Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 Jul

25 Safer Alternatives to Common Cosmetics

Natural CosmeticsTwo weeks ago, I introduced you to five cosmetics ingredients you should avoid. These are chemicals you’ll often find in things like shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, sunblocks, and makeups – you know, the stuff you’re covering yourself in everyday. Cosmetics manufacturers use these ingredients to improve their product’s ability to clean, moisturize, beautify, or improve an odor, but they often do lots of other bad stuff in the process. So the question is, do these products need these chemicals to work like we want them to, or are there alternative products that manage to use more natural and/or less harmful ingredients while still getting the job done? Indeed, there are, and today I’m going to share my findings with you.

Now, it’s fairly common for people to switch over to a Primal lifestyle and find they just don’t feel the need for all the lotions, creams, concealers, and other body care products they used to wear. Some even ditch shampoo, deodorant, and soap altogether. Still, though, that’s not everyone. I regularly received reader requests for safe cosmetics recommendations. So let’s look at some of these safer alternatives. I’ll try to include every possible category that falls under the “cosmetics” umbrella, but if I miss anything, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comment board.


When I say makeup, I refer to all those products people put on their faces, around their eyes, on their lips, and beside their noses. Powders and rouges and those sorts of things. Can you tell I know what I’m talking about? Anyway, the following brands are guaranteed to be free of the problem ingredients mentioned last time (plus most others).

100% Pure – They produce makeup and other cosmetics using food-grade plant-based ingredients (it’s safe to eat, so it’s probably safe to put on your body). They’ve also come up with their own preservative system to replace parabens, using a complex blend of herbs, vitamins, and antioxidants in place of industrial antimicrobials.

BiteBeauty – I like their mission – to create lipstick that you can safely eat (because women and the people who kiss them do eat a fair amount of lipstick) – as well as their propensity to quote Oscar Wilde. BiteBeauty uses great ingredients like argan oil and Manuka honey, and they even had their lipstick tested to ensure it was free of gluten and almost free of lead (total and utter elimination of lead is hard because lead is everywhere, including the food-grade ingredients they use).

Josie Maran – Argan oil-based makeup. They also use food-grade ingredients like avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, and mango seed butter.

Scotch Naturals – Many nail polish companies claiming to be free of phthalates actually aren’t, as a recent study revealed, suggesting that phthalates truly are hard to resist for nail polish makers. Scotch Naturals, however, is one of the only companies making truly non-toxic nail polish (that also happens to work really well).

Lavanila – They specialize in fragrance-free fragrances.

Pacifica Perfume – Another maker of safe fragrances.

Skin and Body Care

You’ve got your lotions, your creams, your face washes, your moisturizers, your body washes (isn’t that just a fancy name for soap?), and anything else that goes on your skin.

Skin Care for Athletes – Certified organic, paraben free, fragrance free and more. SkinCare for Athletes is a socially conscious company with the certifications and ratings to prove it. They’re also a trusted sponsor of PrimalCon.

Weleda – Weleda grows the bulk of their ingredients in their own biodynamic gardens. All in all, they’ve got acres of gardens scattered across the world, including Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand, and Argentina. This allows them to grow hundreds of species of medicinal plants from a variety of climates.

Dr. Bronner’s – No, it’s not Dr. Bonner’s. It’s Bronner, and it’s made with all organic ingredients, mostly oils, including coconut, olive, peppermint, and jojoba. I don’t think you need much else other than this stuff. You can use it as regular soap, hand soap, shampoo, and even toothpaste. Just be careful with the liquid peppermint soap on the, ahem, sensitive areas of your body. You might want to dilute it. Dr. Bronner’s slightly crazy tendency to rant and rave on his bottles also makes for fantastic shower reading.

Suki – Drawing on an impressive list of plant-based ingredients, Suki makes “skincare systems” for every skin type.

Indigo Wild – They’re best known for their Zum Soap, made from goat’s milk, but the rest of their rapidly expanding skin care line is safe and effective.

