Makeup has a long and varied history, playing a role in everything from wealth to prostitution to fitness for marriage. Here in 2019, I think we can all agree that both women and men use makeup as a form of self expression and art. A bold, red lip can take a look from office to dinner party. A smokey eye can bring focus to the windows to your soul. Mascara can make you look more awake than coffee some days, and a good blush can do pretty much ANYTHING!
For me, as for many people, makeup is about so much more than appearance. It’s ritual and fine art. It’s meditation and innovation, it’s control and abandon. It’s me-time and confidence and color theory science experiments for grown-ups. And, since I try to buy makeup that is good for the environment, good for my health, and made by largely women-owned, indie companies, I think of my makeup habit as a political and social statement. It’s another chance for me to vote with my wallet, to have a say about what kinds of things I want on my body, and exercise my feminism.
It’s a little overwhelming to walk into a drugstore or Sephora and read all the labels, hoping for something that fits your needs, actually works, and is sustainable. Luckily, I’ve done some serious homework on the subject, and am here to help! Whether you’re a green beauty expert or a newbie wanting to dip a toe into the world of sustainable makeup, I’ve got you covered in four easy steps.
Step 1: Find Your Core Brands
My favorite brands tend to be involved in sustainability, philanthropy, and education. There are so many interesting companies out there that are “walking the walk”— finding innovative ways to save energy and create healthy formulations in thoughtful packaging. In addition, a product really has perform! My mascara has to stay on all day and not make me look like a raccoon! My lipstick can’t just fade off in 10 minutes, and if my foundation is pilling or doesn’t blend, that’s a deal-breaker. Here are some of the brands I trust completely to make products that actually work, are fun to use, and make the world a better place, one tube or box at a time.
Their specific focus on one specific part of the face— lips— is evidence that they are serious about doing it well. They make lipsticks and lip crayons, all with the goal of providing color for your lips in every shade imaginable (seriously— gold, purple, and every shade of red, pink, and brown you could ever want!). You can also choose by finish or texture— Sheer Balm, Soft Cream, Rich Cream, or Shimmer. Between compostable boxes and recyclable aluminum tubes for the lipsticks, Axiology puts ideas into action, including their donations to animal welfare organizations.
Get on this bandwagon now, people, because founder Tiila Abbitt is a one-woman powerhouse we’re all going to want to watch. She’s been an innovator in the field of sustainability for years— first working for Sephora and now at the helm of her own quickly-growing company. Āether’s palettes are showstoppers that top conventional products in color payoff, shade range, and trends, but the packaging contains no mirrors, no magnets, and is made from recyclable paper. Inside, top-notch ingredients mix with real crystal and gemstone dust (Diamond powder! Sapphire powder!). Abbitt also ensures that the working conditions for those harvesting the ingredients are fair and ethical (no child labor, as is common with mica). Start following Āether now, because I’ve seen a preview of the new products launching in the next several months, and they’re going to be equally amazing as these versatile, long-lasting eyeshadow palettes I genuinely love.
It would be enough just to create the amazing, rich, organic makeup I’ve long loved and counted on from Au Naturale, but founder Ashley Prange and her team take their business a step further. Since the brand began in 2011, Prange has been involved in lobbying in Washington, D.C. for safer chemical regulations for personal care and makeup. At their proprietary lab in Wisconsin, the Au Naturale team gathers ethically sourced, organic, fair-trade ingredients to create the products that demonstrate that clean, effective beauty is not just a possibility, but a reality. The range of vivid colors is carried by Whole Foods. As the Au Naturale slogan commands, let the #CleanColorRevolution continue!
This brand is thoughtful from the inside out. The products are luxurious and pure, with minerals, vitamins, essential oils, and pigments that are organic and/or sustainably sourced. They’re packaged in recyclable aluminum or glass containers, and boxes printed at a wind-powered facility. The Taos, NM company’s USDA organic lab, offices, and warehouse are all under one roof to minimize the company’s carbon footprint, and the building uses passive solar daylighting and renewable energy. Vapour doesn’t just care about the environment, they care deeply about people. They are very vocal about the importance of giving their employees a supportive, healthy workplace environment, and are also committed to serving people with a wide range of skin tones, making their makeup and skincare groundbreakingly inclusive.
Step 2: Find Your Standout Products
Not every product works for every individual, of course, but there are some products that I have put to the test in all kinds of situations— long days, workouts, restaurant meals, hot weather—and they stand the test of my real life. Here are a few finds that I recommend to anyone who wants to experience effective, green beauty.
