So, you’re ready to make the transition to more natural, organic, non-toxic, and low/ zero waste skincare?
Awesome! But first, let’s clear up some confusion — what do these terms even mean?
Madeleine of The Wise Consumer is breaking it all down for us in this guide…
We probably know generally what an individual or brand is implying when they’re using terms such as “natural”, “clean”, and “non-toxic.” Most likely they’re referring to the fact that no harmful ingredients are being used, i.e., products that don’t contain ingredients that at some point or another were researched and linked to potential increased cases of cancer, endocrine disruption, etc.
But what do these words actually mean in the context of skincare? Let’s explore.
What is “Natural Skincare”?
While the term natural (i.e., as close to nature as possible) is one of the most commonly used terms in the clean beauty industry, it’s honestly just a nice fluffy word that doesn’t really hold any legal meaning. Like, none at all.
Legally speaking, when it comes to cosmetic labeling, the “FDA has not defined the term “natural” nor has it established a regulatory definition of this term. Think of natural more as a marketing term.
That being said, we probably know what a brand is trying to communicate when they’re using the term “natural.” But just because a brand labels their products as “natural” doesn’t mean they’re always safe. More on this later.
What is “Organic Skincare”?
Similarly, the FDA does not have a legal definition for the term “organic” but that doesn’t mean the term itself isn’t regulated.
The term “organic” is not defined in either of these laws or the regulations that the FDA enforces under their authority. The Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program (NOP).”
It further continues, “Cosmetic products labeled with organic claims must comply with both USDA regulations for the organic claim and FDA regulations for labeling and safety requirements for cosmetics.”
According to the USDA, a product is certified organic if and only when it’s made up of 95 percent or more organic content. You can read more about organic labeling here and here.
So, even though the FDA doesn’t regulate the term “organic,” cosmetic products labeled “organic” are expected to comply with both USDA regulations and FDA regulations when it comes to labeling and safety requirements for cosmetics. You can get more information about labeling from the FDA’s Labeling Guide.
Do the Labels “Organic” and “Natural” Mean a Product is Safe?
Not necessarily. There are certain plants that are organic and natural but also pretty toxic. I don’t care how “organic” and “natural” a brand claims to be — if poison ivy is the spotlight ingredient you can bet I’ll be looking elsewhere.
Natural and organic doesn’t always mean safe. As the FDA shares, “Newcomers to cosmetic manufacture sometimes think that because they have used a product themselves with no apparent problems, or because the ingredients are ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘botanical,’ the product must be safe. This assumption is not correct.” This is why it’s always great to purchase from brands that have been certified/verified by third-party organizations such as Made Safe.
What is Non-Toxic Skincare?
The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides states “marketers who claim that their product is non-toxic need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the product is safe for both people and the environment.”
Is toxic defined? Yes. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) of the The Consumer Product Safety Commission defines a product as toxic if it “can produce personal injury or illness to humans when it is inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.”
The last thing I want to clear up is the myth about preservatives.
Are All Preservatives in Skincare Bad?
The short answer is no. In fact, some products absolutely need preservatives.
Without preservatives, certain products could actually become more hazardous than without them. Preservatives help to fight off bacteria and fungi, help keep products shelf-stable for longer periods of time, and more.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If a product contains water, it absolutely needs a preservative of some sort, whether synthetic or natural. Why? Because water is a great breeding ground for mold and bacteria. The risk of using preservatives in your products is far less than the risk of not using them.
Equally important, not all products need preservatives. Oil-based products (Anhydrous products), such as serums, don’t need preservatives. Oil is a pretty inhospitable place for bacteria to grow.
For more information on preservatives in skincare products:
- Check out Eco Well’s “A Guide to Cosmetic Product Preservatives.”
- Curious about how microorganisms can get in your products? FDA simplifies it nicely here.
- Want to learn about the difference and effectiveness between synthetic vs “natural” preservatives? Click here.
Honestly, when it comes to terminology and understanding ingredient safety, it can get pretty confusing. Stay tuned for season 3 of The Wise Consumer Podcast, where we’ll be talking with scientists and cosmetic experts to help clear up some of this confusion.
Note that this guide may include affiliate links. All brand recommendations are made independently by our writers.
There are a lot of reasons why I love Activist Skincare. This brand not only uses pure, non-irritating, and eco-friendly botanical ingredients but they recently launched a refillable program. So, rather than having to buy a new bottle every time you run out, just order a refillable pouch and refill your current bottle. You can either recycle your refillable pouch via TerraCycle or just ship it back to Activist Skincare and they’ll recycle it for you! This helps to reduce the amount of glass, which is much heavier than a lightweight pouch, from being shipped around the world. Plus, this low waste/zero waste skincare brand is all about ensuring the activists and change-makers in our world are getting the self-care they deserve.
Skincare categories: Cleansing oils/gels/balms, hydrating toners, and nourishing serums.
(Use code CONSCIOUSLIFE for 10% off Activist Collective at EarthHero)
Apoterra uses the power of plants, such as prickly pear, sea buckthorn, hibiscus, and green tea to heal, cleanse, and nourish your skin holistically. If transparency of ingredients is something you value, this brand is one you don’t want to overlook. Apoterra is a Green America and Leaping Bunny certified business and the non-toxic skincare brand has created a batch numbering system that allows you to look up when your product was made, where each ingredient was sourced, and which organization certified it.
