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10 Beauty Tips for Going Greener and Cleaner

Add organic and natural products to your makeup and skin-care regimen


spinner image A woman wearing headphones while she is running on a beach and another woman at a farmer's market looking at produce
Cavan Images/Getty Images; Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

Lots of women 50-plus have made a healthy lifestyle U-turn. For starters, we are eating better, switching to organic produce and checking food labels before we buy. We're exercising more and trying to mindfully de-stress with yoga or meditation. We're concerned about protecting the environment and the planet in general. If that's you, the “green and clean beauty” trend is probably next on your get-into list for 2020. Do your homework before you jump in, since the whole category is a little fuzzy and confusing to navigate. Here are 10 tips to help you green your routine.

spinner image Burt's Bees Brightening Moisturizing Cream Matrix Biolage All In One Coconut Infusion Multi Benefit Spray SheaMoisture Manuka Honey and Yogurt Healthy Glow Pressed Serum Moisturizer Physicians Formula Organic Wear Dewy Blush Elixir and Love Beauty Lotion
(Left to right) Burt's Bees Brightening Moisturizing Cream; Matrix Biolage All-In-One Coconut Infusion Multi-Benefit Spray; SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Healthy Glow Pressed Serum Moisturizer; Physicians Formula Organic Wear Dewy Blush Elixir; Love Beauty and Planet Coconut Water and Mimosa Flower Luscious Hydration Body Lotion
Burt's Bees; Matrix; SheaMoisture; Physicians Formula; Love Beauty and Planet

1. Shop around

While Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and your local health food store carry natural beauty products, and clean beauty sites like credo.com and goop.com have luxury-level green beauty brands, the category has really bloomed at affordable mass retailers like Target, Walmart and your local CVS or Rite Aid. Even familiar brands like Herbal Essences, Garnier, Matrix and Physicians Formula have gone greenish to some degree and, along with natural drugstore brands like SheaMoisture, Burt's Bees, Dr. Teal's and Love Beauty and Planet, make switching up easy to do and affordable.

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spinner image Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Beautiful Day Cream SheaMoisture 100 percent Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Face Lotion and Simple Kind To Skin Compostable Cleansing Wipes
(Left to right) Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Beautiful Day Cream; SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Face Lotion; Simple Kind To Skin Compostable Cleansing Wipes
Andalou Naturals; SheaMoisture; Simple

2. Learn the lingo

The packaging is cool, and just looking at the stuff makes you feel like an Earth Mother, but categories can be tricky. Here's a general guide: Clean is basically an umbrella term used to indicate a product made without potentially harmful ingredients — whether chemical or natural. The terms green, organic and natural designate products made with plant-derived ingredients that are sustainable and safe for the environment. Vegan or cruelty-free means the ingredients have not been tested on animals and are ethically sourced and packaged. Read the fine print on the label or packaging, since the name itself is not often the giveaway.

spinner image A woman looking at different beauty products in a supermarket
vgajic/Getty Images

3. Decide what you want to avoid

The whole wellness, health beauty concept is appealing on its own, and that may be enough incentive for you to switch. For others it's the purity factor — the option to delete certain potentially harmful ingredients from their everyday routine, just as they do with food. There are no big conclusive studies or regulations (and let's be honest, there are millions of nongreen beauty products that are terrific!), but there's enough scientific data and news out there driving the clean and green beauty category. It comes down to choice. Decide what, if any, your personal deal breakers are, and make sure they aren't on the list of ingredients when you shop. You don't need a degree in chemistry: Just know the most commonly avoided ingredients are parabens (preservatives), sulfates (moisture strippers) and phthalates (emulsifiers), synthetic dyes and fragrance, silicones, chemical sunscreens (like oxybenzone), and aluminum salts in deodorant.

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spinner image Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Dove 0 percent Aluminum Cucumber and Green Tea Deodorant Stick Herbal Essences Bio: Renew Honey and Vitamin B Sulfate-Free Shampoo Garnier SkinActive Soothing Milk Face Wash Garnier Face Moisturizer
(Left to right) Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50; Dove 0% Aluminum Cucumber & Green Tea Deodorant Stick; Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Honey & Vitamin B Sulfate-Free Moisture Shampoo; Garnier SkinActive Soothing Milk Face Wash with Rose Water; Garnier SkinActive Soothing 3-in-1 Face Moisturizer with Rose Water
Aveeno; Dove; Herbal Essences; Garnier (2)

4. Swap out everyday basics

Tossing all your beauty products in a clean sweep isn't necessary or realistic, and it can get expensive. Keep it simple. A morning/evening moisturizer, face cleanser, sunscreen, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner is what you're after as a regimen, but try skin or hair and then add more. Stick to affordable brands you're familiar with and that are easily available (so you can buy again if the tryout works). Team up products like cleanser and moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner to minimize, easily spot and control any product reactions.

spinner image A woman holding a pipette and a bottle of aromatherapy oil
Jamie Grill/Getty Images

5. Watch for allergic reactions

Here's the bad news: Just because a skin cream, soap or lipstick is natural doesn't mean it's allergy-free. Poison ivy is organic and natural — and look what that does! Essential oils can be a problem for some — indeed, yummy-smelling neroli, rose, lavender or jasmine can cause rashes, redness and itchy skin — even if you have never had an issue before. Fragrances are common irritants, so fragrance-free green products are always going to be your best bet for sensitive skin. Patch test any new clean beauty product with a dab on the inside of your forearm twice a day daily for a week before really using it. You just might end up better off with a mix of natural and regular products in your regimen.

