How to Switch to a Green Beauty Routine

by Tori Telfer
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The thought of abandoning your Diorshow mascara may be a painful one, but a little research into your favorite beauty products might be enough to scare you into a lifetime of organic kale masks. The cosmetics industry is one of the least regulated in the U.S., according to the Environmental Working Group, and beauty companies have a pretty lax thing going on with the government: the FDA doesn't review or approve most products and ingredients, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review has examined less than 20 percent of cosmetics' ingredients during its 30 year history, and companies are allowed to use whatever ingredients they want — except for several color additives and prohibited substances — without any sort of review or approval from the government. You might think that your eye cream would never irritate your skin, much less possibly be linked to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, or cancer, but there's potential evidence to the contrary.

Scary, especially when you remember that the skin is the body's biggest organ, and that many cosmetic products are specifically designed to penetrate the skin and get inside the body. But immediately discarding your beauty routine papaya face masks is a lot to ask of a girl. Beauty is very personal, and everyone has products that they know, love, and couldn't live without. If you've been dreaming of cleaning up your beauty routine (or if the thought of hormone disruption and increased risk of cancer freaks you out), here's how to make it happen easily, gradually, and realistically.

1. Replace products as you finish them. Toiletries are expensive, girl. Don't run out and buy a whole new green routine — switch out your dirty products for clean ones as you use them up. After a few months, you'll have a brand new set of organic toiletries.

2. Focus on what counts. Not all beauty products are created equal. Face wash and shampoo only stay on your body for a few minutes at most, while serums and moisturizers are designed to be absorbed into your skin for good (or at least for the day). Prioritize replacing the products that you use most intensely, like foundation, body creams, facial moisturizers, and sunscreen. That neon orange eyeliner might be full of chemicals, but you use it once in a blue moon, so don't stress about finding an organic version just yet.

3. Switch between old and new products. If you're worried that your skin might flare up or that your hair might get weirdly greasy during the transition, use your new clean products every other day at first. It's always good to give yourself an adjustment period.

4. Take it to the kitchen. If you're really serious about clean beauty, you probably have a lot of the "products" you need in your kitchen right now. Sugar + olive oil = facial scrub. Coconut oil = body lotion. Olive oil = makeup remover. Honey = facial cleanser. Overripe avocado = hair mask. Yogurt = lactic acid facial mask. Sites like No More Dirty Looks and Crunchy Betty are full of seriously simple natural beauty ideas.

5. Beware of greenwashing. Conceptually similar to "whitewashing," greenwashing occurs when a company implies — through images of nature, vague claims, suggestive copy, etc. — that their product is greener than it actually is. That bottle of lotion has a tree on it? That means nothing. Be a smart consumer and do your research.

6. Seriously, do your research. Unfortunately, no single article can tell you exactly what your routine should be. Look at the ingredient lists on your products. Figure out what's bad for you. Research natural companies — not greenwashed companies, mind you, but real hardworking companies that are determined to protect your health and your looks at the same time. Check every product you own against the Environmental Working Group's database to see if it's safe or not. Find out what works for your skin. Some great resources are Spirit Beauty Lounge (a highly respected green beauty retailer that vets every product thoroughly), Skin Deep, and GirlieGirl Army.

7. Value your health. It may look like we're just gabbing about superficial products here, but we're actually talking about your body. Making the choice to avoid chemicals, research products, find effective beauty solutions, and honor your physical self is one of the most valuable things you can do for your health. Decrying chemical-ladden products isn't something that silly hippies do in their spare time; it's an intelligent move for women who want to live long, healthy lives.

Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images