Maybe you consider yourself a bit of a green goddess. After all, you recycle, you haven't taken a sip of bottled water in years, you buy your sweaters from an all-female Guatemalan knitters' co-op and your shoes are made from recycled tires.
But hold on a minute. Have you checked your makeup bag? What you use to look naturally beautiful just might be chock-full of chemically enhanced cosmetics encased in large, nonrecyclable plastic containers.
But, you say, what choice do you have?
What woman doesn't want to put on a little luscious lip shimmer or glam eye shadow from time to time, even if there could be a cost to the environment, nevertheless your health?
This dilemma has many beauty buffs wondering if it's possible to be green and still look good.
"There are no definitions or standards in terms of what's organic and what's natural, so for consumers right now, it's buyer beware," said Jane Houlihan, vice president of research for the Environmental Research Group.
It comes down to "buyer beware" because the Food and Drug Administration doesn't set standards on ingredients manufacturers are allowed to use in beauty products. Your lipstick could contain petroleum-based preservatives, hormone-disrupting benzophenone, or your foundation might have a formaldehyde-based preservative, and mascara could contain mercury.
Know What You Put On ... Your Face and Body
More cosmetic companies are making an effort to go green, offering environmentally friendly products that contain natural and organic ingredients, fewer chemicals and preservatives, and recyclable packaging.
Kiehl's, the New York-based skin and hair care company, has been using natural ingredients for about 150 years, ever since the company began as a small apothecary selling tonics and salves to Manhattan locals.
The company Web site, Kiehls.com, shows a lengthy list of natural ingredients, from sweet almond oil to avocado oil to yerba mate tea. Recently, the company began a fair trade initiative with a woman's cooperative in Morocco.
"Argan oil is known to have really high levels of antioxidants. Someone from our global product development team was on vacation in Morocco and found these beans and brought them back to us and said, 'What can we do with these,'" said Betty Kim-English, Kiehl's assistant vice president of marketing. From those beans, Kiehl's developed a skin salve, a body lotion and a restorative oil, and made a commitment to help sustain the Argan forests.
The company also uses almost no secondary packaging. You know the kind — the pretty, but environmentally unfriendly, cardboard boxes that surround most beauty products. When you buy from Kiehl's, your body lotion comes in a simple, recyclable bottle.
They even use soy ink in their mailings.
The San Francisco-based beauty giant Bare Escentuals was one of the first cosmetic companies to introduce a mineral-based line of products. Mineral-based products are believed to be better for you because the finely ground minerals are lighter on your skin and don't contain talc, oil or chemicals. The full bareMinerals makeup line is a hot seller for the company.
"We stay away from preservatives, waxes and fillers. We keep it simple and use the minerals in their purest form," said Staci Reilly, senior vice president of brand awareness and development for Bare Escentuals.
The packaging is refillable and recyclable. The company is also going green in ways you can't even see.
"In Ohio, we just moved into a warehouse, where the energy sources, lights and building materials are all green-conscious," Reilly said.
Buy A Green Product, Get Tree Planted
Other companies are getting into the green act in smaller, but still significant, ways.
Smashbox cosmetics introduced a line of products this spring built around the Moringa Tree. Extracts from the tree contain antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A, according to Smashbox. The Green Room Collection includes a lip gloss, eye shadow and a bronzer, all made with Moringa seed extract. And the company has pledged to plant a Moringa tree in a developing country for each Green Room product sold.
Yum Gourmet Skincare (that's Yum, as in the Tibetan word for mother, not yum as in yummy) sells a line of products containing "fresh organic and natural ingredients, such as juices, oils, herbs and pulp." The makeup remover, for instance, is made from cucumber.
Kopali Organics also offers a skin care line derived from cacao butter. The line includes moisturizers, face creams, lip balms and skin rejuvenators. The ingredients are certified organic, cruelty-free and vegan. And, according to its Web site, "these products help rescue sustainable cacao farming in Central America and the Caribbean."
And, if you're looking for some "green" red or pink lipstick, you might want to check out Toronto-based Cargo. The company has developed a compostable lipstick case made of corn, a renewable resource. The lipstick comes in a seed-embedded box — just add a little water and you can grow some wildflowers. What could be greener than that? So far, more than 5,000 flowers have been planted.
Marj Melchiors, president of Cosmetics Without Synthetics, says the sudden "greening" of the beauty industry is an interesting development since she started her business.
"When I started this business 11 years ago, it was very, very difficult to find product lines that met organic standards or contained natural ingredients, and now it's really easy," Melchiors said.
The Arizona-based company sells more than 500 beauty products from its Web site AllNaturalCosmetics.com. The most popular lines are Miessence, from Australia, an organic company that sells cosmetics and skin care products, and NVEY Eco Organic Makeup, also from Australia. Melchiors said her biggest problem is convincing her customers that natural cosmetics aren't boring.
"I think some people think that natural makeup is kind of limited ... but I have had clients who send me commercially made lipstick or blush, and they would ask me to match it with something more natural, and nine times out of 10 we do," Melchiors said.
There are a couple of caveats to remember, said Houlihan. She points out that just because a beauty company markets its product as natural and organic, that doesn't mean it's necessarily safe, mostly because there are so few set standards in how makeup and skin care are tested.
All of the companies we talked to for this article insisted they put product testing and consumer safety first and foremost.
But if you are concerned about an ingredient or product in your makeup case, you can always check out the Environmental Working Group's cosmetics safety database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com). The group has tested more than 28,000 products, and resource information can be found by typing in the name of the company, an ingredient or a product.