spinner image Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer elf Cosmetics Holy Hydration Face Cream 100 percent Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Double Crème Moon Juice Cosmic Cream Collagen Protecting Moisturizer
Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer (top left); e.l.f. Cosmetics Holy Hydration! Face Cream (bottom left); 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream (center); Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Double Crème (top right); Moon Juice Cosmic Cream Collagen Protecting Moisturizer (bottom right)
Drunk Elephant; e.l.f. Cosmetics‎; 100% PURE; Ole Henriksen; Moon Juice

6. Search for superpower ingredients

We've grown accustomed to specific problem-solving ingredients like our favorite wrinkle-plumping, freshness-restoring hyaluronic acid, brightening vitamin C and glycolic acid, collagen-boosting peptides and de-puffing caffeine. Well, there is no reason to give them up. Just look for vegan, organic or natural products that include them (and exclude the potential nasty stuff). You'll still get the same freshening results, just minus the parabens, sulfates and phthalates — and in some cases without fragrance and other ingredients that are suspected of toxicity.

spinner image KVD Vegan Beauty Studded Kiss Crème Lipstick lilah b Lovingly Lip Tinted Lip Oil 100 percent Pure Cocoa Butter Semi Matte Lipstick Bite Beauty Power Move Creamy Matte Lip Crayon
(Left to right) KVD Vegan Beauty Studded Kiss Crème Lipstick; lilah b. Lovingly Lip Tinted Lip Oil; 100% Pure Cocoa Butter Semi-Matte Lipstick; BITE Beauty Power Move Creamy Matte Lip Crayon
KVD Vegan Beauty; lilah b.; 100% Pure; BITE Beauty

7. Try natural makeup

If you're into gluten-free organic foods and green juice, the jump to cosmetics might make sense. Again, know that clean makeup formulas don't necessarily mean they are any safer or better for you, and that many are actually a mix of natural and synthetic ingredients. Those who are worried about ingesting lipstick can try vegan brands like 100% Pure, KVD Vegan Beauty, lilah b. or Bite Beauty for the same intense pigments, color payoff and creamy texture of regular lipstick. Although some products can help you avoid using controversial ingredients, the big draw here is the ethically sourced, cruelty-free labels. And yes, you might pay a bit more than your usual drugstore makeup, but the same goes for organic veggies, right? Sometimes it's just worth it.

spinner image tenoverten Nail Polish ella plus mila Nail Polish Collection Zoya Nail Lacquer Butter London Patent Shine 10 times Nail Lacquer
(Left to right) tenoverten Nail Polish; ella+mila Nail Polish Collection; Zoya Nail Lacquer; butter LONDON Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer
tenoverten; ella+mila; Zoya; butter LONDON

8. Opt for healthy nail polish

Nail beds are a possible point of entry for chemicals to be absorbed by the body, too. If you get your mani-pedi at a neighborhood salon, consider a BYO nontoxic shade and base/top coat free of potentially harmful ingredients. Some brands are 3-free polish (meaning they are free of formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate — DBP for short), but others go up to a rating of even 5-, 7- or 10-free — with other ingredients like acetone getting the chop. Check out brands like tenoverten, Zoya, Smith & Cult, butter London and ella+mila.

spinner image Dr Teal's Lavender Thick and Full Essential Oil Shampoo Sulfate Free Pantene Pro V Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co Wash Pantene Pro V Gold Series Moisture Boost Conditioner Infused with Argan Oil Clairol Hair Food Color Protect Shampoo Rahua Hydration Shamp
(Left to right) Dr Teal's Lavender Thick & Full Essential Oil Shampoo, Sulfate Free; Pantene Pro-V Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash; Pantene Pro-V Gold Series Moisture Boost Conditioner Infused with Argan Oil; Clairol Hair Food Color Protect Shampoo White Nectarine & Pear; Rahua Hydration Shampoo
Dr Teal's; Pantene (2); Clairol; Rahua

9. Free hair from sulfates

We've grown up loving a big, fat sudsy shampoo thanks to the detergent-like ingredients called sulfates. There's a big “clean” push toward sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners now. Sure, smart marketing hype plays a role here, but the truth is sulfates can strip your scalp and hair of natural oils, dull processed color and bother a sensitive scalp. If you have truly oily hair/scalp, sulfates may help the situation. But if your locks are brittle, dry and damaged from heat-styling, color treatments or chemical processing (such as keratin or straightening), sulfates can exacerbate that. Give this low-suds alternative a try with a companion sulfate-free conditioner to make your own decision.

spinner image Plastic bottles and containers ready for recycling
yuliash/iStock/Getty Images Plus

10. Streamline your essentials

Part of going green is letting go. The current move is to encourage consumers to responsibly recycle products themselves, and to offer biodegradable packaging and ethically sourced ingredients. However, a few beauty brands still provide some assistance. Kiehl's gives out a free trial-size product in exchange for 10 stamps (you get one stamp for each empty full-size container that is returned). The Back-to-MAC recycling program lets you return six empties for one free lipstick, and the Lush brand offers a free facial mask for five clean, empty black Lush pots.

Next time you buy something new, consider products with sustainable packaging made from recyclable materials that are biodegradable. And when you do shop for your clean and green beauty updates, bring your own bag. No more plastic!

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