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Organic beauty overhaul

December 22, 2008 |  2:33 pm

I love beauty products. Leave me on a New York City corner and I’ll immediately head to Henri Bendel to browse endlessly on the cosmetics floor. The Saks Beverly Hills’ makeup counters, Sephora in the Beverly Center, even the makeup aisle at CVS will get my heart racing. But this morning as I grabbed my face lotion to slather some on, I noticed the word “paraben” glaring out at me from the label.  Makeup artists and skin-care specialists have warned me about the harmful effect of parabens, which are known to cause dermatitis and irritate the skin.                            1287

Who knows what other harmful and toxic ingredients may be lurking in my heavily scented and beautifully packaged beauty products? For 2009, I am resolving to wipe out all my existing fancy lotions, toners, scrubs and makeup and replace them with natural and organic products. I called up an expert to figure out the easiest and least overwhelming way to sort through the natural beauty market, so my time and money are spent effectively.

Jean Seo, manager of Vert, an all-natural and organic beauty boutique in Venice, gave me a crash course in buying organic beauty. First there is what is called the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of the 12 most harmful ingredients used in cosmetics. The dirtiest two, according to Seo, are sodium lauryl, which is what creates a foamy lather, but is also extremely harsh on the skin, and parabens, the risky stuff in my daily face lotion. 


Seo also broke down what the terms “natural” and “organic” really mean. “For something to be labeled natural, it has to be at least 2% natural ingredients,” Seo says. “To be labeled organic, a product must be at least 95% natural ingredients and all farmers involved with the ingredients must be labeled organic farmers.” Seo says that your body absorbs what you put on your skin, much as if you ate it, to a lesser degree of course. I eat organic foods and take care of myself, so shouldn’t the stuff I put on my face and body be of the same standards? Especially if I’m using them twice or sometimes three times a day.

To begin an organic beauty overhaul, Seo suggests starting with the eyes because they are the most sensitive area on the face and probably the last thing you want to irritate. Jane Iredale Black Onyx mascara ($15) is free of any sensitizers and contains vanilla Tahitensis fruit extract and sweet almond extracts: yum. A foundation, Seo says, should contain a sunscreen of at least SPF 20, and you should look for zinc oxide in the ingredients, because it’s the best natural sunscreen. She recommends Jane Iredale pure pressed foundation ($48), which has SPF 20 and gives effective coverage.

To wash it all off, Seo likes Ren-Rosa Centifolia face wash ($32), a sulfate-free and all-natural cleanser. “One of the reasons a lot of products use chemicals is because they need preservatives,” Seo says. “Ren has engineered air-tight packaging, so they can avoid using preservatives.”

As far as brushes go, there’s no need to replace an existing set to be organic about it, just clean them often so bacteria don’t build up and negate the whole process. 

Here’s hoping for a paraben-free new year, because Seo also mentioned that parabens can be absorbed by the body and change estrogen levels in women, causing mood swings, which explains a lot. This may be my best resolution yet.

-- Melissa Magsaysay

Photos: Jane Iredale Black Onyx Mascara, Ren Rosa Centifolia Cleansing Gel. Photo credit: Vert