It all began with the $100 Sephora gift card.
Back in February, I found it lying in a pile of space-hoggers I’d plucked out of my wallet in frustration. It must have been there for a year, and likely from my mother (hi, mom!). I’d never used it because, honestly, I didn’t know much about Sephora except that when I wandered around blankly perusing the products, I started to cough from the perfume and my lungs propelled my legs to the exit.
Since then, I’ve probably gone from Sephora Boulder’s favorite to least-favorite customer. Why? Because I purchased probably $400 in products in February/March… and then returned them all, one by one, in March/April.
As my interest in makeup as a beautiful temporary art form peaked, my tendency to examine and research ingredients (something I’ve done with food for the last seven years) caught up to me—and once it grabbed hold, it wouldn’t let go.
During my research, I learned that there are more than 10,000 toxic ingredients allowed in conventional cosmetics, hair products and body/face creams, according to celebrity makeup artist and natural beauty expert Katey Denno.
Denno also says that there is virtually no regulation of terms like “non-toxic,” “green” or “all natural” on beauty products.
Since then, I started asking women who consider themselves healthy if they apply their same stringent standards to makeup.
And so many women told me that makeup is their last stand in the toxic realm.
Women who drink their greens, eat locally and sustainably, and use coconut oil on their bodies are still rubbing chemicals, toxins, synthetic dyes and known carcinogens all over their faces and lips.
I began to study everything that goes into conventional products intensely, and started an Instagram feed for green beauty where I now post daily with reviews, ingredient deep-dives and current looks with a journalist/activist edge.
My best recommendation? Turn over your cosmetics, read the ingredients and know what you’re ingesting.
Skim past the marketing—and unless it’s ingredients, it’s all marketing.
Sure, if a company is writing about its farm and its methods for cultivating ingredients, go ahead and read that. Become as informed as you desire. But, don’t forget to always look at the ingredients. A quick Google search on ingredients you don’t recognize is useful, but I recommend EWG’s Skin Deep database first and foremost.
This brings me to the question: If you’re trying to go toxin-free, which cosmetics can you trust?
After two months of constant testing—which was truly enjoyable for me, as nearly every day I dove into the creative energy of using my face as a temporary palette for artistic expression—these are my top three favorites in the 12 common categories of products we use on our faces to adorn (but hopefully not mask) them.
I’ve done a lot of narrowing and whittling to get to the top three in almost every category (plus some honorable mentions where necessary). What I list below are not only the shades that work best for me (a medium skin-toned gal with normal skin and warm/yellow undertones) but the product formulations, ingredients and consistency have all very much been taken into account. I was not paid by, nor am I affiliated with, any of the brands mentioned in this article. This is purely my opinion (but it’s a damn fine one, if I do say so myself).
Some notes on my picks:
- I’ve listed the products below in the order in which I apply them.
- I’ve included my color shades for certain products where it might be helpful.
- This particular guide is geared toward Spring colors: bright, fresh, sunkissed, and glowing.
I also don’t like to say what things DON’T contain, because I think it’s a gateway to ignoring what they DO. Brands often write, “NO this,” “NO that,” but it’s all marketing, because the ingredients they do contain are still less than pure.
However, I will say that none of the products mentioned below contain synthetic chemicals, FD&C or D&C dyes, parabens, phthalates, chemical preservatives, known carcinogens or any other toxins.
I’m also a purist, and take a pretty strong stance against things that can still be included in “green beauty” as well, such as dimethicone, talc, phenoxyethenol and particularly synthetic dyes, as often they are derived from coal tar, petroleum or (the worst) lead, and are sometimes tested on animals.
Always do your research and figure out which ingredients are right/wrong for you based on your own moral compass.
Also, this Spring guide by no means comprises all brands that are considered “green beauty.” I can think of at least two dozen I haven’t yet tried. But… there are three more seasons in 2016, after all. (If you are a brand that fits this criteria, feel free to get in touch with me.)
For this oh-so-important base layer category, I have three different consistency options for you: liquid, cream and powder.
My everyday go-to is the 100% Pure Fruit-Pigmented Healthy Foundation in the shade Golden Peach. A liquid formula, it is lovely to dot on and then blend with a beauty sponge.
