Skin Care: It Doesn't Have to be Hazardous

For a month, I sampled three different skin care lines that have no toxic chemicals. All of them are rated at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and are listed in the PETA "cruelty-free" shopping guide.
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Despite the fact that the Safety in Cosmetics Act of 2010 didn't get traction, there are still plenty of products available for those who want to go the "natural" route.

For a month, I sampled three different skin care lines that have no toxic chemicals. All of them are rated at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and are listed in the PETA "cruelty-free" shopping guide. I focused on a triad of items that women of all ages use: eye cream, daytime moisturizer and nighttime moisturizer. Each manufacturer had a story of evolution. However, they were unanimous in their desire to offer consumers alternative options for their needs.

Linda Stein, formerly a trademark attorney, started Zosimos Botanicals because she had been searching for a personal care system that would not harm her sister -- who has a challenged immune system. Located in Gaithersburg, Md., Stein started in 2004 as a one-woman operation. As she continued to build her line, she branched out from private customers to include small stores, make-up artists and the Internet.

Believing in a "green" lifestyle, Stein sees herself as part of a community that has a specific belief system. Her goal is to make what she creates accessible. She provides mini-size samples of the entire line, and pointed out that she had hair care and cosmetics geared to women of color. Her packaging is recyclable; shipping is based on weight and zip code.

Constantly updating and changing her formulas in response to customer requests, the eye cream Stein sent me is currently being reformulated to be a vegan formula.

"The difference between our products and what you get in a store, is that ours are made upon order," said Stein. Her Restorative Facial Moisturizer comes in a glass bottle with a pump applicator. The woodsy smell comes form the tamanu seed oil. It's a light yellow liquid that contains chamomile, making it gentle and suitable for all skin types. I particularly liked the scent, which made me feel like it was part of a spa treatment. The Repair Elixir, a night serum, is geared to "reduce the signs of aging." Stein informed me that the watermelon seed oil helps with "skin elasticity," while the rose hips seed oil "regenerates skin cells." Once the oil is applied, it is quickly absorbed into the skin.

"Anything synthetic is on my no list," said Stein. "Educating people on the importance of avoiding environmental toxins is part of my mission."

The creator of Herbaliz, Liz McEwan, has a similar mindset. Along with her first-time orders, she includes printed materials with information about the top ten ingredients to avoid. Her tag line is, "Reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. Feel better."

McEwan, who has a master's degree in social work, was involved with helping at-risk adolescents. She described the employment as "stressful." She wanted to cut back on her hours, and began making products that she would normally buy. McEwan told me that she "started to feel better and look better." Soon, she was getting compliments on her hair and skin, with questions about what she was using. She found herself on a new life track. Now, ten years later, she has moved to a new home where the lower level is devoted to making her products.

Based in Pennsylvania, McEwan fills the orders herself, as well as handling all of her distribution. Packaging is recyclable. Her labels specify when the item should be used by. "Essential oils lose their power," she explained.

Her eye cream is a solid, based on organic unrefined shea butter. It should be used sparingly, and immediately warms to the skin. The Real Green Cream is a rich substance that can also be used as a cleansing cold cream. When I first applied it, the feel was more oily than I was used to. I put it on before bed, and when I woke up in the morning, my skin was silky smooth. Her Aloe & Shea Moisturizing Lotion, a light day cream, came in a pump container, and can be used for hands and body as well. McEwan revealed that consumers have long been programmed to believe that face products need to be different and more expensive.

For those who may be reticent about making changes to their beauty regime, Weleda is the perfect introduction to a line that comes across as more mainstream. Ironically, it is a 90-year-old company. It was started in a small Swiss village by Dr. Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Ita Wegman, who were ahead of the holistic curve. They moved from developing homeopathic medicines to skin products -- based on the belief that anything put on the skin became internalized. "In harmony with nature and the human being," is on their inserts.

I spoke with Jennifer Barckley, the Director of Communications, Education and Sustainability. She emphasized the company's philosophy, which is "to give back to the earth more than you take." Weleda is marketed to health stores, online and at Whole Foods.

The items I sampled were geared to different life stages. Barckley told me that the Weleda creams have a two-and-a-half year shelf life. They have organic alcohol as a preservative, along with organic essential oils. The recyclable packaging is considered a third preservative. The company uses dark-colored glass, food-grade plastics and aluminum tubes lined with non-toxic resin. Barckley told me that Weleda does third-party efficacy tests, with results shown on the website.

The Almond Facial Lotion, specifically for sensitive skin, can be used for all life stages. Barckley recommended it as an excellent starting point for women when they are transitioning from "a conventional product to a natural product," explaining that the skin must relearn how to respond to living plants.

All of the creams were white, but each had a different scent and consistency. In the Wild Rose Smoothing Eye Cream, targeting those in their 30s, organic rose hips seed oil is the active ingredient helping skin cells regenerate. The Pomegranate Firming Night Cream is for skin forty-plus, and features free-radical agents and antioxidants. The basis for all of the formulas is that each cream works with the skin.

I spoke with Barckley about women's quest to fight the aging process. She sent me a follow up e-mail:

"So often, we want to turn back time to look and feel like we are 16 again. Instead, what if we embrace each new year? Every stage in our life offers experiences and wisdom. When we turn 40, we are full of deep understanding -- about ourselves and the world. This same wisdom is in our skin. While our skin regeneration processes slow down, it is also wise and beautiful."

A concept definitely worth embracing.

This article originally appeared on the women's health site Empowher.