By Maryan Abdinur
You’ll see them in every mainstream fashion magazine imaginable. Their marketing campaigns are seemingly endless, and their advertising is impeccable. But often, top selling cult beauty products are absolutely loaded with harmful chemicals that have been associated with everything from skin and eye irritations to cancer and other serious diseases. No wonder there’s a growing number of beauty companies 100% dedicated to using natural ingredients in their products.
Unfortunately though, these brands may be harder to find because the companies are smaller and can’t afford to bombard consumers with their messages in larger magazines, but as a beauty pro who has tried and tested many organic and natural brands, I can assure you that these are often on par with, if not better, than their better known counterparts.
Here, we’ve listed some of the most frequently bought chemical cosmetics, and have carefully thought about which natural alternatives are close to the brand, if not better. But don’t take our word for it–try these organic beauty dupes yourself!
Instead of: YSL Lipsticks
YSL lipsticks are synonymous with bold lips, “pure ”colours and “silky and sensual” textures. Disappointingly, the attractive descriptors fail to mention the load of harsh chemicals we’re exposed to in the name of the shades we love. Synthetic colorants derived from petroleum or coal-tar, are especially concerning as they can expose us to hard metals which accumulate in our bodies.
Fortunately, beautifully packaged green alternative, Axiology saves us from having to forego bold lips forever. Their lipsticks use only natural minerals including iron oxides, mica and titanium dioxide to achieve beautiful colours. Our pout achieves the full coverage and long wear it does with YSL, but that’s where the comparisons end.
Vegan and cruelty-free, Axiology ethically sources all of its plant based ingredients and is an active voice in the movement against conflict palm oil. In case you didn’t know, in addition to adding toxic ingredients to their products, most brands – beauty or not – contribute to species endangerment, land disputes and deforestation through their dependance on palm oil in their formulations. In fact, more than 14 million hectares of land have been deforested for the cash crop that goes by the guise of many names including Cetyl Palmitate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Stearic Acid, Palmolein, and more.
For it’s part in protecting biodiversity, Axiology is an avid supporter of Orangutan Foundation International, donating 6% of it’s proceeds to the conservation group. In place of palm oil they use ethically harvested and traded natural ingredients such as nourishing avocado and mango butters, castor seed, orange, avocado, coconut and grapeseed oils, as well as vitamin E. The highly pigmented range of long lasting lipsticks come in a beautifully varied spectrum. Lippy addicts looking for everything from natural pinks to dramatic blues, purples and reds – this brand’s for you!
Instead of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
Eight Hour Cream is heralded as being a lightly scented, go-to product for dry skin. It works on heels, cuticles, dry elbows and even lips. But guess what? The Elizabeth Arden classic is packed with chemicals, including petrolatum -a whopping 56.8% – mineral oil, fragrance and propylparaben, a preservative than can act as a hormone disruptor. The formulation is akin to paying for some expensive Vaseline with a laundry list of harmful irritants, allergens and toxins to boot.
Sadly, Elizabeth Arden’s place on PETA’s List of Companies that Do Test on Animals is another reason to bin the cult cream we once loved. Although we cannot verify animal testing for this particular product, PETA does call out EA among others for playing word games with consumers by issuing vague or misleading Testing Policies.
Not so for All You Need Is Me from True Organic Sweden, a truly cruelty free brand we’ve fallen for. Super intense and multi-purpose like EA, the Swedes have got it right with this one. So much so that it’s marketed as ‘The organic (8) hour cream’. A little goes a long way with our 50mL tube that’s free of mineral oil, silicones, and alcohol. The natural balm is made up of 95% certified organic ingredients including castor oil, beeswax, olive oil, shea butter, vitamin E, blueberry seed oil and sunflower oil. That’s it! And it protects your skin even better than the EA Cream does, seriously. Even the packaging is in tune with the all natural ethos – while most skin care manufacturers use polymers derived from fossil fuels, All You Need is Me uses eco-plastic, also known as Green PE. Obtained from sugarcane ethanol, the 100% renewable raw material actually helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum
Estée Lauder Night Repair Serum is marketed as a magical anti-aging product targeting lines and wrinkles. The formula is fragrance free however still receives an alarming 8 on EWG’s Skin Deep database with ingredients such as BHT, Oxtinoxate and Retinyl Palmitate, all of which are flagged for serious health concerns.
Another not so flattering list it features on is Peta’s Companies That Do Test on Animals. The official policy from Estée Lauder reveals all products and ingredients are subject to testing “where required by law” . It’s up to the consumer to do some digging here given that this blanket statement covers the beauty giant’s thirty plus brands including Aveda, Aramis, Jo Malone and M.A.C. For this reason the serum can’t be classified as truly cruelty free, so we’re steering clear for now.
