Natural beauty has come a long way. We’ve watched as the industry evolved from a small handful of crunchy brands and products into a full-fledged glamour-fest. Gone are the days of sacrificing style for the sake of green values.
As an editor for Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar and full laundry list of incredible fashion books, Christine Lennon has seen it all first-hand. We asked her to share her inside insights after decades of experience and here’s what she had to say – favorite products included…
I remember writing a story about “green” beauty for Vogue about 12 years ago, and being shocked when I saw the issue. The photo that the typically faultless Vogue art department chose to illustrate my story was a model backstage at a Dior Couture show dressed as a “forest fairy,” a psychotic woodland nymph straight from a Burning Man staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It felt like it was sort of a joke to people back then, when “natural” beauty meant homemade avocado masks, henna hair dye and some hippie oils from the health food store. Natural or “green” beauty was a novelty, or for the kind of people who ground their own nut butters (not that we’re judging) and was perceived as a sacrifice.
Three things have changed since then: Our understanding that ingredients are absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream (cosmetic chemists, dermatologists and “scientists” used to flatly deny this was the case); technological advances that can create elegant, non-toxic ingredients to incorporate into products; and the shift in our culture toward the idea that healthy beauty is a luxury, not a sacrifice.
From the mid-‘90s to the early ’00s, dermatologists and “experts” would claim that none of the freshly brewed chemicals they mixed into their products penetrated the deeper layers of tissue. Skin was an impermeable “barrier,” they said, insisting that nothing we applied topically was absorbed into the blood stream. That meant nothing good, or potent enough to re-program the skin not to age so rapidly, and nothing bad, which could potentially alter the healthy chemistry and hormonal balance in our bodies (or cause cancer, for example), could get through.
Today, we know better. Some researchers estimate that the skin absorbs up to 80% of what we slather on it. It was only after I spent the better part of decade smearing every new product on the market on myself that I started to ask difficult questions, and listen to the mounting concerns about the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of chemicals women put on their skin every day. These days, there is no greater luxury than finding and using a product that works like magic, is good for you and is gentle on the planet.
I look back at those early green-beauty pioneers with such admiration. They were, and still are, thought leaders in an industry that was slow to change. Sustainable, green, good-for-you beauty is anything but a compromise, and anything but a fad. Here’s a list of my favorite natural products, the classics and the new models, from then and now.
THEN: Dr. Hauschka Lipstick
When you realize how much lipstick you lick off and swallow, organic, or at least non-toxic formulas make a whole lot of sense. With natural pigment and waxes, lipsticks from Dr. Hauschka (a German skincare line developed in the mid-1960s) were a solid choice in subtle, sensible shades.
NOW: Kosas Lipstick
Bold, hydrating shades that last for hours and hours, and a squeaky clean ingredient list, makes this made-in-LA brand my new go-to lipstick, offered in a small but perfect range of extremely wearable nudes and reds.
THEN: Jane Iredale Mineral Foundation
I first learned about the Jane Iredale mineral powders, which were introduced in 1994, when I wrote a story about plastic surgery for W magazine. It was the only foundation post-op patients were allowed to use to cover healing skin. I still use it when I need extra sun protection, spritzed with a rosewater mist for a dewier look.
NOW: W3ll People Foundation Stick
One of the perks about writing about beauty is that sometimes you get a package of goodies in the mail out of the blue. That’s what happened with Well People, a new-ish makeup brand made with natural and organic ingredients. The Narcissist Foundation Stick is easy and portable, and the creamy formula melts into the skin with very little blending.
THEN: John Masters Shampoo
Back in 1991, John Masters’ organic Soho salon was the only one of its kind, and his products were among the only salon-quality non-toxic products on the market. While I loved the super-clean scent of his Lavender Rosemary shampoo, it could be harsh on my highlights. No doubt it has since been re-formulated with more modern ingredients.
NOW: True Botanicals Shampoo
While it’s still the hardest category for my tricky fine and color-treated hair, the shampoo and conditioner from this Bay Area brand is as gentle and effective as anything I’ve tried, and it smells truly amazing.
THEN: Badger Balm Sunscreen
As one of the original healthy sunscreens, Badger Balm (a brand founded by a New Hampshire carpenter in the ‘90s) is as reliable as it gets, and is consistently in the top ten safest options on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database. But it’s as thick as house paint, and best reserved for those marathon activity days spent outside.
NOW: Beauty Counter Sunscreen
Few brands have the kind of across-the-board integrity that BeautyCounter does. There isn’t a clunker product in their whole lineup, but the non-chemical sunscreens are standouts. The Protect Stick for body glides on like a deodorant, and is great for wiggly kids and impatient parents alike.
THEN: Bare Escentuals Bare Minerals Powder Blush
Another gem from the mid-90s, Bare Minerals loose powder blush has no added preservatives, fillers, waxers or unpronounceable chemicals. And a very little bit goes a very long way.
NOW: RMS Lip2Cheek
Sometimes, a creamy blush is the only thing that will give your skin that dewy, healthy glow. And when it’s non-toxic—and it doubles as a lip tint — it’s the closest thing to a perfect product I’ve seen.
THEN: Jurlique Face Mist
Founded on a farm in southern Australia back in 1985, Jurlique skincare was well ahead of its time, offering plant-based, totally natural cleansers and my favorite facial mists: This one has rosewater to balance, Lavender to hydrate and Calendula to calm.
NOW: Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence
Though Harper is originally from Colombia, she makes her super-luxe skin care from her farm in Vermont. Her Floral Essence mist is an instant moisture and mood booster, loaded with soothing, aromatic plant extracts.
THEN: Weleda Wild Rose Deodorant
If you’re not afraid to re-apply, Weleda deodorant — from a biodynamic Swiss company founded in 1921 — is still a hero product. It’s effective, gentle and comes in a recyclable glass bottle.
NOW: Ursa Major Hoppin’ Fresh Deordorant
This brand from Vermont, is a line of mostly unisex, no-nonsense, fresh-smelling personal care products in packaging suitable for design snobs. Their blend of ginger, rosemary, lemon, grapefruit and eucalyptus offers 24-hour protection.
Be sure to check out Christine’s debut novel, The Drifter, out February 21st!