Face it—the glowing, flawless beauties you see in commercials and on the pages of fashion magazines do a great job of selling cosmetics. That?s why the companies that dominate this $6 billion-a-year industry spend a bundle on marketing. But when it comes to makeup, is too much money being spent on packaging and celebrity spokesmodels, and not enough on the products themselves? ?Yes,? says lifestyle and beauty expert Kat James. ?Many mass-market makeup products are overhyped, irritant-packed products that are priced based on how they?re marketed, rather than on the cost of their contents.?
James, author of The Truth About Beauty (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003) says if the goal is to protect skin, consumers should avoid many of the ingredients commonly found in commercial makeup products. For example, the two most commonly used cosmetic preservatives, parabens and imidazolidinyl urea, both pose health risks. The latter has been shown to cause contact dermatitis, while James says the former have been found to collect in breast cancer tumors. A University of Reading study published in the January Journal of Applied Toxicology found that 18 of 20 breast tumors studied contained significant concentrations of parabens.
Similarly, most of the food, drug and cosmetic color additives cause allergic reactions in humans and cancer in lab animals. Cosmetic humectants, such as acetamide MEA, diethanolamine and glycols, are suspected carcinogens. Even the synthetic fragrances used in makeup are petroleum-derived compounds that can cause allergic reactions and are also potentially carcinogenic.
Because of the questionable safety of these and many other common cosmetic ingredients, James is among the growing number of makeup artists and beauty experts who have chosen to forgo the chemical-rich makeup products on the market and opt instead to use more natural makeup lines such as Dr. Hauschka and Burt?s Bees. Natural products retailers can help consumers make the switch by advising them to purchase products based on the purity and quality of their ingredients, rather than the hype.
And when it comes to ingredients, natural makeup manufacturers have high standards. Because many companies, such as Germany?s Dr. Hauschka, started in skin care, their priority is making products that are safe and healthy for the skin. ?We didn?t want women shooting themselves in the foot,? says Kathy White, the company?s ingredient information specialist. ?It didn?t make sense for women to be taking such great care of their faces using our healthy skin care products, only to go and put on synthetic makeup and wear it all day.?
Dr. Hauschka began importing its makeup products to the United States in 1972. Its current line includes lipsticks, lip liners, eye shadows, eyeliners, foundations, powders, cover sticks, mascara and rouge. The company uses no parabens or glycols. Instead, it preserves its products naturally using botanical extracts like witch hazel and rosemary, which have antimicrobial properties. ?The botanicals we use come from our own organic, biodynamic garden ? and because we?re a pharmaceutical company, we have the in-house labs and equipment that enable us to make a pharmaceutical-grade product,? White says. Mineral pigments like mica color the eye shadows. White says mineral pigments are translucent and reflective, yet safe because they don?t penetrate the skin.
Burt?s Bees also began with skin care. ?In addition to actually being good for your skin, our makeup products perform well and are affordable,? says Territory Manager Hannah Quimby. The Durham, N.C.-based company launched its Wings of Love lipstick line in 1999, and has been adding new products and colors ever since. Although lipsticks and lip shimmers continue to dominate sales, Burt?s Bees? concealing and blushing creams, tinted moisturizers, eye shadows and powders are gaining popularity, Quimby says.
Plant oils and waxes (including coconut oil, sunflower oil and orange wax) naturally preserve Burt?s Bees? makeup products by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. Candelilla wax and beeswax prevent the lipsticks from bleeding and feathering; cucumber extract is added to the concealing cream to soothe the skin; and vitamin E in the eye shadows helps combat environmentally induced aging around the eyes. ?Women are always surprised at how long-wearing the lipsticks are, and how light and natural the concealers and foundations feel on the skin,? Quimby says.
Bob Krissnana, health and beauty care buyer for Park Natural and Organic Foods in Brooklyn, N.Y., says because Burt?s Bees makeup is reasonably priced and uniquely packaged, it?s the store?s best-selling line. The packages feature photos of the company?s friends and family. ?It?s all about looking healthy and natural,? says Quimby, whose face is seen on the lip products.
Borlind of Germany, with American headquarters in New London, N.H., began marketing cosmetics in the United States in 1987. The company makes fluid foundation, powder, concealer, rouge, eye shadow, eye pencil, mascara and an extensive lipstick line. ?We market our products as a healthy alternative to high-end department store lines,? says Linda Upton, vice president of marketing and training. The company uses no artificial fragrances or colors. The lipsticks contain jojoba oil, which lubricates the skin, and skin-soothing castor oil. Carnauba and beeswaxes are the primary emulsifiers for the makeup products.
With more than a dozen iron oxide-based eye shadow shades and 18 lip colors to choose from, Borlind offers the kind of color selection women crave, but without artificially derived colors. ?We research trends in color by going to the fabric shows in Milan,? Upton says, ?and we develop our cosmetic palette based on the colors that we know are going to be in vogue.?
Ecco Bella, based in Montclair, N.J., has found success with its FlowerColor cosmetics. Its foundations, powders, blushes, eye shadows, eyeliners and lipsticks contain flower waxes that help the skin retain its moisture. Lavender is used as an anti-irritant; chamomile for its softening properties; and sage for its astringent qualities. ?We?re also extremely environmentally aware,? says Ecco Bella Marketing Director Gina Marie Alala. ?Our refillable compacts are made of recyclable cardboard, and we?re always looking for environmentally friendly ways to print and package.?
Colleen Vaughan, HBC buyer for Alameda Natural Grocery in California, says, ?We carry natural cosmetics like Ecco Bella because our customers trust us to provide safe, quality products that work well and are friendly to the environment.? Although she notes the store?s sales of natural-color cosmetics are rising, she?d like to see natural cosmetics getting more press. ?Consumer awareness about the superior quality of these products just isn?t getting across to the general public as much as it should.?
Apparently, she?s right. Despite growth, the color cosmetics segment still only commands about 4 percent of the total natural personal care industry, says Nutrition Business Journal Research Director Patrick Rea. The ongoing challenge is to keep women from becoming seduced by white-coated aestheticians at department stores selling chemical-laden products disguised in fancy packaging, and instead steering them into natural products stores to buy quality makeup.
?Color cosmetics are the final frontier for the natural product landscape,? says beauty expert James. ?If we can get retailers to support them with the enthusiasm and presentation they deserve, [then] healthier choices will seem less obligatory and more about decadence and pampering.? Adds Dr. Hauschka?s White, ?This isn?t hippy-dippy stuff; it?s real makeup that performs in the ways women want and expect.?
Kristen Lewis is an Arvada, Colo.-based free-lance writer.