Wondering whether to make the switch to greener pastures? 

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We walk you through the all-natural beauty game.

Going green and organic with your beauty routine doesn’t mean sacrificing quality and efficacy. But with so many brands on the market, it’s hard to decipher the good and the bad. We help you start with the basics and investigate ingredients. We spoke with three experts: Maggie MacDonald, toxics program manager at Environmental Defence; Natalie Pergar, lead skincare trainer at Éminence Organic Skincare; and the informative David Suzuki Organization (davidsuzuki.org) to provide some need-to-know info on some common skincare and beauty ingredients.

Before you go to the store, both MacDonald and Pergar encourage you to do your research, as Pergar explains that you need to “determine what kind of product you’re looking for according to your skin type, but sometimes it’s best to seek the advice of a skincare professional.” Consult our ingredient organizer and you’ll be armed with all the knowledge you need for a successful shopping trip!

BUY IT

Cleanse, exfoliate and brighten with the Doctor D. Schwab Grapefruit Cleanser ($34, doctordschwabca.com). Organic grapefruit peel oil, pineapple extract, green tea leaf and lactic acid help to gently slough off dead skin and remove dirt, while providing an even and illuminated complexion. 

LEAVE IT

Sodium laureth sulfate 

This foaming agent is slowly exiting the beauty industry, but still found in many cleansers and shampoos. While sulfates themselves can often just be irritating on skin, sodium laureth sulfates are often contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane, which is a possible carcinogen linked to cancer.

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Fragrance/Parfum

Many people love fragrance in all its forms, but some research links artificial fragrances to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some of us are allergic or find that it exacerbates asthmatic symptoms. MacDonald recommends looking for “companies that fully disclose all ingredients, including fragrance.”  

BHA/BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoulene): Environmental Defence describes these hard-to-pronounce ingredients (a good rule of thumb to avoid them) as “synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in personal care products and cosmetics,” that have been linked to several health concerns. 

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are, as the David Suzuki Organization explains, known carcinogens. Some of these agents are labeled as diazolidinyl urea, methenamine and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, which slowly release formaldehyde into products that get absorbed into our skin.

Triclosan 

Most commonly found in antibacterial cleaning products like hand soaps and cleansers, it does reduce bacteria on the skin’s surface, but can also affect the endocrine system (hormone functions). According to Environmental Defence and the David Suzuki Organization, has been associated with thyroid issues.

Phthalates 

You know those beauty products that contain artificial fragrances? Phthalates keep that scent lingering. Ongoing research for this ingredient suggests that, like other artificial preservatives and fragrances, phthalates are unsafe and potentially carcinogenic.

Parabens

If you’ve heard this once, you’ve heard this a thousand times, but parabens have become such a hot-button topic, it’s hard to ignore. One of the most widely avoided ingredients (remember “paraben-free” and “no parabens added” are different) in so many beauty products, this artificial preservative is linked to many types of cancer.

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KEEP IT

Oils

Oils often get a bad rap for making skin, well, oily, but they actually restore moisture and keep skin hydrated all day.  Common oils used in skincare include olive, avocado, grapeseed, evening primrose, jojoba, sunflower, argan, and also essential oils like clove, fennel and ginger, which help promote circulation.

Plant-derived 

Never underestimate the power of plants. Plant extracts or essences are often used in place of chemically created ingredients that do the same thing. For instance, licorice root extract brightens while aloe extract soothes and green, black and white teas calm the skin with their anti-inflammatory nature. 

Peptides 

Found in many anti-aging skincare products, peptides are amino acids that help promote collagen production and fill in fine lines and wrinkles. Peptides help plump up and smoothen the skin when applied and continue to work hard by kick-start the body’s collagen production process again.

Fruit extracts

From antioxidant-rich berries to brightening apple and pumpkin extracts, it can often seem like you’re ordering a fruit salad instead of a skincare product. Embrace the fruity side with vitamin-rich oranges (plus the mood-boosting affects of its citrusy scent), pomegranate for toning and mattifying and papaya to neutralize oily skin. 

Antioxidants

The real deal. No synthetics here. Antioxidants are natural chemicals found in many foods, vitamins and plants, which ward off free radicals that have been linked to some types of cancer. Some common antioxidant-rich ingredients to look for: Green tea, berry extracts, and vitamins B3 (niacinamide), C and E. 