Primal Life Organics – This is a skincare line made by a Primal/paleo adherent who’d been making personal care products for years before she decided to make a business of it. Everything is paleo, gluten-free, and vegan.

Trillium Organics – Trillium Organics is organic, obviously, with a line of non-toxic body care products, but they also make treatments for specific conditions, like acne, rosacea, eczema, dermatitis, and diaper rash.

Speaking of soaps, what about replacements for anti-bacterial handsoaps containing triclosan? As I said last time, triclosan actually is quite effective at targeting bacteria. If your hands are crawling with roving bands of disease-causing microbes, then, yeah, a triclosan blast will take care of them and leave you “better off.” Problem is all the other terrible stuff evidence suggests it does to our health. Luckily, we have this stuff called “soap and water” that does a fair job at cleaning our hands when they’re dirty.

Research shows that triclosan-containing hand soaps are “no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands,” even when you’re talking about something as pernicious and deadly as C. diff. There’s also that fact that triclosan kills the bacteria, thus providing a powerful selective pressure for future evolution of antibiotic resistance, while soap and water wash the bacteria off your hands and down the drain. Unless it begins selecting for clingier bacteria who can hang on to human skin better, there’s no danger of antibiotic resistance developing from basic hand washing with regular soap. Overall, basic soap is still best. Since some bacteria exposure is important for health, you probably don’t want to kill it all outright.

Hair Products

There’s an argument to be made in favor of going entirely without shampoo, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks need/want shampoo and conditioner, only without the parabens and other toxic chemicals. People, even Primal people, also have the funny desire to style their hair into shapes, to stand in front of the mirror, tousle it and puff it up and make it stay in place. To look good, in other words (and not just naked). If you’re spraying your entire head with a mist of potentially toxic liquid to do that, you definitely want a safer option. Here are a few companies making hair products you can also use to style your hair, clean your hair, and make a good salad dressing.

Acure Organics – Acure offers face and body care, but they are best known for their organic shampoos and conditioners. The Moroccan argan oil and argan stem cell shampoo gets particularly high marks for being effective and non-toxic.

Yarok Hair – All the regular bad ingredients are absent from their line of shampoos, conditioners, and hair styling products.

DIY hair wax – This recipe uses beeswax and coconut oil to create a styling, moldable hair wax free of any toxic or unpronounceable ingredients.

Men’s Products

All of the cosmetics I’ve already mentioned can technically be used by men, but the average male won’t be applying much lipstick, mascara, or age-defying lotion, however edible and natural it may be. They are more likely to use “men’s products,” however. By men’s products, I refer to shaving products, beard care, cologne, and skin care targeted at men.

Eco-Beauty Organics – Men’s products are not their main focus, but they do offer a nice selection of aftershaves, lotions, and shaving creams.

OM4 – Organic Male makes organic skincare for men. This is a nice change of pace, since most other completely non-toxic men’s products are an afterthought for companies who focus on women.

Etsy – You can find some decent men’s colognes (plus other cosmetics, for that matter) on Etsy, like this one.

A decent homemade alternative to shaving cream, I’ve found, is a half teaspoon of really good extra virgin olive oil. The dogs (and Italian food buffs) you meet will, however, attempt to lick you.


The alternative to chemical UV-filters are physical filters. You’ve got shade – umbrellas, clothing, hats, a roof over our head, that sort of thing that we all know about – and then you’ve got the physical filters that we apply to our skin: zinc oxide. These are the white shmears you see on beach-goers’ skin from time to time. You might have just thought they were really, really bad at rubbing in their sunblock, but they were just avoiding oxybenzone by using zinc oxide.

Zinc oxide is the most effective and safest UV-filter. It’s a purely physical filter, meaning it sits on top of your skin and prevents UV damage, acting as a physical barrier. It’s just as effective as a chemical filter like oxybenzone without the side effects. If you’ve already got enough unfiltered sunlight for the day’s vitamin D needs and want some UV protection, zinc oxide is your best, safest bet.

