It’s totally happened. I’ve become that slightly-loony-bin person: the anti-fragrance zealot. I’m not talking about the wonderful scents we were gabbing about yesterday. And like S, I too occasionally miss a phthalate, especially when I’m longing for lasting power or smell the rare incredible synthetic perfume.
But last week I went to the mall, not my usual stomping ground. It seems like every day I become a little more sensitive: to sounds, to crowds, to gross displays of consumerism (there’s so much stuff at the mall, man), but especially to synthetic scent. I honestly feel like a bit of an ass admitting this. I don’t want to sound precious, because we must live and function in the real world, and I know this is a high-class problem, quite literally, and it’s not like I have a chemical sensitivity. But, there it is. The whole experience made me kind of miserable. Then I started thinking of the people who work there.
Day in, day out, these mall employees have fragrance pumped at them from all sides: from Sephora to the Macy’s counter, from Neiman to Lush. It’s a serious assault on the senses, let alone on lungs and probably hormones. So without getting too activisty, I wanted to ask you: Is there synthetic fragrance in your work environment? And, if so, does it bother you? Have you complained?
Progress is slowly underway: You may recall that one woman actually won $100,000 settlement after suing her workplace for ignoring her chemical sensitivity to fragrance. Not surprisingly that company has since banned all fragrance use. That’s cool. I also noticed just the other day that someone’s work email footer read “this is fragrance free environment.”
As I was leaving the mall, I walked by Sephora. Having a momentary lapse of reason, I thought: Oh, I’ll just pop in and buy some waterproof mascara. Well, I couldn’t even last a minute! I walked in, got one whiff of that place and turned on my heels. Fragrance may force me to abandon my last dirty product at long last.
When I was in Texas last month for SXSW Eco, I did all kinds of fun things: I ate tacos, visited our friends at W3LL People, met up with writer friends, stayed up way too late then woke early to attend some really interesting (and dismaying) discussions about our burning planet…
Being the natural beauty dork I am, though, another highlight was my impromptu visit to Whole Foods’ 80,000 square foot flagship near downtown Austin. This is not just a love letter to Whole Foods, though. Hear me out…
Anyone who’s read the book or the blog will know we love Whole Body, sure. We admire their tough organic standards, and how widely available they’ve made safe, high-quality beauty choices. We like their team, and their scale. But because Whole Bodys differ from region to region, and store to store, you sort of never know what you’re going to find when you visit one. Here in New York, the WB section at Columbus Circle, for instance, is gorgeously laid out, and there’s a nice selection of makeup to play with. At Union Square, my go-to because I tend to work out and play in the lower quadrants of the city, the makeup is crammed in hallway. I still love it, don’t get me wrong, but the shopping experience matters. And if we want to bring organic beauty out of the hippie fringes, nice-looking stores—like Evolue in Los Angeles, and the Apothecary at ABC Home here in New York—are a must.
Of course, small shops devoted to natural beauty are few and far between—and understandably. They’re expensive and the demand for organic beauty products in this kind of setting needs to catch up with the supply. We know that anyone who switches to natural beauty sees their life and their skin and their hair transform. It happened to us, and our friends, our moms and our boyfriends. And we get letters from people all the time telling us as much. Of course, spreading the message is hard—and changing people’s buying habits even harder.
There’s still so much the average American shampoo-buyer doesn’t know about her products—and it’s going to be hard for her to learn if her only options are the confusing, greenwashed aisles of pharmacies.
That’s why we think everyone should read our book, or books like it. And it’s also why we want to see natural beauty scaled way, way up.
When we were writing the book, we had fantasies about curating Sephora’s naturals section: How great would it be, we thought, if you could go in to any Sephora and know with confidence that the products with a green leaf on it (or whatever) had actually been vetted by people informed and passionate about ingredient safety—and effectiveness?
