On a hot summer day when I was teenager, I took a break from my assigned chore of pulling jewelweed from between the hydrangeas to accompany my mom, Doe, to the grocery store. We'd been working in the garden for the better part of the day and when we ran into one of my mom's friends in the dairy aisle, my mom apologized for our sweaty appearance.
The fellow gardener dismissed the apology, saying, "We don't sweat, Doe. We glisten."
How refined. I've been doing my best to embrace my natural glow ever since.
Last week I chatted with natural beauty expert, Jessa Blades of Blades Natural Beauty, who takes a similar approach to personal care. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessa recently at an evening hosted by blogger Mara Kofoed. As a professional makeup artist, natural beauty expert, and women's health advocate based in New York City, Jessa has a trick or two up her sleeve.
She confirms that these summer days can actually be the time of year when we look our best. Humidity in the air makes for the healthy, glowing skin we crave all winter long. Indeed, all of the emphasis on dewy, sun-kissed looks comes from a beauty industry emulating the glow found in the very dog days of summer where we currently find ourselves. So rather than begrudge the heat, let's embrace it.
When it comes to natural beauty, Blades (above) suggests that we pare down, reevaluate, and think a bit more thoughtfully about what we're putting onto our skin. Turns out that a lot of what we think might be helping could actually be hurting. Whether you're new to natural beauty, or you've bought into the trend hook, line, and (paraben-free) sinker like I have, here are a few rules of thumb to encourage and/or educate:
1. Be curious about what it is in your makeup and skin care. Jessa explains that the FDA does not regulate ingredients in personal care or its labeling. In fact, marketing clams on personal care products are not defined under the law, and claims like organic, natural, and animal and cruelty-free can mean anything or nothing at all. It's important to read ingredient labels carefully and seek out companies that you can trust. [Editor's note: I've had good luck seeking out small, independently-owned cosmetics companies. My Rose-Vanilla Lip Balm from Fig and Yarrow is a particular favorite and I've been really impressed by Nahla Organic Skincare products*].
2. Choose products that are fragrance-free. Fragrances can cause allergic reactions and are often a coverup for phthalates which have been linked to liver damage and birth defects. When you can, stick to essential oils and avoid anything that's heavily scented. [Editor's note: I love the hand-blended fragrances made by Olo Fragrance* and D.S. & Durga].
3. Wash your makeup brushes. Who would think that one of the best things we can do for our skin is just to use clean brushes? Jessa explains that there's no need for fancy soap: any mild soap that lathers will do the trick. Give your brushes a good scrub every 1-2 weeks, and allow them to air dry to curtail exposure to bacteria.
4. Adjust your expectations. Natural beauty products won't always perform in the way that more conventional products do. If you're used to waterproof mascara, you might be surprised when you replace it with something that contains fewer ingredients. But Jessa has a beauty tip that transcends particular brands: Replace your mascara every 3-5 months, and do not share it with friends. [Editor's note: I've had a hard time finding a natural mascara that I love, but lately I've been using Josie Maran's Gogo Instant Natural Volume Argan Mascara; $22 and it's terrific].
5. Go easy with the soap. Soap removes dirt and grease from the surface of your skin, but also strips away your own natural skin oils. Choosing a milder soap may reduce your need for moisturizers to replace oils that your skin can provide naturally. Bonus: if you use a mild soap for your face, you can use the same one to clean your brushes (see tip #3).
6. Look for nail polish that is three-free. This means that the polish doesn't contain the toxic chemicals tolulene, formaldehyde, or dibutyl phthalate. [Editor's note: Butter London Polish is my personal favorite].
7. Keep your toothpaste simple. Try to avoid preservatives and words that you can't pronounce. Jessa recommends Weleda and Jason toothpastes. [Editor's note: I have a friend who swears by Nature's Gate Natural Toothpaste Crème de Anise.]
8. Take your time. Switching from conventional beauty products to natural ones can be overwhelming—not to mention, costly. Jessa suggests starting the shift with the products that you use daily: toothpaste, mascara, soap, etc.
9. Know your ingredients. If you're feeling stymied in the pharmacy aisle, it can be a relief to have a short list of ingredients to avoid (it can also be maddening; you've been warned). Here are some of the biggies to steer clear of: butyl acetate, butylated hydroxy-toulene, coal tar cocoamide DEA, D&C, diazolidinyl urea, dioxane, ethyl acetate, FD&C, formaldehyde, hydroquinone 1, 4, lauramide dea, parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, & butyl), petrolateum (petroleum), p-phenylenediamine, phtalates, polyethelyene glycol (PEG, PPG), propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, and anything with glycol, methyl, or fragrance.
We'll be sharing Jessa's recipe for Summer Goddess Sun Tea on Friday. Subscribe to the newsletter to get it delivered straight to your inbox. (Not for goddesses, only).
Stuck on sunscreen? We're tackling that subject later in the week, too.
*For the sake of full-disclosure: some of these brands have advertised their products on the editor's personal site.