Oskia’s Super 16 serum is so named thanks to a fusion of 16 super nutrients and bioactive ingredients which address multiple ageing concerns. In addition to multiple sea based ingredients, this serum also contains an innovative ingredient called Bakuchiol, which is derived from Indian Babchi Seeds (historically used to heal cuts). This new ingredient works much like Retinol and is a natural equivalent which some say is more gentle on the skin and suitable for sensitive skin. Bakuchiol stimulates 3 key processes also normally associated with Retinol use: reversal of the signs of ageing, prevention of future damage and reduction in the symptoms of problem skin.
The serum itself has a light, naturally derived floral scent, is absorbed instantly, and feels silky smooth on the skin. The pipet ensures you don’t waste a drop, and skin feels velvety soft immediately after use – but the true anti-ageing effects come with continued use. This product has won multiple awards for its effectiveness, and is a perfect choice for anti-ageing serum lovers who want a more natural, ethical product.
Instead of Chanel No 5
Classic scents define us before we enter a room, and Chanel No 5 is arguably the world’s most iconic perfume for exactly this reason. Since it’s development over ninety ago, the formula of Chanel No 5 hasn’t changed much. No doubt it hasn’t had much reason to since its unmistakeable clean, feminine scent and signature bottle single handedly revolutionized the perfume world. Unfortunately while we love a bit of fashion history, we prefer to take a pass on the toxic ingredient list.
Without singling Parfums Chanel out, most conventional beauty brands contain a chemical cocktail misleadingly lumped together as Parfum (fragrance) on the label. What may come as a shock is that in the name of protecting trade secrets, companies are not required to give full disclosure on the components that make up their formulations. So technically what you see is certainly not what you get. In fact, a study by EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics concluded the average fragrance product tested contained 14 ingredients not listed on the label. One such secret chemical that’s made its way into Chanel No 5 is diethyl phthalate linked to reproductive damage, allergies, dermatitis and respiratory distress. Chanel No 5 also contains civet, an ingredient that is derived from the glands of the civet cat, which must either be tortured or killed to get this extract.
Thankfully there’s a cruelty-free natural brand that creates captivating scents without the harsh effects. One Seed from Australia designs, formulates and handcrafts 100% natural perfumes from their Adelaide studio. There’s no guesswork involved either as the boutique perfumery eschews synthetic chemicals for plant and flower extract blends free from petrochemicals, solvents, dyes, alcohol, and pesticides. Their Freedom Eau de Parfum isn’t exactly like Chanel No. 5 of course, but it IS similar, and features some of the same notes, such as rose, sandalwood, (plant derived) musk, and ylang ylang.
Instead of NARS Blush in Orgasm
Cosmetics lovers, MUA’s and beauty bloggers have raised NARS Blush in Orgasm to cult status. So much so that despite the $30 price tag, the single swatch compact seemingly flies off beauty shelves. There are a ton of great things we could list about the brand’s best selling blush. To start with the peachy-pink shade is almost universally flattering on different skin complexions while flecks of shimmery gold lend a luminous glow we love. However, the irony might just be that in the quest for a natural looking flush a number of synthetically produced, questionable ingredients are making their way onto our skin.
NARS Blush is made up of a number of preservatives and colour additives linked to organ system toxicity, allergies and skin, lung and eye irritations. Particularly concerning are the presence of parabens – Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Butylparaben to be exact. Intended to increase shelf life of cosmetics, these chemicals are gaining a notoriously bad reputation for their interference in normal hormonal function. Though current regulatory levels are deemed safe by the US Food & Drug Authority (FDA), and the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), we recommend detoxing your makeup bag to avoid repeated direct exposure.
Luckily making the switch will come easy since there are quite a few green make-up brands that arguably deliver the same beautiful range of colours without the toxins. Our new favourite find from Greek skincare brand Korres is one such alternative. Their Peach 18 Blush is an all natural option that applies smooth and buttery just like NARS, and delivers the same gorgeous pigmentation. Although you’re paying roughly the same price as the NARS blush, you’re not getting cheap synthetic compounds. Rather Zea Mays or finely milled cornstarch powder particles produce the perfect shimmer we’re after, while also delivering nourishment to the skin.