Of course we like the little guys best. We want to support small retailers, several of which are online, and are our favorites—there’s Spirit Beauty Lounge, Nubonau, Nature of Beauty and others. We will continue to support them first and foremost, but if this natural beauty thing is going to get really big, exposure is key. Call me pie-in-the-sky, but we want to see safe, effective and appealing options made available, at reasonable prices, to women and men all over the country, too.
Which bring me to Austin. What blew my mind, and I texted Alexandra as much when I was there, is that I finally saw in person the potential for this whole natural beauty thing—at scale. Here is a giant store (really, it’s almost obscenely big) with a zillion kinds of kale chips and organic quinoa and chickens who lived better lives than we do, and front and center—not as an afterthought, and not shoved in a corner—was a gigantic section, beautifully laid out, well lit with samples galore, teeming with natural and organic beauty products we can feel good about.
I’m not saying Whole Foods is the answer, though it’s certainly part of it. It showed me what was possible.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What do you think natural beauty movement needs in order to grow? More stores? More education? And if the latter, how do you propose we all go about it?
OK, so who’s been here: You all of a sudden have plans but you don’t feel quite day-to-night (or gym-to-out) equipped because, well, it’s Sunday and you didn’t think you’d need your red lipstick or whatever, and even though you don’t really wear perfume, you feel you could use a little pick-me-up but you don’t have that on you, either? So you book it to Sephora and wait semi-patiently while other girls in your predicament use those badly lit mirrors to apply germ-filled samples to their day faces until they feel going-out ready? Then, when it’s finally your turn, you fold over a cotton pad and think “This will double as a blush brush, sure!” and you smear some pink on your cheeks, and it looks ridiculous, and you are reminded, again, why this is never a good idea?
(Please don’t tell me I am alone here.)
Anyway, here’s a much better idea: Go to Whole Foods.
When I stopped using conventional cosmetics, I also stopped doing last-minute makeup application at Sephora. But I also thought I’d never find a replacement since there’s no natural-beauty chain (yet) and the very few places in New York where you can buy clean cosmetics in person aren’t centrally located, making the dash-in-dash-out move impossible.
Yesterday I’d gone to my usual Sunday morning class and showered at the studio, leaving me with soaking wet hair, no conditioner, no makeup, and a lunch (and then museum) date. It wasn’t like I was going out-out, but I was feeling a little blah and hadn’t brought anything with me except—and this was an accident—bright red lipstick and—and this wasn’t an accident—my new Lotus Wei aromatherapy sample.
I had a bit of time to kill so I went into Whole Foods to browse when it occurred to me: Whole Body! I love Whole Body! Some Whole Body sections are amazing (looking at you, Columbus Circle) but they’re all good enough if you ask me. I am wild about their new organics standards, they carry a great selection of many of my favorite lines, they have samples out of everything under the sun, including makeup, and the people who work the section are nice about letting you try anything you want. Genius. [UPDATE: I heard it from the horse's mouth that for anything in Whole Body, if there isn't a sample available you can just ask and they'll open one for you!]
So I popped into my regular, at Union Square, and when no one was looking, I sprayed my face with an Evan Healy toner, moisturized with some Juice Beauty, sprayed some John Masters Organics Sea Salt Spray in my hair, dabbed some vanilla on my wrists, and played with a just-opened sample of Dr. Hauschka blush, which I ended up buying because I liked it so much.
Now, I’m generally wary of store samples for obvious reasons (germs, and it’s weirdly embarrassing to apply things in public), but sometimes it’s just what you need. If nothing else, primping a little bit can change your mindset from “It’s downward-dog time” to “It’s interact-with-human-beings time” and you don’t need makeup to do this; I was wearing basically none at all. But the mere act of spraying something on my hair made me feel ready for anything. It’s pretty cool how these things work.
But back to the headline: We want to know from you: Where do you buy your natural makeup? Online? In person? If so where? Are you lucky enough to have an actual physical STORE in your town, like Los Angeles with our beloved Evolue?
