Transitioning to a green beauty routine is like any other big change or undertaking in life:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
“The beginning is always today.” - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” - John Pierpont “J.P.” Morgan
All of these wise words are true. But none of them actually tell you how to start the journey. We know you need to take a single step, but what does that single step look like, and in which direction?
Luckily, when it comes to green beauty, I am here to help you figure out exactly how to start your journey toward a healthier routine, and I promise it’s not a thousand-mile journey at all! Once you’ve taken the first step or two, you’ll be surprised how fun and enjoyable the process can be!
When I first decided to “go green” back in 2009, it felt like a lot of sacrifice. It felt like giving up the routine I knew, the products I loved, and the freedom to buy and use products casually, without thinking about what was in them or how they were made. What I didn’t realize at first was what I would get in return. I got the opportunity to change my health. I got the opportunity to support brands and companies I really believe in. I got the luxurious ingredients that healed my skin.
That said, I still sympathize with people who say “I could never go completely green! I can’t possibly live without my (insert icky product here)!” because I remember that feeling so well. For me, it was deodorant, mascara, and my silicone-laden primer. I really thought I couldn’t replace those things. (Spoiler alert: I did and I’m happier now with how I look and how my body feels, so there!)
Now, ten years later, I hope you can benefit from my years of trying natural products; I’ve found the ones that really work, and below I’ve compiled a list of five easy swaps you can make today to make your routine more green without sacrificing anything.
Step #1: Switch from Body Wash to Soap
This is a clear path for starting the journey of going green. Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia, says, “When you’re trying to decrease the number of chemicals you might be absorbing through your skin, start with the products you use from the neck down every day. The skin of your face is only 4.5% of your body’s surface area, whereas the skin of the body comprises 91% of the absorptive surface of the skin.” That’s no small number! So how do you make sure that what you’re putting on that large percentage of your body is safe? If you can swap out just two products - trade in your body wash for soap and your body lotion for oil - you’re already winning.
I know those bottles of body wash in the grocery store aisle are easy to grab, but guess what’s in them? Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, synthetic fragrance, and preservatives, for sure, not to mention the big plastic bottle. You don’t need any of that to get a satisfying lather and a really great clean. You only need good, old-fashioned, totally luxurious, handmade, incredible-smelling SOAP! Let me be clear - I’m not talking about the kind of soap you grab in the grocery store aisle, either. I’m talking about the powerful magic that is handmade, natural bar soap. Yes, real soap made by real people!
Osmia’s line of body soaps covers it all. For sensitive or eczema-prone skin, I always recommend Oh So Soap, because it’s gentle and simple, with few ingredients and tons of moisturizing oils. For those who want a little more zest, I recommend the Coffee Mint Soap, which is still gentle and safe, but is seriously scrubby and energizing. Use it all over (except for on your face or sensitive parts!) or just for your hands at the kitchen sink, and rejoice in knowing you’re saving the planet as well as your health!
Step #2: Swap out Body Lotion for Body Oil
Similar to the body washes mentioned above, conventional body lotion can really pack in a lot of chemicals like parabens, fragrance, mineral oil, and phenoxyethanol. This is because lotion is a mix of oils and water, which requires emulsifiers and preservatives - which often means nasty chemicals. Instead, why not supply the water (from your bath or shower) and add the oil yourself? By applying body oil to wet skin after a bath or shower, you’re making your own emulsion sans chemicals and preservatives, which saves you money, because you need less product! Ta da!
I personally adore Osmia’s Night Body Oil (and I’m such a crazy rebel I also use it during the day!) because of its soothing, lavender scent and whopping ELEVEN nourishing plant oils for amazing skin health. I jokingly call it a “gateway drug” to other natural body products. Once you get used to applying it straight out of the bath or shower - no need to towel off before or after - you’ll forget lotion ever lived on your skin.