Skincare Categories: Toners, cleansers, soaps, scrubs, serums/balms, and travel kits.
3. Bambu Earth
I’ve been a fan of Bambu Earth for a few years now. This handcrafted, brand uses nothing but real, ethically sourced, and sustainably harvested ingredients. With an emphasis on celebrating natural beauty (their tagline? You are beautiful, and there’s nothing we can do about it!) Bambu Earth is a non-toxic skincare brand that puts people and the planet first.
Skincare Categories: Toners, serums, mud masks, cleansing oil, lip balm, dry shampoo, deodorant spray, soap and body oil
Founded by Jana Blankenship, Captain Blankenship uses nothing but organically and sustainably sourced ingredients to help cleanse and nourish your skin. From toners to cleansers, all products come in recyclable and/or reusable glass packaging. Captain Blakenship partners with 1% for the planet, is leaping bunny and B-Corp certified.
Skincare categories: Toners, Serums, moisturizers, shampoo/conditioner, hair spray, dry shampoo, bath salts, and soap.
Price range: $
Looking for a non-toxic skincare brand that uses nothing but the highest quality, ethically-sourced, synthetic-free, ingredients? Check out Earth Harbor Naturals. Partnering with 1% For The Planet to save marine life and solve the global water crisis, all of Earth Harbor Naturals are packaged using upcycled ocean waste! Earth Harbor also provides a skincare quiz to help you determine which products are best suited for your skincare needs.
Skincare Categories: toners, moisturizers, cleansers, masks, hair texturizers, soaps, and body serums.
This Black woman-owned skincare label handcrafts all their products in Miami Florida. Taking their cues from the botanical world, i.e. using locally sourced tropical ingredients from southern Florida, Jacq’s provides a variety of products. Ranging from cleansers to bath bombs all of Jacq’s products are handmade in small batches using primarily organic ingredients (organic whenever possible) such as Hibiscus, orange mint, rosehip and yarrow. All their products come in recyclable glass and/or recyclable plastic.
Skincare categories: Cleansers, toners, moisturizers, soap bars, exfoliators, masks, and bath bombs
Price range: $
L’amour is Mongolia’s first certified organic skincare brand! Handmade in small batches in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, Khulan Davaadorj, the founder, and her team create extremely nourishing and healing products using ingredients that are not only sustainably sourced and organic but traditional to Mongolian culture, including jamts salts, yak milk, sea buckthorn, and rosemary. (Hear more about Lhamour Skincare in Episode #45 of The Wise Consumer Podcast)
Skincare categories: cleaners, toners, serums, scrubs, mother/baby soaps, body and face soaps, and lip balms
Price range: $
Handmade on the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii, MAHALO’s products combine ancient knowledge of Polynesia, Western and Eastern healing, with modern scientific advancements. Using sustainably harvested and hand-grown ingredients (ingredients range from helichrysum and Royal Hawaiian sandalwood to green tea and water sourced from volcanic rock) each low waste/zero waste skincare product is created in small batches and assembled by hand in bamboo and glass jars.
Skincare Categories: cleansers, hydrating balms, serums, moisturizers
Nourish Organic was the first personal care products brand in the US to be Certified Organic under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). If you’re looking for a truly certified organic brand this is it! Their products are made using sustainably grown ingredients by organic farmers without the use of pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, or harmful chemicals, and they use fair-trade certified ingredients whenever possible. Plus, the organic skincare brand’s goal is to “utilize 100% post-consumer recycled paper and eliminate plastics” by 2024. They’re also a member of 1% For The Planet.
Skincare Categories: Cleansers, serums, body lotions & butters, deodorant, and balms
10. Qēt Botanicals
Lisa Brill, the founder of Qēt Botanicals, has created a line of handcrafted all-natural and low waste skincare products that are sure to satisfy any skin ailment. Based out of San Clemente, California. and Madison, Wisconsin, all of Qēt’s products are EWG verified, hand-crafted and sustainably sourced, and free of harmful chemicals. (Hear more about Qēt Botanicals in Episode #30 of The Wise Consumer Podcast)
Skincare categories: Cleansers, toners, serums, exfoliants, masks, make-up remover, and more
11. Pure Mana Hawaii
Based on the Big Island of Hawaii, Pure Mana’s luxury near zero waste skincare line is made entirely from locally sourced, farm-grown, and wild-crafted ingredients. They personally grow, harvest, process, and hand-press the purest organic Macadamia Nut oil, Kona Green Coffee, and Vanilla oils right on their certified organic farm. Sue Mandini and Kollette Stith, the co-founders of Pure Mana, who live and work primarily off the grid bring their love of nature and environmental conservation to the forefront of every business decision they make. The low/zero waste skincare brand has even developed a bottle return program that enables you to ship back your empty bottles in exchange for a $25 gift code on any future purchases. They will then re-sterilize and re-use the bottles. (Hear more about Pure Mana Hawaii in Episode #31 of The Wise Consumer Podcast)
Skincare Categories: toners, serums, and body oil
12. The Yellow Bird
A family-owned company, The Yellow Bird provides a variety of skincare products ranging from argan face oil to dry shampoo. All their products are handmade in small batches in the US using only pure and simple ingredients, i.e. free of synthetic and harmful ingredients. If you have sensitive skin or skin issues, take their skincare quiz to see which products are best suited to meet your skincare needs.