Stepping into green beauty has truly changed how I view liquid foundation. I used to think of it as a smelly, cakey gross thing that I would never wear. But the 100% Pure foundation is quite literally made of fruits, peels, seeds and beans (and extracts of them). It’s a revolution.
As for powder, I haven’t found a lot of natural options I love except W3LL People Altruist Foundation Powder. The triple-milled pigments make it a very creamy blending experience, and I love that it’s made with organic aloe, chamomile and organic green tea—though I do find I have to go in a couple of times and use more product than I think I should need.
My cream favorite, which is perfect if you desire full coverage, is the Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation. It’s formulated with ingredients like sweet almond seed, coco and jojoba oils, and is best applied by hand and then blended out with a foundation brush. Note: The Kjaer Weis foundation does contain talc—some talc is contaminated with asbestos, which is carcinogenic. The talc in the Kjaer Weis foundation is asbestos-free, and 95% (minimum) of the ingredients are from organic farming.
I have a bone to pick with concealers. Not just green beauty concealers, all concealers. And that is because even in my twenties I had wrinkles around my eyes (I blame years of contact lens input and output since the 8th grade), and for the life of me I cannot find a concealer that does not crease.
The only one that does a decent job is the RMS Beauty “Un” Cover-Up (I’m in shade 33). Made with a blend of oils like organic coconut and castor seed, and rosemary extract, it’s lightweight but buildable and melts into the skin, especially when applying it with the fingers. When I apply this under my eyes and take the time to use a setting powder after doing so, it almost doesn’t crease. Which is seemingly the best that I can ask for!
My second favorite is Hynt Beauty’s Duet Perfecting Concealer in Medium. Extremely thick but somehow still fluffy, this is the stuff of many a beauty blogger’s dream. I find it most useful for covering blemishes, not under-eye circles. It’s made with aloe vera leaf, avocado oil and cupuacu seed butter (the white pulp of a rainforest tree found in the Amazon basin, which is said to have hydrating properties that absorb easily into skin).
And finally, I like the Vapour Organic Illusionist Concealer in 30. It has some amazing natural ingredients like tomato, frankincense and lotus leaf extract, and it’s very pigmented—but I find, of course, it deposits into my fine lines and stays there until I blur it out with my fingertip (repeat, all day). It’s extremely portable though and easy to apply straight from its narrow, spinnable container. For someone without my personal issues, this might be a dream.
Ah, bronzer. What more does a girl want than to feel a bit sunkissed during the Spring? Well, a heck of a lot, but for argument’s sake, let’s move on to what is one of the most popular cosmetics out there—bronzer.
The Bio Bronzer powder is a lovely “natural tan” shade and truly warming to the face. The Cocoa Glow is a bit of a cool bronze, if that exists, but I love that it’s made with cocoa powder, fruits, leaf extracts and lavender.
I’m also loving using the 100% Pure bronzer as a eyeshadow crease shade. One caveat I have about it, though—it arrived to me all smashed up and I had to replace it, and I’ve read other reviews saying as much, so be very gentle with it.
And as for liquid, I love to blend the 100% Pure All Over Glow in Lightly Sunkissed into my liquid foundation. It’s a bit shimmery for direct sunlight, but for a cloudy/rainy day or nighttime, it will give your entire face a delightful warm glow.
Honorable mention goes to: Kjaer Weis Dazzling Cream Bronzer. For me, honestly this is more of a light bronzer that highlights my cheekbones. For those with fair, light or light-medium skin, this is a lovely shimmery bronzer made to be applied with the warmth of the fingertips—plus, it’s made with 95% organic ingredients.
First and foremost, I quite love how my boyfriend still calls blush “rouge.” Secondly, I have way too many blushes to list as my top three favorites, so bear with me.
I used to only love powder blushes, but that’s because I didn’t know how to apply cream ones. Since I’ve learned quite a bit during my studies, I can safely say that my #1 favorite is the 100% Pure Fruit-Pigmented Lip & Cheek Tint in Peach Glow. This color is divine and made from cocoa butter, shea butter, honey beeswax, grapeseed oil, vitamins and fruits. It is the perfect warm-peach flush for my cheeks.