Some might worry about looking silly with white streaks all over their face and body. But, if you go the zinc oxide nanoparticle route, you can get a zinc oxide sunscreen that disappears on your skin. There is some concern that these nanoparticles of zinc oxide are absorbed transdermally and can cause health problems, but the evidence seems to weigh heavily toward the “all safe” side. One study found that while zinc oxide does penetrate some of the outer layers of the epidermis (more so when the skin is sunburnt), it does not achieve transdermal penetration for systemic distribution. Another concern is that some people have allergic reactions to zinc oxide.

Badger Balm – All their products are good, but the sunscreens are the most renown. They are very thorough with the science behind their sunscreens, and they run regular tests to confirm the safety of their zinc oxide formula. Best of all, they’ve managed to minimize the whitening without increasing the potential for toxicity.

Raw Elements Eco Formula – Active ingredient is zinc oxide. It’s thick, but stays on well even with water exposure and activity. Not too whitening, either.

Kabana Skincare – Another good sunscreen source that uses zinc oxide. They’ve even got a formula with added vitamin D, presumably to make up for the UVB you’re blocking. Not sure if that actually works, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Mexitan – They don’t just make non-toxic, zinc oxide-based sunblock. They also offer recommendations for beach resorts and produce safe self-tanner.


Some folks claim they can go without anything under their arms as long as their diet is “clean” enough, but I don’t know. I’d say it’s good practice to have something on hand, just in case your confidence turns out to be hubris. If you don’t want the aluminum, artificial fragrances, and other nasties found in regular products, you’ve got plenty of choices.

Primal Pit Paste – The best deodorant ever. It’s coconut based, so you can probably eat it in a pinch.

Thai Crystal – They’ve got a spray and a roll-on. Your choice. There’s some concern over whether it contains aluminum or not, but I don’t think it’s a huge issue unless you’ve just shaved your armpit and thus opened up a route for transdermal absorption.

Barring a product, you can also throw together your own:

Coconut and baking soda – Mix roughly equal parts of coconut oil and baking soda. It’s a bit goopy, especially in warm weather, but it gets the job done. I hear that adding some arrowroot flour or cornstarch will reduce the goopiness.

Obviously, this is far from being a complete list of all worthy alternatives. The demand for non-toxic cosmetics is only growing, and new companies are constantly emerging to address it. Be sure to leave your personal favorites in the comment section so that others can check them out.

If you’re curious about the products you use, or a new one that you’re considering, enter it on the Skin Deep database to learn about the safety (or toxicity) of its ingredients.

Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. A great product, and very primal, is JR Liggett’s Bar Shampoo. It can be used as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and shaving cream. It was made for backpackers and is safe for fish and plants in and around streams and lakes. I’ve used it for years. I use the Ultra Balanced bar.

    For deodorant, I simply use Cypress and Lavender essential oils. I put a few drops of each in the palm of one hand, rub my hands together, and apply to my armpits. Works very well, and I always get told how nice I smell. I buy mine from Birch Hill Happenings for their quality and purity at a reasonable price.

    I use coconut oil to moisturize in the winter, jojoba oil in the summer.

    Diane J wrote on July 31st, 2013
  2. Btw, I don’t like Grandpa’s Pine Tar shampoo/soap because it has “vegetable lecithin” which can be soy and what you use on your skin goes in you since the skin is our biggest way to absorb everything. My other choice besides JR Liggett’s would be Dr. Bonner’s.

    Diane J wrote on July 31st, 2013
  3. If gray hair is due to hydrogen peroxide in the scalp, is there something that can be used as a shampoo to lower the H O in the scalp and thereby slow or reverse gray hair?

    C wrote on July 31st, 2013
  4. Toothpaste: Even the “natural” brands like Tom’s will often have SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) in them, so read your labels. I use Miracle Soap, sometimes with baking soda for extra scrubbing. Works great with no irritating essential oils.

    Soap for your face: again, I use Miracle Soap. Please avoid using bar soap on your face, and sometimes on the rest of you, depending on your skin. The ingredients that make a bar soap hold together WILL clog your pores and cause breakouts. Liquid “soap” is a better route.

