Stroll past a makeup counter and you'll find scores of blushes, lipsticks, and powders that sound good enough to eat, with names like Cocoa Swirl, Plum Wine, and Fresh Peach. But most of those products' ingredients don't sound so appetizing -- diethyl phthalate, anyone? Consider giving your makeup bag a spring cleaning, stocking it with products that maintain your looks and your healthy ways.
"Most of what we put on our skin is absorbed," says Lisa Petty, a holistic wellness consultant and author of "Living Beauty: Feel Great, Look Fabulous, and Live Well." It's how medicinal patches for muscle pain, birth control, and smoking cessation work. So when it comes to makeup, it pays to consider what you' re spreading on your body and to choose products from the more natural end of the spectrum. A degree in chemistry isn't a prerequisite.
Start by reading the tiny labels. If you can't pronounce half the ingredients, you can probably find a healthier choice. If instead you spot a list of botanical ingredients like jojoba oil, calendula extract, and peppermint essential oil, you're heading in the right direction. As for what Petty likes to avoid, she singles out synthetic fragrances, talc, urea, phthalates, DEA, TEA, MEA, and preservatives like ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, and butylparaben.
But rather than force her clients to apply this list at once to every product they use, she advises them to swap a few items at a time. "I'm never one to pry a lipstick from someone's hands," says Petty. "I just steer them toward better choices."
Years ago, "better" choices meant waxy eyeliners and lip color that bled. But the growing demand for makeup made with plant-based and organic ingredients has led to far higher quality offerings. Though many otherwise natural brands still use small amounts of the preservatives Petty avoids, most health-minded companies are aware of the issue and are working to phase them out without compromising the products' performance or shelf life. New York City hair and makeup artist Eva Scrivo, a salon owner whose clients include Martha Stewart, says you shouldn't have to relax your standards in order to go natural. "I'll only use natural products that behave like professional products -- and there are lots," Scrivo says.
Achieving a natural look is not just about products, say Scrivo and Petty. Following these tips will minimize the amount of makeup you need to wear.
1. Only apply foundation where you need it. This will reduce your exposure to potentially irritating or harmful ingredients.
2. Curl your lashes. This does more to wake up your look than a pile of products, says Petty, since curling lashes makes your eyes appear wider. Scrivo suggests starting at the base of your lashes, curling in several steps as you inch the curler outward toward the lash ends.
3. Invest in a professional brow shaping. Clean, arched brows emphasize the eyes and cheekbones for a naturally polished look, even without makeup. A professional can determine the best brow shape for your face, and you can maintain that shape with occasional tweezing. When tweezing at home, use a brow brush to groom the hairs up, then out, which lets you see strays.
4. On most days, stick to more neutral, sheer colors for lips. They won't look as obvious as they wear off, reducing your need to constantly reapply. Finally, a touch of sheer or rosy gloss applied to the center of your lips will reflect light and make them appear fuller.
See some of our favorite healthy makeup choices.
Text by Donna Garlough; photographs by Paul Sunday