My #2 is the RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek in Promise. Promise is a warm salmon-pink with a very subtle golden shimmer. Honestly, what is it about RMS? I have loved literally everything I have tried from them, and their ingredients are also some of the cleanest in the market.
And my third favorite is Alima Pure’s Satin Matte Blush in Antique Rose. This is pretty light for my skin tone, but it’s the perfect I’m-not-wearing-makeup blush for easygoing days. It’s also literally just mica.
Honorable mentions go to: Jane Iredale In Touch Cream Blush in Clarity (a soft yet vibrant, bubblegum-pink shade that truly glides over the skin), Zuzu Luxe Blush in Cougar (a powder blush that’s peachy orange with a subtle shimmer), and W3LL People Universalist Colorstick 8 Dusty Rose (creamy and buildable, but it takes a while to warm up to the skin).
Well, that’s more than three favorites. Don’t judge.
Highlighters are one of the newest categories in the cosmetics world (also new are counter shades, which can easily be bronzing shades if they’re matte, and this is why they do not have their own category).
Because of this newness, I offer a little explanation: Highlighters are meant to be dotted and blended (if cream), or lightly brushed (if powder) onto the high points of the face. This is generally regarded as the cheekbones, but it can also be placed on the cupid’s bow above the lips, on the tip of the nose, the tip of the chin and just above the brow bone.
Highlighters are not blush, and they are not bronzer. They go where the light hits your face and produces a natural glow or glimmer. Highlighters are meant to amplify this glow.
My absolute favorite highlighter is the RMS Beauty Master Mixer. It is a luminous rose-gold cream highlighter that comes in a pot. Made with coconut oil, jojoba oil and rosemary extract, I find it works best if you dip your ring finger onto the product, swirl it in circles so it melts lightly, and dot it wherever you like. I’m not such a huge fan of dipping my fingers into things (I abhorred fingerpainting as a child), but for this product—sign me up, baby.
In no particular order, my next two favorites are the W3LL People Bio Brightener Stick and the 100% Pure Northern Light Luminous Creme highlighter. The W3LL People’s stick has great pigmentation and is super hydrating as well. The 100% Pure highlighter comes in a lip gloss-esque container, which is truly unique and allows you to really pinpoint exactly where you want that pink-toned highlight to go. Note: The W3LL People Bio Brightener does contain carmine (CI 75470) and is therefore not vegan.
Honorable mention goes to: Vapour Organic Halo Illuminator. The color is a bit too light for me (better for fairer-skinned folks), but it’s made with wildcrafted myrrh oil, wildcrafted frankincense and organic tulsi/holy basil leaf extract. This brand goes above and beyond when it comes to ingredient sourcing.
Girl, let me tell you a story.
I used to be afraid of eyeshadow. I had no idea how to use it, how much color to use, which colors… and my biggest problem? All I owned was purple. Can I tell you how much I hate purple cosmetics? How badly it pairs with my yellow-olive skin? Just so you know where my bias is.
The absolute best neutral colors for me are bronze, copper and gold colors (matte or shimmer, but I prefer shimmer), because they not only enhance brown eyes, they also enhance warm skin tones. Fellow yellow folks—do not read another article about purple eyeshadow enhancing your brown eyes. Just stay away.
This is another one of my personal problems, I’m sure. Because of my skin tone, the circles under my eyes come out purple, and so if I apply purple eyeshadow, I’m really just full-mooning the half-moon under my eyes.
But let’s get on with it, shall we?
My favorite eyeshadows so far this Spring have come in the Hynt Beauty Field of Gold set. They are: the Stella eyeshadows in Champagne and Honey Gold. The Champagne is a perfect shimmery beige base, though a bit light for my skin tone with only a light amount of glow. The Honey Gold is my #1 pick for a single-color shadow shade, as its coppery gold is a perfect match to complement brown eyes. A bit of Honey Gold and some luscious mascara is all I need on a no-makeup makeup day.