    Coconut oil: it’s great for everything. Makeup removal, moisturizer, conditioning dry hair (massage in, let sit awhile, wash out with a very mild shampoo).

    Nebbo wrote on July 31st, 2013
  5. I use 2 web sites for safe cosmetics: coastalclassiccreations and rejuvaminerals. They are rated safe by the skin deep site and I have been very happy with their products. I also like Shea Terra Organics for skin care products. You may want to google “oil cleansing method” for good skin care that uses safe, home remedies. I use the oil cleansing method and my skin has never looked better.

    For deodorant, I use 1/2 baking soda and 1/2 arrowroot starch and it works for me. Used Badger sunscreen when I went to Florida this summer and my fair, sensitive skin survived. There are plenty of safe alternatives for personal care products, it just takes a little work to figure out what to make or where to purchase.

    Karen K wrote on July 31st, 2013
    • I forgot something important – i used coconut oil to shave my legs and no lotion is needed once you get out of the shower. Best personal care find ever!

      Karen K wrote on July 31st, 2013
  6. I found a great deoderant that doesn’t make a mess of my shirts and sprays on like a water mist. I can go a full two days without washing if I have to and still do not smell. It is called Dr. Mist. Check it out at Here in Canada I buy it at my local health food store and it costs CDN$10 per bottle which lasts a month.

    I’ve been impressed by how my shirts aren’t staining under the arms and I can wear them at least twice before washing – saving the fabric from wearing out.

    Stacey wrote on July 31st, 2013
  7. Thank you for this informative article Mark. I switched to Dr Bronner’s several years ago and use it at home and when backpacking for body, face, and hair (teeth-out on the trails).
    Recently tried Burt’s Bees brand of lip balm and it was awful. Threw it out.

    Eastbayhiker wrote on July 31st, 2013
  8. Intelligent Nutrients is a new and incredible line of 100% natural products for Hair, face, makeup, perfumes (jasmine is devine) they have all I need check them out. I think you will give them 2 Primal Spears up!
    free shipping on orders over $75.

    Stacey Zanella wrote on July 31st, 2013
  9. Pitty Party (available on Etsy) is a wonderfully effective natural deodorant. Love Potion Perfume makes wonderful scents with safe ingredients and no chemical fixatives.

    Lynne wrote on July 31st, 2013
  10. Organix South makes some nice products.

    KD wrote on July 31st, 2013
  11. Also, check out Earth tu Face for some wonderful skin and body care products. Launched by two amazing herbalists, all of their ingredients are edible.

    Melissa wrote on July 31st, 2013
  12. This list is awesome, it can be SO overwhelming trying to stay on top of what all the bad ingredients are, much less remembering them all as I am in the aisle at the store trying to pick something. I’m pleasantly surprised to see ALL of my normal products made the list, I especially love 100%PURE. Thanks Mark!

    Kirstin wrote on July 31st, 2013
  13. This is an amazing list! Thank you for posting!! :-)

    Carol Nathan wrote on July 31st, 2013
  14. I have been using essential oils mixed with other natural and safe products to make skin care supplies. Virgin coconut oil with frankincense, Meleleuca, lemon, and lavender oils make a nice moisturizer and a little goes a long way. I have very dry skin and it soaks right in. My age wrinkles are disappearing as well, and sun spots clearing up. I use salt and baking soda with Meleleuca oil for exfoliating. Castile soap diluted with purified water and Meleleuca works great for scalp cleaning and body shampoo. Coconut oil and lavender is my dry hair conditioner, doesn’t take much. Coconut oil applied in shower to skin then rinse and towel dry does a good job of moisturizing. Baking soda with clove and spearmint oils for tooth cleansing.
    I am working on recipes for deodorant but diet is my best weapon for eliminating BO. By the way, I use doTERRA oils.
    Great post and replies, I will incorporate some of your ideas!

