There are a few good habits I know I should adopt for the sake of my body and the planet and yet, out of habit (Stubbornness? Laziness?), I simply do not. Floss every night without fail is one of them, as is to resist that second cup of coffee, buy a reusable straw, and, until recently: start using non-toxic makeup products.
I have been a beauty editor for five years, and as the truth about toxic cosmetic ingredients has come to the forefront, I have entirely revamped my skincare routine. Now that I know of the potential cancer-causing, environment-ruining risks of ingredients like formaldehyde, heavy metals, parabens, synthetic fragrance and chemical sunscreen, I can’t imagine purchasing so much as a cleanser containing them. Once I learned that the United States bans a mere 11 toxic beauty ingredients, whereas the European Union bans a whopping 1,300, I quickly regarded the American skincare market as a giant conspiracy to poison us all and took my ingredient sleuthing into my own hands. To my great fortune, skincare has come far enough in the past half-decade that it was not at all difficult to find cleaner alternatives that were even more effective than my former routine (Sunday Riley’s Luna Sleeping Night Oil, for example, has become a ride-or-die staple).
“The United States bans a mere 11 toxic beauty ingredients, whereas the European Union bans a whopping 1,300.”
However, when it comes to makeup, I have been slower to make the nontoxic switch. See, I have gotten my daily makeup routine down to a five-minute science, thanks to a lineup of products that are reliable — easy to apply, creamy, pigmented, long-lasting, the works. But knowing that many of these items contain traces of the carcinogens that I have banned from my skincare routine finally produced a level of cognitive dissonance I could no longer handle.
Overall, makeup formulations are not quite as far along as skincare in terms of non-toxic ingredients that deliver. So, endeavoring to recreate my holy grail makeup routine with clean, green products and minimal sacrifice of performance, I turned to a makeup artist I knew I could trust: Stephanie G-M.
Stephanie, a celebrity and editorial makeup artist (who is also the founder of a best-kept-secret beauty balm called Ouli’s Ointment), selectively uses nontoxic products on her clients. As someone who has painted the faces of Alexa Chung, Cara Delevingne, Elle Macpherson, Suki Waterhouse, Nina Dobrev and Amber Mark — women whose standards for makeup that delivers are no doubt higher than mine — Stephanie has a trick or two up her sleeve.
“There are so many clean great products on the market, I highly suggest taking the small steps to swap out your products and you will be pleasantly surprised,” she told me. So, I asked the organic makeup guru to take a look at my everyday makeup routine and suggest a clean dupe for each product, which I then put to the test. Below, my honest review of how nine non-toxic makeup swaps stacked up against my tried-and-true daily routine.
If you love: Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Foundation
Try: RMS “Un” Cover-Up Cream Foundation
I have never come across a foundation that creates a matte-yet-glowy, second-skin effect like Koh Gen Do’s absurdly blendable, makeup-artist-beloved product. But RMS’s foundation comes pretty darn close. A little goes a long way with this creamy, hydrating formula, whose texture is a little thicker than what I am used to, but is super buildable, and leaves a similar glowy, but not greasy, finish. (I would especially recommend the product for drier skin types.) The texture is not quite as seamlessly blendable as my everyday fave, but with an almost entirely organic, sustainable formula offered in 16 shades (as opposed to KGD’s 12), it is absolutely a fair trade. Pun intended.
If you love: Kat Von D Lock-It Concealer
Try: Clove + Hallow Conceal + Correct
Stephanie recommended indie brand Clove + Hollow’s concealer for its staying power, buildability, and hydration … and did it deliver! This stuff is a pretty dead-on match for Kat Von D’s in coverage, all-day wear, and consistency (it is slightly on the dry side, but still creamy … maybe not ideal for those with parched under eyes). Also, I have never seen a makeup brand with such a transparent approach to ingredients; its website boasts a full-blown ingredient glossary. So major kudos there.
If you love: Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Bronzer
Try: Vapour Bronzing Powder
Tarte’s bronzer, which I have literally used every day for three years, is already free of a lot of icky chemicals (like parabens and talc), but in the spirit of committing full-on to this clean makeup challenge, I gave Stephanie’s option a whirl. “Vapour does sheer enhancing products really well, and this bronzer definitely achieves a sun-kissed glow without being overly glittery,” she promised. I love that the product contains skin-nourishing ingredients like olive squalene and amino acids, and it indeed added a luminous, healthy, warm (but not orange-y) finish to my skin. Extra points that it is buildable and does not look over-the-top or clownish — a pet peeve of mine with bronzers. The only thing is the price point is a touch higher than I would normally care to spend on bronzer, but I suppose saving your skin and the Earth comes at a price.