I’m going to count that as one. So, my #2 is the Red Apple Lipstick City Palette – Color. This is gorgeous for Spring! It’s got 4-5 nude-tan/pink base shades, depending on your skintone, one brow bone shade (Buttercream), one lilac shade (not for me, re: my hatred of purple, but it’s the only one I don’t use) and three of my favorite shades ever: Oh Schnapp!, a rose-gold shimmer, Mermaid Lagoon, a light tropical water warm blue, and Siren, a gorgeous sea-foam green/turquoise.
I must say, though: these shades aren’t as pigmented as others I’ve tried, so I recommend spritzing your eyeshadow brush with a bit of water or rosewater and applying the color wet for a bolder application that lasts longer.
Last but not least, I adore Silk Naturals eyeshadows, and they are such a bargain (only $4.50 a pop). My favorites for Spring are the shades Ruffian (a stunning blue with lots of glimmer), Loaded (a warm-tan shimmer with hints of pink) and Caliber (a warm, golden-shimmer pearl with a hint of red).
Honorable mentions go to: the Red Apple Prime Time Mineral Eye Primer, which doesn’t quite prevent all creasing but does provide a lovely cream-to-powder finish on the lid as a base for any and all colors. I also adore the Zuzu Luxe Amazon Glam Palette for its peachy, orange, bronze and chestnut brown shades (and the convenience of a small to-go palette).
Eyeliner is one of those things that a lot of people find essential that I absolutely do not. To me, especially during the day, there’s nothing prettier than a subtle golden shimmer on the eyelid paired with a luscious, fluffy mascara for a bright-eyed, open and awake look.
I know, I just half-convinced you with that description.
But, on those special steamy- and smoky-eyed nights, I’ve got some faves for you.
I adore the Gabriel Eyeliner in Black. This is my absolute favorite. It is so creamy, stays on all day, doesn’t smudge and is made of amazing ingredients like jojoba oil and sea fennel extract.
My favorite brown liner has got to be the Hynt Beauty Forte High Definition Eye Liner in Brown. It’s creamy, comes with a smudge tip on the other end, and is made with coconut oil.
And finally, I adore the Vapour Organic Beauty Mesmerize Eyeliners. I have them in Ink (black) and Viper (dark purple). The pencil is a bit less creamy than the Gabriel and Hynt eyeliners, but still doesn’t require that much pressure.
That’s it for now—pretty classic darker colors. I am looking for a natural, brilliant warm blue eyeliner (I was using Urban Decay and Sephora brand ones until I returned them…), so if any of you know of one you love, please leave me a comment or let me know on Instagram.
In this category, I’m going to cheat a little, but in the opposite way I did in “Blush.” I’ve only got one brand to recommend to you, though I do have two products.
My go-to for brows is a fusion of 100% Pure Long Last Brows in Medium Brown and Soft Brown. The medium brown color is very dark, almost black, and the soft brown is really more of a medium brown. This pulls like a dry gel, and contains marula oil, coffee, oregano, thyme, black tea and, of course, fruits. A little bit goes a long way with these products.
I would love to recommend more to you, but I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tried personally. A few green beauty bloggers and YouTubers recommend EcoBrow and Glo Minerals, which I will likely try for a future review. Leave me a comment if you have further recommendations!
This is the easiest category for me to write about, because I am completely in love with these three products regardless of the fact that they’re green beauty. They beat my old Clinique stuff any day.
My top pick? Hynt Beauty’s Nocturne Mascara. Oh. My. Lord. This is the mascara of dreams, people. It lengthens, curls, volumizes and gives me tiny eyelash orgasms every time I use it. Okay, that was too far. Anyway, it’s made with chamomile, rosemary leaf, lemon peel, cinnamon bark… all amazingness. Get your hands on this.
My second favorite is the 100% Pure Maracuja Mascara in Black Tea. This is a wet formula, which I personally like a lot, though some say it weighs their lashes down. It doesn’t for me, and I have long, thick lashes already. With oregano, thyme, goldenseal, maracuja seed oil and seaweed powder extract, it’s a treat for your lashes.
And rounding this winning team out is the W3LL People Expressionist Mascara in Black. Buildable and designed for big, fluffy lashes, it’s smudge-free and an award-winner in quite a few beauty magazines. Note: It does contain “Parfum” in the ingredients.