Instead of Creme de la Mer Dupe
Shocking fact: This (animal tested) cult cream contains not one, not two, but FIVE of the 12 most toxic ingredients in cosmetics listed on the Environmental Working Group’s website, Skin Deep! According to cult beauty blog, Paula’s Choice: “Crème de la Mer contains mostly seaweed extract, mineral oil, Vaseline, glycerin, wax-like thickening agents, lime extract, plant oils, plant seeds, minerals, vitamins, more thickeners, and preservatives.” For us, this proves it: just because a product is expensive doesn’t mean there’s anything particularly special about it, that it works or is good for you. It costs over £300 for a jar, but Creme de la Mer seems to be more toxic than it’s worth.
Instead, this all natural, caviar based cream by Arbu offers all the goodness of the sea, but without any chemical nasties whatsoever. We’ve tried this super rich formula and can 100% testify that it’s extremely gentle, very moisturizing and perfect for even the driest of skin. It also contains a powerful lifting formula that restores youthful facial contours and retexturizes the skin. Like Creme de la Mer, it was scientifically developed with nourishing extracts from the sea – namely caviar extract, which is naturally rich in glycine and proline – as well as essential amino acids, part of the skin’s natural bio-feedback mechanism, which stimulates collagen synthesis. Plant-derived phytoelastin helps tissues regain their original shape and structure. Organic acerola extract, an excellent source of vitamin C, provides strong antioxidant action to protect the skin against the damage caused by free radicals. And at less than half the price of Creme de la Mer, it’s a bargain, too!
Instead of Maybelline Great Lash Mascara
Make up artists around the world rave about Maybelline Great Lash black mascara for it’s simple, straight brush that separates lashes and lasts and lasts. But Maybelline is on PETA’s ‘list of shame’ for animal testing, and despite those nasty tests, there are still plenty of ingredients in their mascara that can irritate sensitive eyes, causing itchiness and rashes around the eye socket, inflammation of the eyelashes (sometimes leading to shedding).
Lily Lilo’s well loved mascara lengthens, curls, volumizes and lifts lashes using natural ingredients. Formulated with none of the FD&C dyes and chemicals in most commercial mascaras, this one is gentle enough for even the most sensitive of us, and also uses nourishing ingredients that can help the lashes to grow to their potential.
Instead of Lancome Renergie-Lift-Makeup
Lancome’s Renergie Lift foundation gets rave reviews for its moisturizing texture and added SPF 20. Customers say that it gives enough coverage to cover light hyperpigmentation and never settles in fine lines, even without a primer. This is all certainly true, but once again, this French brand is marked by PETA as doing animal testing. And of course, like most mainstream beauty brands, this one comes packed with chemical colourants and preservatives.
I’ve personally tried both brands, and while they are remarkably similar in terms of hues and coverage, because it never tests on animals and contains only natural ingredients, ILIA’s tinted moisturiser definitely comes out on top. Like Lancome’s product, it contains SPF 20, but there’s much more to it than that. It gives enough coverage to hide blemishes, and lasts all day long without ever settling into fine lines. In fact, I would say it even gives me a bit of a glow!
Your skin instantly feels more hydrated, and there is a light floral scent to the product. Plus, it comes in a wide range of shades that are suitable for all complexions.
Instead of MAC Ruby Woo Lipstick
MAC Russian Red lipstick has long been a favourite for its pure red hue and perfect matt finish. But recently, MAC has fallen out of favour with animal lovers including Pamela Anderson, a former MAC spokesperson, because they’ve started to sell in China, where animal testing is required.
Inglot Red 408, on the other hand, is a high quality, long lasting matte lipstick enriched with natural ingredients such as macadamia nut oil and avocado butter to protect the lips, while the non-sticky, long lasting formula ensures even application. This Inglot lippie provides an opaque, perfectly matte finish without any harmful ingredients, and of course, this eco-minded brand never tests on animals.
Instead of Chanel Vamp Nail Polish
Over 20 years ago, Chanel created a sensation with what was the nail varnish of the 90s – Vamp. Worn by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, Madonna in her Take a Bow video, and it was seen all over Marc Jacobs’s runways. Vamp was discontinued though it flew of the shelves, and was finally reissued in 2003, but this time with a slight shimmer that looked more glossy than sparkly when applied.
Vamp’s blackened red has been lauded by many a beautista as being the perfect sophisticated nail shade for evening fetes and winter weather, and the good news is that Chanel varnishes are now all officially 5-free! But a much cheaper, and equally eco version of the shade exists – Talk To My Lawyer is so close to Vamp’s colour and texture, it’s a virtual dupe. Just like Chanel’s polish, this one lasts for about a week, and gives your mani the exact same glossy dark red sexiness, but for about half the price. Why wouldn’t you choose the cheaper brand instead when the effect is the same?
Main image: by Bogdan Teodorov