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Natural cosmetics put a new face on makeup

Vicky Uhland

September 30, 2008

5 Min Read
Natural cosmetics put a new face on makeup

In the family of related concepts, "natural" and "makeup" are definitely not kissing cousins. Because makeup creates an artificial beauty, it's not always popular with dedicated naturals consumers. But as age spots begin to appear on even the healthiest faces and as new, younger customers wonder why they can't find lip gloss in their local natural foods store, manufacturers are responding. Naturals companies are introducing everything from mineral foundations to beeswax-based mascaras to lipsticks that give a whole new definition to earth tones.

Natural makeup got a boost when mineral-based foundations, blushes, eye shadows and powders hit the shelves a few years ago, says Paula Alexander, director of U.S. marketing for Durham, N.C.-based Burt's Bees, which makes natural lip glosses and shimmers. Consequent customer demand has resulted in additional formulations. "As more and more naturals manufacturers are pushing to find more natural minerals or pigments for makeup, the supply is increasing," she says. "There was an amazing supply increase in the last year."

Although natural makeup is not a booming segment of the overall personal care market, sales are growing. SPINS, a Schaumberg, Ill.-based market research firm for the natural and organic sectors, reports that between July 2007 and July 2008, natural makeup sales in natural foods stores increased about 5 percent, from $16.1 million to $16.9 million.

Still, some retailers and their customers greet natural makeups with skepticism. Questions abound: How can a makeup truly be natural? How does it differ from its conventional counterparts? And most importantly: Will it really work? To answer these questions, we asked manufacturers to deconstruct their labels and explain how their natural makeups are formulated and how they contrast with department-store offerings.

The basics of bases
Conventional foundations, the base coat for the face, can be a liquid or powder. They contain ingredients such as boron nitride (made from boron and nitrogen atoms), bismuth oxychloride (a heavy-metal pigment), dimethicone (a silicone polymer) and talc (a mineral) to create a smooth base, according to Karen Ress, national sales director for Tampa, Fla.-based Aubrey Organics, which makes natural foundations, blushes and lip tints. Although the Environmental Working Group concludes that these ingredients have low toxicity, some studies show they can irritate the skin. In addition, Ress points out that these ingredients are nonnutritive and therefore don't benefit the skin.

Aubrey's Silken Earth Translucent Bases are made from silk powder, which comes from crushed silk cocoons. "Silk has an amino acid composition that is almost identical to skin. [It also] has antimicrobial and protective qualities," Ress says. "It is a costly ingredient compared to inexpensive fillers that have no nutritional benefit to the skin."

Other natural powder makeups use mica as a base. This mineral gives the foundation a smooth finish, along with a little shimmer. Look also for waxes, like the Brazilian-palm-based carnauba wax, which helps the minerals adhere to the skin.

For customers who prefer a nonpowder foundation, Montclair, N.J.-based Ecco Bella makes a creamy mineral foundation infused with flower waxes, which are created during the distillation process for essential oils. "The flower waxes act like roller balls surrounding the pigments," says company founder Sally Malanga. "They act like a barrier against the skin, keeping the color on the surface, which makes it stay truer and last longer."

Natural foundations also contain ingredients designed to nourish the skin. While conventional makeup formulators may mix some antioxidant vitamins into their foundations, natural makeups go further. Ecco Bella's foundation, for instance, contains the skin-boosting herbs comfrey, chamomile, St. John's wort and calendula. Aubrey's base has aloe powder and lauroyl lysine, a fatty acid/amino acid combo that nourishes and protects the skin.

Shades and shadows
Natural blushes and eye shadows also contain minerals, along with oils and waxes to help them stick to the skin. Colors come mainly from iron oxide minerals. According to Celeste Lutrario, vice president of research and development for Burt's Bees, iron oxides are either yellow, black, bluish-red or yellowish-red. These colors are mixed with titanium dioxide, a white mineral, to make the hues found in natural makeups. But as Lutrario admits, the colors are limited compared to conventional makeups that use synthetic colorants such as FD&C and D&C pigments.

Ecco Bella makes a natural mascara, which Malanga says was quite a challenge to create. "Conventional mascaras have a lot of adhesives to get the product to stick." Instead, Ecco Bella relies on wax adhesives and clay thickeners, along with black iron oxide for color.

Lip-smacking good
Natural lipsticks and glosses also pose challenges. Nancy Caigan, president and founding partner of Woodstock, N.Y.-based Primitive Makeup, says it took a year to develop the colors in the company's eight lipsticks, six glosses and five lip pencils. Iron oxide and titanium dioxide, along with carmine, a bright red color made from insects, are usually the sole base colors, so it takes some creative mixing to come up with traditional lipstick hues. Alexander of Burt's Bees jokes that Revlon's famous true-red lipstick, Cherries in the Snow, isn't likely to be recreated in a natural formulation anytime soon.

Natural lipsticks and lip liners are basically firmer versions of lip gloss, using more pigments, solid oils and waxes, says Ress of Aubrey Organics. Conventional lip glosses rely on paraffin wax rather than vegetable wax to make them creamy, and plastic polymers rather than vegetable polymers to help them adhere to lips, she says. They also contain polyisobute, a petroleum-based ingredient, to make them shiny, Alexander says. Natural lip glosses substitute essential oils for polyisobute, but "to get the shine to stay is hard to do," she admits. Burt's Bees' glosses and shimmers have a combination of sunflower and sweet almond oils, which, according to Alexander, have "more staying power on your lips" because they aren't absorbed as quickly as other oils.

Minerals add gloss and shimmer to natural lipsticks, and all the nonpetrochemical-based waxes and oils add nutrients. The result is lip products that perform like a balm. "When we demo at trade shows, people say, ‘Wait, let me put my lip balm on first,'" Calgan says. "They're amazed when I tell them our lipstick is probably even better than their lip balm."

Vicky Uhland is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer and editor.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 102,106

About the Author(s)

Vicky Uhland

Vicky Uhland is a writer and editor based in Lafayette, Colorado.

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