Not only are they one of my core brands, their eye shadow palettes are the most fun, long-lasting, and glamorous I’ve ever found. The shadow stays put all day, the range of colors and finishes is extensive, and each palette is safe to use for over three years. That’s a lot of value for your money, and I can’t tell you the compliments I’ve gotten while wearing these eye shadow combinations.
RMS is legendary, and this particular product is no exception. From the clean ingredients to the chic the glass tub, makeup artist Rose-Marie Swift’s cult-status eye polishes are versatile and moisturizing. I use them for more than eye shadow— I use them on my lips, cheeks, and eyes. RMS is celebrating 10 years of sustainable beauty and you can see why this OG (original green) natural brand stands the test of time.
I love this product because it’s affordable, uses clean fruit pigments instead of synthetic colors, and is super easy to apply on the go. I’m partial to the Coral Hibiscus shade for a bright pop of color on my cheeks, but all four shades are amazing.
With two varieties, W3LL PEOPLE is my go-to brand for mascara (among other things, of course!). Both formulations, Expressionist Mascara and the new Expressionist Volumizing Mascara, contain no nylon particles to pollute our oceans, which many conventional brands use to make lashes look thicker. W3LL PEOPLE does it all naturally, with excellent formulas and innovative, effective brush design.
Everyone loves Kjaer Weis’ chic reusable, metal packaging—so glam! The eyeliners’ metal caps are just the beginning of why I love these pencils. The colors are rich, the texture is very smooth, and I have no issues with smudging or irritation when I wear them. I like basic black most of the time, but have also been known to rock brown, blue, and purple on occasion, and I’ve used the brown on my lips as well!
Kari Gran Lip Whips are ultra-moisturizing and perfect for people who don't want to look like they're wearing makeup. If you’re a grab-and-go kind of morning person, keeping a Lip Whip in your purse or car will make it easy to look put together and feel fresh in a flash.
If you’re looking for an ultimate multitasking product, I love 14e Cosmetics’ foundations with SPF. It’s like several products in one step, and I love saving time in the morning and not having to worry about applying sunscreen separately!
Step 3: Find Your Trusted Stores
The best tip I can give anyone who wants to use more green beauty and cosmetics is to shop at the right places. If you don’t have the time to look up every single ingredient in every single product you’re considering, there are retailers who have already done that for you. These are the stores you can trust implicitly— if they sell it, you can assume it’s safe, healthy, and effective. There are many wonderful options, but IF I had to pick my top three favorites, here they are.
This fast-growing chain-let has stores from Boston to Seattle, plus an impressive online presence, complete with amazing information and resources about ingredients and makers. Tara Foley founded the company in 2013 and is on the cutting edge of finding new products to introduce to her customers.
This is a family-owned and run online boutique with strict standards and a big following. With a great sampling program, plus samples of most products available for sale, Integrity Botanicals makes it easy to find and try out green makeup even if you live far from a big city or natural cosmetics hub.
The innovative brainchild of Jeannie Jarnot, Beauty Heroes is a completely groundbreaking subscription box service and online store that actually encourages its customers to buy less! With their slogan, Use Less, Love More, the Beauty Heroes team motivates people to spend money on fewer products by selecting brands that really work, last longer, and discourage waste. Check out their Blue Beauty initiative and their upcoming first brick and mortar experience store and wellness center in Novato, California.
Step 4: Find Your Favorite Tricks
The internet is full of ideas about how to apply makeup. Here are my two (dozen) cents on the topic.
Skincare first! Osmia's Facial Serums make an excellent base for smooth makeup application. Makeup looks better when applied onto a well-nourished canvas.
Look like yourself. You don’t need to be anyone but who you already are, so go for the products that enhance your natural beauty. Express yourself, but don’t cover up your true essence.
For me, the bottom line is that makeup makes me feel like myself. It’s one of the things I look forward to doing in the morning— making art that expresses who I am and makes me feel good. While we’ve come a long way since ancient times, when makeup often contained ingredients like arsenic or lead, some of the makeup brands sold today are still safer than others. Hopefully this article will help you feel less alone in the journey to your healthiest, most beautiful self. Remember to start with your face and body care, and build a solid foundation from there. Pun intended. Find me on Instagram with questions!
With love and healthy lip gloss from us to you,
ABOUT OUR WRITER, EMILY BARTH ISLER
She's a writer, Young Adult Fiction author, and natural beauty editor. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film, and TV. She spent several years in New York writing episodic television for the web with Emmy-award winning PhoebeTV, and a lifetime writing YA short stories and plays.
She holds a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, where she took all the creative writing classes she could find, including one which was taught by none other than Lemony Snicket himself! Her work as a Beauty Editor/Writer can be seen online in many publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.