If you love: NARS Blush in Amour
Try: Honest Beauty Creme Cheek Blush in Coral Peach
I am a blush fiend and tend to enjoy a fairly generous dose of color on my cheeks, so cream blushes, which typically slide ride off my face, usually are not my go-to. Though I was delighted by how much I dug the pigmentation of Stephanie’s enthusiastically recommended cream cheek color by Honest, especially in the Coral Peach shade (I stan an orange-toned blush). The product was creamy and blendable, and though it definitely read more like a subtle natural flush than my regular powder product, Stephanie says that is how blush is supposed to look, so I am trying to come around to it.
If you love: Becca Cosmetics Skin Love Glow Glaze Stick
Try: Noto Botanics Hydra Highlighter Pot
Welp, that is it. I do not think I will ever use another highlight ever again. I had actually already owned a little pot of Noto’s organic cream highlighter but had not given it a proper go until Stephanie’s blessing. (“I love Gloria Noto’s products,” she says. “As a makeup artist she has created products that are layerable, which is key for creating a subtle or stronger look with very few products.”) The highlighter, which smells heavenly, like fresh lavender, is made with the most delicious, hydrating, plant-based ingredients: jojoba oil, shea butter, rosehip oil, rosemary and lavender extracts. And when tapped on the cheekbones, nose and Cupid’s bow, it leaves the sort of subtle, dewy glaze I am always looking for. 100/10
If you love: Tom Ford Cream Color for Eyes
Try: Kosas 10-Second Liquid Eyeshadow
Okay, here is the trickiest product for me to let go: I basically feel married to Tom Ford’s cream eyeshadows, which are effortless to apply with your fingers, stay put all day, and come in the most gorgeous wearable shades (the champagne hue Opale and multi-dimensional rose gold Sphinx are my favorites). That said, Kosas’ new, nontoxic liquid eyeshadows are beautiful, and I am a huge fan. The colors are high-impact and fun (I love 333, an amethyst shade), the texture is creaseless, and, after it dries down, the hold is impressive. These shadows are not the easiest in the world to apply — you have got to shake the tube well before unscrewing the top (lest you make an oily mess), and blending the liquid can be tricky. But the short, natural ingredient list makes these points all the more minor. This product definitely deserves a seat at the table of my daily makeup routine.
If you love: Glossier Boy Brow
Try: Beautycounter Brilliant Brow Gel
Here is a nontoxic makeup swap that I had actually already made myself, which earned Stephanie’s resounding approval. “I love Beautycounter!” she exclaims. This brow gel was the first thing I had ever tried from the brand before I realized its sky-high standards for toxin-free, eco-friendly beauty (Beautycounter’s banned ingredient list is one of the longest in the industry), and even so, I was obsessed. The small tapered brush applies the perfect amount of product on your brow hairs, and its stay-all-day formula feathers up your brows to Timothée Chalamet-level bushy. I will never use another brow gel again.
If you love: Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Mascara
Try: Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara
A curl that holds is my #1 priority when it comes to mascara, so when Stephanie promised this is “one of the best on the market for curl and hold,” it was just what I wanted to hear. That said, I had personally never used an all-natural mascara that was much to write home about, so I tried not to get my hopes up. I was pleased to find that Ilia’s formula, packed with lash-nourishing shea butter and keratin, is long-lasting and flake-free. And the wand (which is on the thinner side and features small separated bristles) provides a ton of lift and separation. The product does not offer a ton of volume, though this is not a huge issue for me. Its formula is perfect for sensitive eyes. I would dare to say it is one of the best mascaras I have tried this year, clean or not.
If you love: Charlotte Tilbury Hot Lips 2 Lipstick
Try: Bite Beauty Multistick
I wear lipstick every single day and am perhaps unreasonably picky. The formula has to be creamy and comfortable to wear, but long-lasting, and the shade must reach a perfect balance between wearable and bright. Charlotte Tilbury, MAC, and Dior are the makers of my favorite lipsticks, but in service of the experiment, I swapped them all for Stephanie’s pick by Bite. The brand makes “great lipsticks and shades, and this product is creamy and natural,” Stephanie swears. I was quite smitten by Bite’s shade range (Creme Caramel was extremely close to Charlotte Tilbury’s Angel Alessandra, which has been my recent go-to). The finish dried down a tiny more matte than I was expecting, but I was not mad at it. The lipstick was still comfortable to wear and stayed put for hours. It has now taken up residence in my bag, besides my (less natural) other favorites. Who knows? Maybe one day it will fully take their place.
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