This is my favorite category! In my 40 Days of Pure Lips challenge, all of the following have been featured and linked below, if you’d like to see them on my pout.
In what took an inordinately, painstakingly long window of time, I managed to narrow down my favorites to 16. My top 16. Yes, I’m aware I have a problem.
I’ve grouped them by shade range according to how they pull on my lips/skin.
- Philosophy by Axiology*
- Foxglove (Pomegranate line) by 100% Pure
- Audrey by Red Apple Lipstick**
- Butterchew (Lip Caramel) by 100% Pure
- Attitude by Axiology**
- Lipstick 01 Soft Coral by Dr. Hauschka
- Narcissus (Pomegranate line) by 100% Pure
- Ganache (Lip Caramel) by 100% Pure*
- Passion Flower by Zuzu Luxe**
- Virtue by Axiology
- Devotion by Axiology*
- Sunkissed by Red Apple Lipstick
- Firecracker by Red Apple Lipstick*
- Lipstick 04 Warm Red by Dr. Hauschka
- Red Velvet (Lip Caramel) by 100% Pure
- Poppy (Pomegranate line) by 100% Pure**
*my favorite daytime shade in this range; **my favorite nighttime shade in this range
A few notes: As I mentioned, I have a warm skin tone, so not many of these have blue or cool undertones. And “oranges” is very broad—this also includes peaches, or reds with notable orange tones. The lipstick shades I chose are suited perfectly for someone with medium skin (me)—if you’re on the darker side, the colors may appear more subtle on you and you might be able to wear all of these in the daytime. If you’re on the lighter side, go with the lighter shades, and maybe save the darker ones for nighttime.
Or better yet, do what I do and wear whatever you want, whenever you want.
As far as brands, I have three firm favorites for lipstick, which you can see by my consistent choice of them in the shade ranges above.
My three picks are: 100% Pure, Axiology and Red Apple Lipstick.
100% Pure makes the most truly pure lip products on the market.
Their Pomegranate line is smooth and creamy, and the fruit pigments leave a gorgeous stain on the lips. They call them “anti-aging” moisturizing lipsticks due to the concentration of antioxidants, particularly pomegranate oil (hence the name of the line). The intensity of some of these reds/pinks (particularly Primrose, Poppy and Narcissus) is second-to-none—they are pure pigment, and pure fabulousness.
100% Pure’s Lip Caramel line comes in gloss-type packaging, but I’ve included them under Lipsticks because of how incredibly pigmented and matte they can be, depending on the shade and application. The fruit, root and achiote seed pigments in a base of pomegranate oil and cocoa butter makes these intense colors smell and taste naturally delicious, too.
The lighter shades are glossy gorgeousness; the darker shades however, require a certain technique to work optimally: Apply the darker shade, then immediately blot. This will leave you with a matte look. If you really want a glossy look, be careful—the Lip Caramels start to feather out (away from your lips and into the tiny lines in the skin around them) if there is too much product on your lips. This tends to be a problem for me only for the darker colors, as it’s much more noticeable.
100% Pure is a stellar brand, and I’d repurchase many of these shades in a heartbeat.
Axiology is hands-down my absolute favorite luxury lipstick brand—not only for their colors, but for their philosophy, ingredients and scent (the sweet orange oil is addictive!). They craft lipstick exclusively and are one of the only green beauty brands that offer lipsticks in wacky colors like purple, blue and black.
They also have some damn fine copywriting, such as: “For both bold romantics and wall-flowers, Philosophy’s ultra-smooth pink blends with a twist of salmon—bringing to life even the shyest of lips. Like a pair of well-loved ballet slippers, this shade is soft, silky and just-a-touch sweet.” Hot.
Their packaging is out-of-this world—triangular boxes sustainably sourced from a Balinese women-run recycled paper store house a gorgeous gold bullet that’s addictively clickable (warning: keep away from children and boyfriends). One click reveals the lipstick, another keeps it from being twisted open in bejangling purses.