Categories: cleansers, toners, masks, insect repellant, dry shampoo/shampoo bars, foot cream, and more!
13. True Botanicals
Safe for people and the planet, True Botanicals skincare products are free of toxic, fillers, and harsh chemicals. In fact, every True Botanical formula is MADE SAFE® certified and made using only certified organic and wild-harvested ingredients. In addition, True Botanicals is continually working with researchers at leading universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Cornell, to help them develop the most effective and nourishing formulas. Plus, the products from this low/zero waste skincare brand are developed, produced, packaged, and shipped in an environmentally responsible way.
Categories: Face masks, oils, cleansers, masks, serums, shampoo, and toners.
A vegan, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free skincare brand, Vegan Mia Organics products will leave your skin glowing, soft, and, most importantly, nourished — trust us, your skin will thank you! Not to mention, all their serums are made using 100% certified organic ingredients such as jojoba oil, rosehip seed oil, organic gotu kola herb, pumpkin seed oil, just to name a few! A unique feature of this brand is their BIOACTIVE ALCHEMY™, which is “the almost magical process of combining and transforming potent, biologically active, organic botanicals to create your own unique skincare gold.” Basically, seeing that everyone’s skin is unique and ever-changing, Vegan Mia enables you to customize your skincare routine as needed. Such a fun feature that makes your morning and evening skincare ritual truly special.
Categories: Face Serums
More Non-Toxic and Low/Zero Waste Skincare Brands:
- Juice Beauty: Uses only certified organic ingredients and clinically validated formulas, free of harmful ingredients and packaged in recycled plastic.
- 100% Pure: Guaranteed free of harmful ingredients. 100% Pure sources the pigments used in their makeup from fruit, vegetables, tea, and cocoa so as to avoid commonly used FD&C colorants and heavy metal dyes.
- Fat and the Moon: Natural and effective handcrafted, herbal body care products free of harmful ingredients and minimally packaged. (Use code CONSCIOUSLIFE for 10% off of Fat and the Moon on EarthHero)
- Ann Marie Skincare: Created by co-founders Ann Marie and Kevin Gianni, Ann Marie skincare uses organic and wildcrafted ingredients to create products that will nourish your skin and body. All products are free of synthetic chemicals, colors and fragrances.
- Palermo Body: Created and formulated by Jessica Morelli, Palermo Body is a collection of natural skincare products made and packaged in Brooklyn, New York. From toners to steams, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.
- Province Apothecary: This Canadian skincare brand creates small batch skincare products using fresh, seasonal, and organic ingredients.
- Little Barn Apothecary: co-founded by Brad Scoggins and Joshua Morgan, who shared a passion for all things natural, holistic, and simple, Little Barn Apothecary is 100% vegan, cruelty-free, free of synthetic fillers, and handmade using botanical ingredients.
- Mad Hippie: Mad Hippie not only develops and creates low/zero waste skincare and personal care products that are free of harmful ingredients but they also take environmental conservation to heart. This brand is constantly working to reduce their carbon footprint and $1 of every web sale made is donated to their conservation partners.
- May Linstrom Skin: small-batch, organic skincare using ingredients that are fresh, bio-dynamic, wildcrafted, cruelty-free, sustainable, conscious, and environmentally and socially sourced from farms all over the world.
- Olio E Osso: Handmade in small batches in Portland, OR. Products range from cleansing oil to makeup.
- Pleni Naturals: Made Safe certified skincare products for parents and kids. Their mission? To inspire a deeper connection with healthy foods through their nutritious fruit and veggie-filled products and inspiring packaging.
- Santosha Co.: Based out of Madison, Wisconsin this family-owned business, founded by Ashlee Assadi, uses nothing but natural organic plant-based ingredients. 50% of the ingredients used in Santosha Co.’s skincare products are grown and sustainably foraged by Ashlee and her family right on her farm! (Hear more about Santosha Co. in Episode #16 of The Wise Consumer Podcast)
- RIPE: Raw Inspired Pure Earth, or RIPE, was launched by Shannon Mann, an alchemist who believes in the power of using nothing but the purest most natural ingredients to help heal, nourish, and rejuvenate your skin. (Hear more about RIPE in Episode #12 of The Wise Consumer Podcast)
Stores with Non-Toxic and Low/Zero Waste Skincare
BLK + GRN (all Black-owned skincare brands)
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About the Author
Madeleine is a Franco-American podcaster and blogger on a mission to inspire and empower women to live healthier, more eco-friendly, and conscious lifestyles. On her blog/podcast, The Wise Consumer, she covers topics ranging from nutrition and recipes to ethical fashion and eco living tips. When not working Madeleine is either spending time with family, developing new recipes, or running trails.
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