Ten Expert Tips for Switching to Organic Products

Where to start, what ingredients to avoid and the benefits you can expect from detoxifying your beauty bag.

Art by Tanya Leigh Washington

Listen up, ladies: Your bath and beauty products might be killing you. Sorry to sound so scary, but the truth is that we come into contact with hundreds of damaging chemicals daily. Dangerous ingredients absorbed into our skin, scalp and face lead to alarming fates such as cancer and reproductive-system damage.

Take steps to purge toxins from your life by incorporating more plant-based skincare and makeup routines. We picked the brains behind some organic brands to help you navigate the overwhelming amount of information on natural beauty. Plus, we picked out exactly what beauty goods you should try from head-to-toe to get you started on your green makeover. 

1. Do your research
The first step is to understand exactly where the harm is. Of at least 10,500 different chemicals used in beauty products, only 11 percent have gone through safety testing in the US, according to Logona's cosmetician Anne Christensen. "There are literally no laws governing cosmetic packaging, making it difficult for those new to the natural realm," says Acure Organics' brand educator Kristen Underwood. "I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the top [harmful] ingredients to avoid and eliminate products [containing them]." Acure Organics provides a "Filthy Fifty" list that's easy to follow.

Stay focused on the ingredient list because this is what it is really all about. It will reveal the truth much faster than any marketing material. Nature has provided us with so much!

–Trish Alkaitis, Dr. Alkaitis

2. Read the ingredients, not the advertising
"There is ever more confusing marketing out there
promoting conventional products as 'natural,' or greenwashing," says Spirit Demerson, founder of organic e-tailer Spirit Beauty Lounge. "Always look past the front of the bottle and all of it's jargon and look at the actual ingredient list. If you can't make sense of it, it doesn't hurt to take your health into your own hands and Google the ingredients that sound questionable. Do some digging. It definitely takes commitment but you deserve to do that for yourself." Additionally, look for certification on products labeled "organic," suggests Dr. Alkaitis brand marketing director Trish Alkaitis. Try to spot the "USDA Organic" badge on the packaging.

3. If you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin
"[Skin] absorbs anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of what is applied to it topically, so it is important that our personal-care products are just as pure as the food we eat," notes Underwood. "We are literally 'feeding' our skin with the products that we apply topically."

5. If you can't pronounce an ingredient, it's likely harmful
Again, reading the ingredients list is your best bet. For those wary of memorizing a bunch of scientific terms, this tip should do the trick. Amy Rueda, founder of Authentic Skin Remedies, says that "the most harmful ingredients are parabens or any word ending in paraben, [words starting with] 'PEG' and words ending in 'eth.'"

6. Shop smart by using the web and apps 
Rueda also suggests familiarizing yourself with useful tools such as the site Skindeep, which contains information on 69,000 products. "What I love about this database is it will not only score the product, with ten being the most toxic, but it gives the science behind that score so you can make more informed decisions," she says. Another useful mobile app is Think Dirty, which you can use while shopping to scan barcodes for ingredients.

The difference with natural products is that using them literally 'feeds' your skin with plant and food-based active ingredients, so your skin will become truly healthy, often resulting in a 'glow'.

–Kristen Underwood, Acure Organics

7. Expect a transition period
You might break out at first, since your body is accustomed to chemically processed ingredients. "Results when one switches from synthetic to natural products can at first cause a purging in the skin," says Christensen. "It is the body's way to expel these toxins. Afterwards, results are much better."

8. Watch out for water
Alkaitis offered this surprising tip: "If the first ingredient is water, just know that there is a preservative in there. Water breeds bacteria, so you need to use a preservative to keep the bacteria from growing," she cautions. One alternative base that is safe is aloe vera.

Organic products are the secret to Jessica Alba's radiant look—she even co-founded The Honest Company, which sells all-natural bath, body and cleaning products, and wrote about detoxifying her lifestyle in the book The Honest Life.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America

9. Start with your skin
Demerson suggests to start your switch by taking inventory of what you frequently use. "In most cases, it's the deodorant and moisturizers or lotions. These are the products you want to clean first," she says. Since perfume also goes on the skin, you should replace this right away, too. "Avoid anything that is a liquid that gets absorbed into the skin first, then work your way to hair, makeup and nails," suggests Rueda.

10. Know your oils
Understanding what different properties natural oils have will help you choose products wisely. "I'm a big lover of organic plant oils: jojoba, coconut and olive are all wonderful for the body and hair," says Alkaitis. "Sweet almond oil is gentle for the face. Some people might need a lighter weight oil than others, so that is something to consider before you start to work with oils." Demerson also praises the benefits of plant oils. "Prickly pear seed oil is one of my favorites for the face, especially under the eyes," she says. "Blue Tansy oil has incredible calming, anti-inflammatory and adaptogen properties, which means it helps sensitive skin be less reactive."

Still feeling stumped? Don't worry–we did all of the leg work for you in this roundup of what chemicals to avoid and what beauty goods to buy:

Former Associate Editor at StyleBistro. Willing to try any workout trend. Green beauty junkie. Fan of overdressing. Proud member of the cult of Beyoncé. Twitter/Insta: @kristinarodulfo Follow me: Google