    Pamela Reaves Rpdriguez wrote on July 31st, 2013
    • Your moisturizer sounds like just what I need. Could you give me your “recipe?” I’ve never tried to make my own skin care product.

      Kara Cummins wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  15. What about Auric Blends perfume oils? I love their Egyptian Goddess perfume, it’s all I use.

    Cosima wrote on July 31st, 2013
  16. I like LUSH products- I use their henna on my hair. I have heard good things about their other products but don’t use them myself.

    Robin wrote on July 31st, 2013
  17. Shampoo/conditioner: I buy what claims is ‘natural’.

    Body stuff: I use baking soda and crystal mineral ball. Works really well for me and is easy. Sometimes I use vinegar.

    Cuts and scrapes: I use hydrogen peroxide.

    It’s pretty simple. :)

    If I use lipstick which is the only make up I wear (and only for interviews or special occasions) is a bee’s wax base and natural colouring.

    Mmmmmmm my life is simple and I love it. 😀

    Zorica Vuletic wrote on July 31st, 2013
  18. Check out
    By far the highest quality skin, body and bath products I have tried. They are all handcrafted in small batches using only ingredients we can easilty pronounce! Well worht looking into and adding to the great list!

    Michal Ofer wrote on July 31st, 2013
  19. I don’t really trust the “natural” products either. I’ve pretty much switched over to making my own beauty products. For shampoo, I rinse with a baking soda solution followed by a rinse of apple cider vinegar solution. For deodorant, I mix coconut oil and baking soda. I do use soap, but it’s plain Dr. Bronner’s. I am currently experimenting with tooth powder – straight baking soda is too abrasive, so I’ve got a mixture of bentonite clay and baking soda, with a bit of cinnamon. Facial moisturizer is either coconut oil or avocado.

    I keep a bottle of shampoo, a tube of toothpaste, and a stick of deodorant in my bathroom for camouflage – just so that visitors don’t think I’m an unwashed hippie.

    LVM wrote on July 31st, 2013
    • Jaja, your post seem like written by me. I do the same, exactly. Now experimenting with toothpaste.

      Nat wrote on August 3rd, 2013
  20. Blissoma is an awesome skin care line, young company based out of St Louis and has been around for about 5 years. They have the best gel cleanser and clay masque. I’m an esthetician so I’ve tried out my fair share of beauty products and I love love this line!

    Lauren wrote on July 31st, 2013
  21. Anyone recommending Jason brand be careful lots of the formulations have chemicals including parabenes in them. I have infrequently over the last couple of years had what looked like a chemical burn on my scalp and even less often show up on my neck and ears. I was just running out of my Jason brand shampoo and conditioner and was shopping for replacements. As I have celiac disease I limit gluten and a bunch of other ingredients including mark’s list of chemicals to avoid. I realized one of my products had wheat protein and several of those other chemicals in it. I threw it away and now my scalp is healing up.

    Stephanie wrote on July 31st, 2013
  22. For ladies looking for higher-end clean, high performance makeup, RMS Beauty, W3LL People, and Ilia make awesome products. These brands are popular with (and some are developed by) makeup artists, but they’re extremely safe and clean and tend to have nicer ingredients than the cheaper organic brands.

    I’m a big fan of Max Green Alchemy shampoo and conditioner- they’re totally clean and they perform well, unlike a lot of health food store brands, which I find too drying. Acure is nice, but I find it makes my scalp get oily much faster. and http://www.spiritbeautylounge both have a great selection of clean/organic brands of makeup, skincare, and hair care.

    Erin wrote on July 31st, 2013
  23. When my son was born 13 months ago, started to make cream for him, not sure why never did for myself before! He never had nappy rash and super easy – organic calendula oil (make by infusing flowers in oil), warm over hot water, add beeswax, more or less depending on how thick you like cream. Amazing, can also use any herbs instead of calendula eg lavender.
    My sister is a big lover of 8 hr cream (in fact any chemical laden promise!) but even she loves this so doing something right!!