Step #3: Upgrade Your Shampoo/Conditioner
I didn’t think hair care mattered much when I first switched to green beauty. I figured that my hair was already dead, shampoo washed out quickly, and my scalp was a small bit of real estate, so who really cared, anyway? Wrong, wrong, wrong. It turns out that hair follicles are points of entry for chemicals to enter the bloodstream. “So, the ingredients in our hair care products are given a fast pathway to our bloodstream,” says Follain’s Clean Beauty 101 blog. Also, since hair is at the top of your body, everything you rinse off your head runs down over most of your body’s surface area on the way down the drain, which means your scalp is not the only thing exposed to your hair care!
Given all that, it seems clear that our shampoo, conditioner, and hair products have a huge impact on our health. I highly recommend these three brands to anyone who will listen: Innersense Organic Beauty, Josh Rosebrook, and Rahua. Among them, you can find products to meet absolutely any hair-styling, cleansing, or conditioning need, and all the swaps for your current conventional favorites.
Step #4: Clean Up Your Face Soap and Moisturizer
One thing I hear commonly from people when I tell them I’m a green beauty writer is, “Oh, I use Cetaphil, which is kind of the same thing as green beauty, right?” Because a cleanser like Cetaphil is known to be gentle, non-fragranced, and low-lather, it’s easy to assume it’s on the cleaner side. But Cetaphil’s ingredients like PEG-200, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Phenoxyethanol, not to mention “masking fragrance” (which masks who knows what and negates the “unscented” claim), are not the safest, especially for sensitive skin.
What do I recommend instead? Osmia’s best selling Black Clay Facial Soap is an amazing option for those looking to swap out conventional products. Here, the lather comes from coconut milk, while Black Australian clay and Dead Sea mud balance and tone the skin. Add in the nourishing, organic almond, avocado, and castor bean oils and you have a perfect soap that’s also travel-friendly, long-lasting, and effective. It’s one of those swaps that doesn’t make you feel like you’re sacrificing anything - because you’re not! (My professional opinion, but also based on the tons of fans of this soap who agree with me!!)
And don’t just stop at the soap you use! Another easy swap you can make is your facial moisturizer! If you like a cream, try Osmia’s Purely Simple Face Cream. It’s just what the name implies: pure and simple, with a base of aloe juice for hydration and a low percentage of essential oils for even the most sensitive skin. If your skin likes oils, I highly recommend Osmia’s cult classic Nectar Vital Rose Drops. Use the drops alone or with the Purely Simple Face Cream for an added dose of nourishment.
Step #5: Be Picky with Perfume
This felt like an obvious swap to me, because conventional perfume companies are not required by the FDA to disclose ingredients, which means they’ll sneak in all kinds of things, from FDA-banned food flavors to insect repellants used to treat lice and scabies. (If you want to learn more, check out the movie Stink! all about the fragrance industry). Swap your conventional perfume for a completely clean, essential oil-based fragrance. The Osmia Natural Perfume Sampler lets you try FIVE gorgeous, unique scents before buying a full-sized bottle or two. My personal favorite? It’s a tie between Bria and Blum, but they’re all amazing, and you have to see for yourself what works best for you. Scent is so personal and natural perfumes can smell a little different on every individual person, which is exactly what makes them so special!
What about makeup, you ask? Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post where I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite clean, green makeup and give you all the tips-- the shops I trust, the brands I love, and the tricks I use to feel confident and radiant.
I hope the above recommendations make you feel like going green is truly possible (and fun!). Trust me - there are tons of options out there for which you won’t have to sacrifice efficacy or luxury. There are things you’ll be glad you discovered, even if you didn’t know you wanted them! And I’m always here to guide you to my tried-and-true favorites. You’re not alone on this journey to green products. Just try these first steps and take a walk on the green side! I promise you won’t be sorry.
With love and celebratory steps to going green,
Emily Barth Isler is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and their two kids. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film, and TV. Emily writes regularly for Allure.com and other publications about sustainable, eco-friendly beauty and skincare, and has also written web sitcoms, parenting columns, and personal essays. She has a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, and really, really loves television. Find her online at emilybarthisler.com, or on Instagram for Beauty Writing at @emilybarthisler.