive functioning. Environmental health perspectives, 118(4), 565. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854736/
- Kristof, N. D. (2010). Do Toxins Cause Autism?. The New York Times, 219-225. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/opinion/25kristof.html?_r=0
- Latini, G., Del Vecchio, A., Massaro, M., Verrotti, A., & De Felice, C. (2006). Phthalate exposure and male infertility. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16905236
- “Talc.” Safe Cosmetics. Retrieved from: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/talc/
- “Ingredients in Cosmetics That Are Harmful to Your Eyes · Cliradex®.” Cliradex®, 30 Aug. 2018, cliradex.com/ingredients-in-cosmetics-that-are-harmful-to-your-eyes/.