    Kate wrote on July 31st, 2013
  24. I use pure cold pressed coconut oil for sun screen, I mix coconut oil and baking soda with 100% pure essential oils (peppermint) mixed in a small container and scoop onto my toothbrush. My teeth are the whitest they have ever been. Any bacteria or gut problems disappear. I use coconut as my skincare range and am in my 40s with no wrinkles!

    Anna Evans wrote on July 31st, 2013
  25. Check out the products at Handcrafted, small batch, totally natural skin, body and bath products. I’ve been using them for years and have converted many. The best part is we could eat all the ingredients! Really worth trying.

    Michal Ofer wrote on July 31st, 2013
  26. I use Intelligent Nutrients for shampoo/conditioner and RMS Beauty for makeup/skin-care.
    I love 100% Pure mascaras (my favorite is the blackberry – it smells the best and leaves my lashes purple).

    Julia wrote on July 31st, 2013
  27. Mangos are in the Anacardiaceae family along with pistachios and cashews. Also in this family … poison ivy, oak & sumac. I love pistachios & cashews but have recently developed an allergy to them. Mango seeds contain the same toxin … so I would be reluctant to rub mango seed butter on my skin.

    Laura Callaway wrote on July 31st, 2013
  28. I definitely put coconut oil on my face before, and after a week I totally broke out, I highly DO NOT recommend doing that! ha! Whoops, but hey, it’s all about trial and error. I am now on a Rose Hip Seed Oil kick, lets see how long this will take me to break out!

    GiGi wrote on July 31st, 2013
  29. Hello Primal World!

    My favorite hair and skincare is from Max Green Alchemy and I do believe they are in the good column……prices are good too!!

    Donna wrote on July 31st, 2013
  30. If you’re looking for 100% Natural Perfumes, check out:

    Their stuff is awesome!

    Scentolicious wrote on July 31st, 2013
  31. My favorite products come from The owner healed herself from major illness and developed a line of products that are totally free of gluten, chemicals, artificial fragrances, dyes, solvents and GMO’s!! They come in the most incredible “flavors” that you really could eat! Some of my favorites: Tickled Peach Body Wash, Pear Naked Body Lotion & Body Souffle, Cherry Scrub and the list goes on and on!! Oh, and they have a fabulous Cucumber Mint Deodorant Powder! They also have bar soaps, baby and kids’ soaps, lotions etc, and really amazing facial lotions for aging skin! Something for EVERY BODY! :)

    Shellster wrote on July 31st, 2013
  32. Hi Mark,

    Have you heard of Ava Anderson non toxic? I love their products and they are all non toxic.

    Julie wrote on July 31st, 2013
  33. I am having the worst time switching to natural deodorant! I keep getting a rash . . . I call it pits of fire! S far Toms of Maine is the only one I can use. Even made one on my own and got a rash. It was coconut oil based.

    Melissa wrote on July 31st, 2013
  34. Weleda makes the BEST lip balm! It’s called Everon — I’ve been buying it for years.

    e! wrote on July 31st, 2013
  35. thank you! oh thank you for doing the research and finding some safe makeup that is not just powders! the price point of the 100%pure line is very affordable, and josie marin has a lip and cheek stain marker! us primal ladies still like a little makeup.

    allison wrote on July 31st, 2013
  36. For the past 15 yrs, I’ve used pure emu oil as a moisturizer. I’m 58 with no wrinkles and receive tons of complements on my skin. Can’t get much more primal that emu oil! No additives whatsoever.

    I simply wash with a good goats milk shea butter soap then smooth on the emu oil. I’ve used several different brands, and they all work well. Just make sure it’s pure.

    Mari Ann Lisenbe wrote on July 31st, 2013
  37. This website is full of amazing recipes, including this natural, solid deodorant:

    Wendy wrote on July 31st, 2013
  38. Miessence out of Australia has some amazing products, including a deodorant that hubby and I have been using for years.

    Nichole wrote on July 31st, 2013
  39. Don’t waste your time on the thai crystal roll on. Mine turned into a smelly petri dish

    Sarah wrote on July 31st, 2013

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