Axiology’s lipsticks tend to be a tad bit on the earth-toned side (read: “brown,” to some), but their ingredients are stellar. For example: Organic Candelilla Wax, Organic Avocado Oil, Organic Castor Oil, Organic Avocado Butter, Organic Grape Seed Oil, Organic Coconut Oil, Vitamin E Oil, Elderberry Extract and Sweet Orange Oil. May Contain: Iron Oxide, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Manganese Violet.
I mean, really. Purity level = amazing.
Each lipstick will run you $28, and they are worth every damn penny.
Red Apple Lipstick is the third brand I cannot live without when it comes to lipstick.
Their ingredients are not organic, but they’re still pure, toxin-free and do not contain synthetic dyes. Typically found in their lipsticks are: Candelilla Wax, Synthetic Bees Wax, Olive Oil, Cupuacu Seed Butter, Sweet Almond Oil, Aloe Barbadensis leaf Extract and Mica.
These guys are the real deal, and when you search among their myriad of shades, you can search by shade groups, finish, formula and allergens—which is extremely helpful considering they have so many (45+) options! The lipsticks are generally creamy and super easy to apply (especially the X Series). They also have a 6-month return policy—even if you use the lipstick a dozen times before deciding it’s not for you.
At first I thought the marketing on the site was a bit cheesy, especially the man grinning at me and telling me he’s “discovered 5 key concepts that women don’t know that all lead to lipstick frustration,” and that I need to sign up for his lipstick course. But then, I bit the bullet (heh, lipstick pun) and checked out his course—and I learned a lot of things about the importance of blotting and reapplying to make the color last. Judgement = deleted.
Liners aren’t really my thing, therefore I’m combining liners and glosses into one section. The ones I do use are the Red Apple Lipstick Lip Liners. My faves for darker lip-shade days are Roseberry and Almost Red; for lighter-shade days, Barely Pink is the perfect my-lip-shade color. I’d recommend Natural for lighter ladies, as it doesn’t show up on my lips very well.
Note that the RAL liners come in two distinct types: one is smooth, creamy and retractable. The other is a traditional pencil, still smooth but a bit more dry. Choose your non-poison.
As for glosses, I haven’t been wearing them much lately because I have a plethora of lipsticks I truly adore, but one gloss I love is the Hynt Beauty Libre Lipgloss in Satin Nude. It’s a gorgeous honeyed shimmery nude, which also comes full-size in the Field of Gold set I mentioned in the Eyeshadow section.
I’m also feeling for Spring the 100% Pure Gemmed Gloss in Ruby. These glosses do feel sticky, so I tend to not wear them alone, however Ruby is such a gorgeous color and the sparkle comes from natural minerals like moonstone, opal and labradorite. How could that be wrong? It can’t be wrong, is the answer.
At last, we have a product that many of you may not even know was a thing. I’m still questioning if it is a thing. So, I’ll just group my three favorite finishing powders by “purpose,” if you will.
My #1 favorite is the Hynt Beauty Lumiere Radiance Boosting Powder. It is a pretty penny on its own, so if you want to try it, a healthy size sample comes in the Field of Gold set, as well, which I suppose I’m highly recommending at this point. It’s got a lovely golden shimmer, is filled with organic antioxidants and botanical oils, and is perfect to dust over your makeup (or not) with a big fluffy brush.
My #2 is the Alima Pure Radiant Finishing Powder in Augusta, a slightly shimmery taupe that is a fusion of a highlighter and finishing powder. It’s got a soft pink tone to it, so it’s perfect for dusting over the cheeks or even over the entire face to look more alive.
And for a multi-purpose non-shimmery, sheer finishing powder I recommend Silk Naturals Tinted Blur Finishing Powder. This is excellent for “baking” under the eyes (this essentially means putting lots of powder on after your concealer and letting it sit for a few minutes, then dusting it away, providing staying powder and lessening creasing), as well as dusting over the face with or without any makeup on, as it “blurs” away imperfections.
And that’s all! Phew!
Thank you so much for reading this and being curious about investing in and prioritizing your health. Cosmetics are a hugely chemical- and toxin-laden industry, and if I can help one woman transition over to something that nourishes her skin in addition to making her feel beautiful, this article was worth it.
If you’d like to come along and see what other products I love (and ingredients I hate), follow my Instagram at PurdyPurity. Cheers!