The Importance of Natural Beauty Products


For as long as I can remember, my cousin Britt Bolen has been on the leading edge of the natural and organic movement. She started in the kitchen, slowly researching and adding more organic options to her plate. A few years ago, she was introduced to a green cleaning line and replaced the harsh chemicals she found in many of her household cleaning supplies. Most recently, she discovered Beautycounter, a company that preaches safe and natural beauty products (and stands by its word).

Britt is also a new mom to a beautiful baby girl named Cecelia, so finding a safe baby skincare line and beauty products for her little girl recently became a high priority. After seeing results and falling in love with Beautycounter as a client, Britt recently joined the Beautycounter team and continues to research and learn about the beauty industry. While Britt loves Beautycounter and spreading the word about its products, she’s also a great (and passionate) resource on the industry in general.

As someone who is constantly curious and trying to improve my health in all facets of my life (some faster than others – I love you, donuts), I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about the importance of adding more natural and organic products to my beauty and skincare routine. Britt helped me navigate the confusion and mixed messages from the beauty industry about natural and organic options in our Q&A below. Note: some responses were edited for clarity.

Q: Doesn’t someone regulate this stuff (beauty products/makeup) so it’s not so bad for me? Why should I have to worry about it?

That is what I thought, too! The answer is no – not really. We live in a country where words like “natural”, “pure” and “botanical” are buzz words that are rendered meaningless in a totally self-regulated industry. What was really shocking to me is that the EU has banned over 1,300 commonly used ingredients in everyday beauty products and the US has only banned eleven, and that was in 1938! The industry really serves and protects the business instead of the consumer.

Q: What are some of the harsh chemicals commonly found in beauty products and why should I try to avoid them?

Sadly, the list is a very long one. Beautycounter has created a Never List which is a list of commonly used ingredients that Beautycounter has refused to use in their products (the full list of banned by the company is close to 1,500). What is scary is that from a legal standpoint, not all ingredients even need to be disclosed on a product’s packaging. Beautycounter lists every ingredient, including trace amounts – which is a breath of fresh air to me as a consumer.

Q: I recently read about a study that showed makeup has been shown to disrupt the hormones in teenage girls. Statistically speaking, it’s kind of shocking, but at a basic level, what are the implications for girls and women?

Hormone disruptors are basically chemicals that interfere within our endocrine system, confusing our bodies (often times mimicking estrogen). This is a serious issue as it can cause cancer, reproductive issues and organ dysfunction.

Q: What should I look for when I’m buying makeup and beauty products? What should I watch out for (e.g., can some things be labeled “natural” even if they contain harsh chemicals?)

I love Beautycounter because they have done the homework for me. As I mentioned, being marketed as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Of course, Beautycounter isn’t the only company that produces safe products, but what I love as a bonefide girly-girl is that they are high-performing and very comparable with other high end, department store cosmetics and skincare. Another great place to look is in your local grocery store (think: Whole Foods), as they usually set the same high standards for ingredients in their beauty aisles as they do for their produce.

If you are buying makeup and other beauty products, I would familiarize yourself with some of the big no-no ingredients that are still very common in personal care products. A simple google search like, “which ingredients are unsafe in mascara” will produce a quick list of the ingredients that you should avoid in mascara (for example). The list for mascara looks like this:

  1. Coal tar dyes listed as FD & C Blue followed by a number: contain heavy metals & carcinogenic
  2. Fragrance (have to cover up the smell of the coal tar dye) irritating to eyes
  3. Formaldehyde releasing preservatives: used as preservative and known carcinogen. Listed under several different names
  4. Parabens (hormone disruptor)
  5. BHA & BHT (hormone disruptor & carcinogenic- harmful environmental effects)
  6. Propylene glycol: can cause dermatological and respiratory issues
  7. Retinyl Acetate: illegal in Canadian cosmetics this ingredient is a carcinogen and cause developmental and reproductive problems.

 Q: Can using more natural beauty products improve my skin?

I believe in the less is more philosophy. Clean, safe products can be beautiful and perform well, you just have to find the line that you love!

Q: Do I have to give up product performance in order to go natural in my skin care and beauty routine?

No, not at all! Super bold colors might be a bit more challenging as high-pigmented colors in makeup often have hidden heavy metals, which is hard on the soft tissue of our organs. But you can find safe products that are also high performing if you know where to look for them.

Q: What should I look for (or avoid) when I am buying sunscreen for the summer?  

Oxybenzone is a gaining popularity as a common ingredient that should be avoided. We are looking to protect ourselves from cancer and burns but often the ingredients used to protect us can cause more harm. This ingredient is known to mimic hormones (once again, a hormone disruptor) and skin allergies. This article was written by the Environmental Working Group and goes more into detail regarding ingredients as well as methods of application, such as sprays being regarded as a not-so-safe option.

Q: Should I switch over everything now? It seems kind of expensive to replace everything in my medicine cabinet and makeup bag. Is it ok to keep using what I have and switch over slowly?

Definitely not! I think that it would be too much pressure and stress to make a complete change overnight. Small steps will get you closer to the ultimate goal, which is switching to safer products. I recommend starting with swapping out products that you already have and use but are running low on. For example, if you are almost out of your face wash, give Beautycounter (or another safe option) a try! Also, any products that are intended to absorb into the skin (such as moisturizers, full face foundation or tinted moisturizers) would be another great place to start.


Sold on the idea of more natural beauty products and skincare? You can shop BeautyCounter on Britt’s page here.

Beauty Live

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.