From the sea

When it comes to ingredients, the ocean is a wonderful resource. From algae for its minerals and sun damage repair, sea salt for natural exfoliation and antioxidant-rich seaweed, ocean ingredients, when sustainably harvested, act as a fantastic resource for green (or blue) beauty products.

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Proteins

Just like with food, protein is an integral part of any skin strengthening beauty routine. Proteins found in skincare products resemble those in your kitchen pantry like oats, quinoa, wheat and soy, which help to fortify skin’s protective barrier, making it more resistant to breakage and more responsive to all the good ingredients you give it. 

BUY IT

Éminence Bamboo Age Corrective Masque ($54, eminenceorganics.com): This hydrating, strengthening masque helps to improve skin tone and elasticity with ingredients like bamboo, shea butter and argan oil. The brand also uses a natural retinol alternative, as many people have sensitivities to conventional retinol.

Coffee bean and licorice root extracts brighten and awaken the sensitive under-eye area in the Aveda Botanical Kinetics Energizing Eye Cream ($43, aveda.ca). The cream includes the brand’s cocktail of essential oils in its Pure-Fume, nixing signs of artificial fragrance. Plus, it’s manufactured in a wind-powered facility

Brighten before bed with the Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Nightly Brightening Pads ($54, juicebeauty.com). These eco-friendly pads use organic fruit extracts (apple peel) and hyaluronic acid to help even out skin tone, leaving it more luminous and hydrated in the morning.

Dr. Roebucks Polish ($40, available at Shoppers Drug Mart): This double-duty mask and scrub uses jojoba beads to buff skin, which are hydrogenated beads of jojoba oil or wax, following our no-plastic rule. It also boasts kaolin, a type of clay, which helps to draw out dirt, oil and other impurities with peppermint and grapefruit oils for a flawless finish.

A company that positions itself paraben-free above anything else is one worth listening to. The Indermica Oxyderm Wrinkle Cream ($169, indermica.com) is free of artificial preservatives and it also uses innovative apple, grape and alpine rose stem cells to help reverse the signs of aging, filling in fine lines while hydrating and smoothing out skin texture for a youthful glow.

This one hundred per cent natural brand knows exactly where its botanical ingredients come from—the family farm. The Tata Harper headquarters has the farm that grows the ingredients for their lineup, including the Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser ($58, beautymark.ca). Infused with essential oils, it gently removes all traces of makeup and dirt.

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SUSTAIN IT

Self-sustaining

Some brands have taken the initiative to make their  facilities as sustainable and organic as their products. For example, there are certified organic farms, where the ingredients are grown and monitored in contrast to others that outsource ingredients from unreliable sources.    

Alternative energy sources:

Companies that use solar or wind-powered facilities are making a point to use renewable energy. While it’s often a larger task creating these sustainable facilities, in the end the benefits of reducing the carbon footprint and using less waste outweigh the costs.

Cruelty-free:

We’d hope by now the world of beauty would know better than to test our mascaras, and creams on our furry friends, but it’s still an ongoing battle. Look for “cruelty-free” or “against animal testing” stamps on packaging and websites, because, in truth it’s not the animals that want to get dolled up for a night out.

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Biodegradable components:

There are few things worse than skincare packages sitting in landfills. More often we see brands swapping to biodegradable options, whether it’s shampoos that won’t harm water supplies, or sheet masks that will biodegrade instead of consuming space on our already packed planet.

Organic ingredients:

Whenever possible opt for organic ingredients and beauty products. Organic ingredients mean they are free of synthetic chemicals, which can get absorbed into your skin and body. Organic is often a tricky subject as so many companies label products with it, so it’s important to do your research.

Natural exfoliants:

Exfoliating is an essential step in any skincare regimen, but the use of synthetic exfoliants like plastic micro-beads that don’t disintegrate pose harm to the environment when they go down the drain. Opt for natural buffers like sugar or sea salt. Just think how great your skin looks after a week by the ocean.

Recyclable packaging:

Remember your three R’s! As MacDonald explains, “With packaging, look for recyclable materials and opt for products that don’t overdo it with the wrapping. Keep it simple.” When you’re done with your product, rinse out the packaging and send it to the blue bin instead of the trash.