By Rachelle Carson-Begley
Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a girly-girl. I love to look fresh, pulled-together, and effortlessly beautiful. And years ago, I went to any lengths to achieve a flawless look, regardless of the consequences. I slathered on baby oil and baked in the sun, I scrubbed my face with god know what, used petroleum jelly as lip gloss, applied makeup full of chemicals and parabans to achieve a flawless complexion.
As I became involved in the green movement and the concept of green living began to take hold in our culture, I started to slowly dip my toe in other areas of green. I thought that if I could take steps to make my home and living enviironement green, I could certainly do it for my body, too. After all, I had already given up coffee and alcohol. I was diligently doing my Pilates. And my curling iron was now on the "watch" list (thanks, Ed). I thought, I work hard not to put unnecessary toxins inside my body, so why should I put them on my body?
It was harder than I thought.
Ingredients that are applied topically to the skin can be compared to food: they can be natural, organic, and pesticide free, or they can be filled with chemical ingredients, parabens, phthalates, carcinogens, and dies. And, like food, these ingredients are absorbed into the body every day by our skin, the body's largest organ. And while I knew this fact intellectually, it was challenging to put it into action physically. Here are some simple things I've learned, and I'll hope you incorporate as you move toward green beauty:
Reduce your stress levels.It's been well documented that stress affects our mind, body, and spirt. In my opinion, nothing ages our body and skin more than stress. Over the years, I've gone to great lengths to breathe, exercise, dance, laugh, shrug annoyances off my shoulders--you name it. Do something healthy every day to reduce your stress, and that will be your first healthy move toward green beauty.
Train yourself to gradually increase your water intake. The skin works to remove toxins and waste from your system, so you must continuously flush your skin and keep the pathway of elimination open. Water cleanses and nourishes your skin from the inside out and is critical to skin's beauty and health--so I always bring a refillable glass (never plastic) water bottle to refill and refuel. If it's not empty by the end of the day, I sit for a minute in my garden and finish it off before entering the house and getting into my evening routine.
Start reading labels.Become aware of what's in the products you are using to cleanse your skin and face. At first, I started to look for products that were paraben and PCB-free. Then I started using products "made with organic ingredients" (organic meaning those plants grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides) and with labels that contained words I could pronounce--until I understood that there were levels of "organic." Just because a product says it is green, doesn't mean that it is. By definition, to be "organic," the product must contain at least 95% organically produced food ingredients, according to USDA Organic certification; to be "100 percent organic," the product must contain only organically produced food ingredients. Through the National Organic Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates food ingredients found in cosmetics, although it doesn't regulate plant-derived ingredients such as essential oils. Although I don't feel you need to be obsessive about it, you do want your products to bear the USDA Organic seal whenever possible.
Look for eco-friendly health and beauty products.Generally, you want to avoid harsh chemicals and synthetic colors and fragrances. After reading many of the labels on my deparment store and drug store shelves, I learned that methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl paraben--or some combination of these synthetic ingredients--are in the majority of the skin and hair products made. I realized that I'd need to make an effort seek out products that used natural ingredients and were pacakged in nontoxic, recyclable packaging, and then start to slowly replace my existing products with these new ones. There are so many amazing choices today for products that are filled with organic, plant- and fruit-based ingredients. If you're unsure about how "green" your product is, check out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database site, which rates popular cosmetics and personal-care products with hazard scores on a scale of 0 to 10, depending on their toxicity. If you're not sure about the toxicity level of a product, don't buy it.
Substitute one personal care item at a time.The first thing I switched out was my drugstore hair conditioner for some inexpensive pure, organic coconut oil, which worked wonders on both my hair and skin. I found it to be a great overall moisturizer, and it lasts forever. Then I started minimizing my makeup routine and letting my skin go au natural one day per week (while writing or during downtime with my family). Today, I wear minimal makeup on the weekends or while I'm out running errands. I just wash, moisturize, and add sunscreen (or a tinted moisturizer) and big glasses and a hat.. I do wear eco-friendly makeup most other times, and I support those green health-care companies that are providing greener, healthier alternatives. I also don't use aluminum-inflused antiperspirants--these are personal choices, and I'm not a purist. I just started by switching out one chemical-laden product for a purer, cleaner version.
Experiment with homemade versions.If you want to know exactly what is in your skincare products, make your own. Not only will you save money and not have to worry about whether the packaging is recyclable, you'll know that no preservatives or toxic chemicals were used in the process. My facialist suggested a few things to try at home and I thought she was nuts. But then I came to learn that simple can be very effective. To cleanse your skin and tighten your pores, slather some plain Greek yogurt on your face and let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing with cool water. Create a facial mask that exfoliates and moisturizes by mixing ¼ cup sweet almond oil with a teaspoon of lemon juice. Or try mashing up a ripe banana, then gently applying it to your face and neck. Let it set for 10-20 minutes before rinsing it off with cold water.
The truth is, we have to do our own research and educate ourselves. No one will do it for us. And the more we let cosmetics and skin-care companies know that we are seeking a cleaner alternative, then the more responsive they will become to consumers. At first, going green can seem overwhelming (or insurmountable). But if you take it one step at a time, it gets easier. I promise.
Actress, speaker, and author Rachelle Carson-Begley is one of the most recognized names and faces in the environmental world of Hollywood. To learn more about her and her tips for an eco-friendly world, visit www.rachellecarson-begley.com.