I’m working on a product review that I don’t think is going to make me any friends. It’s a $5o face cleanser, and if I come home to find TP on my front door, I’ll totally get it. But we both enjoy occasionally splurging on high-quality products we adore, mainly because we now use far fewer of them; when we buy something, we milk it to the last drop. But how do you find those products? And what do you do if you try something and it blows?
Well, it takes some trial and error.
When it comes to conventional products, we like to point out that because most of them really suck (like, really, really suck), we tend to not finish what we buy. We give up when it doesn’t deliver on the promise, or when we get some adverse reaction, and then we buy something else. That’s why we all have three different shampoos in the bathroom and two half-finished pots of lotion on the vanity.
It’s partly because the cosmetics industry inundates us, so we always think there’s something better to try. And it’s partly because we are hopeful creatures at heart, and we want to believe really badly that the next bottle is gonna be just so effing sweet.
And so, some advice:
—Consider who the recommendation is coming from. If your friend has never had a blemish in her life and says something is great for breakouts, don’t buy what she’s buying. Ask someone with issues like yours.
—Know you can trust us! We have a guide in every chapter of the book that lists the best of the gazillion products we sampled over the last two years. Between the two of us we cover a range of skin issues, body issues, and hair stuff. But we are both white, and we are both 31, so we couldnt’t cover all the bases. For that, we tried to enlist friends who could.
—Give things time, but not that much time. If your skin freaks out at a new lotion, don’t assume there’s something wrong with your skin, or that it’ll get better with time. Stop using it. Then…
—If you don’t like a product or it doesn’t like you, return it! Sephora, Whole Foods, CVS—they all have great return policies. Some don’t even require you bring receipts, but don’t scam them; everyone loses when people break the rules.
—In the unlikely event a retailer gives you a hard time, send your stuff back to the manufacturer. It’s a pain in the butt, but they will likely reimburse you, and then try to win back your love so you don’t say all kinds of mean things about them behind their back or on the nets.
—If you get a rash or worse, write the manufacturer, and the FDA’s office of cosmetics and colors. And be sure to mention you also informed the manufacturer. (Tell us, too!)
—Sample, sample, sample. No beauty product performs the same on everyone, which makes samples so great. Chains like Sephora, and websites like Spirit Beauty Lounge have figured this out, and they sample generously. We should all take advantage of that.
Got any other tips on finding the right things for you? Ever had a bad return experience? Ever had a great one?
The short answer is yes, though Sephora’s natural and organic section can be a slightly spotty scene. Not all the products they stamp with their “Naturally Gorgeous” logo would get a clean bill from us (note to Sephora: we’d love to help!) but the mega beauty chain does carry some of our favorite brands—most notably our top pick for deodorant.
Generally we’re of the mind that any mainstreaming of clean products is a good thing. The glitch is that unless you know which lines to trust (and yes, that’s why we wrote the book), you’re stuck trying to read labels again. Total. Drag.
Last week our friend Simone LeBlanc asked us what the deal was with Edun’s new line for Sephora. If you’re not familiar with Edun, it’s a stlylish eco clothing line with a focus on encouraging trade in Africa. But are their lovely new eye-and-face palettes really clean? Not entirely—but they’re not terrible, either.
The first ingredient is mica, which is used in lots of powders and eye shadows. While it’s not unsafe, it can cause allergic reactions. There are no parabens, synthetic fragrances or talc, but there are some synthetic dyes. The one bad-boy that jumped out at us was aluminum powder, which was only used in one pallette, and was listed last on the label. That means there’s less of it than any other ingredient on the list. But still—it’s aluminum!
Aluminum powder gets a 7-9 on Skin Deep. It’s a neurotoxin with links to cancer, and from an environmental perspective, it ain’t pretty either. But since the rest of the ingredients are clean, is it kind of like freaking out because you found a single cockroach in an otherwise clean kitchen?
Maybe. But why spoil an otherwise nontoxic product with something as hot-button as aluminum? We personally favor products that steer entirely clear from things like this. Where do you make exceptions?