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. Check out Ava Anderson Non Toxic. A full line of personal and home care products with NO Harsh chemicals. Ingredients are readily listed for each product.

    Wendy wrote on July 31st, 2013
  2. Anyone know of an all-natural hair dye (without PPD), besides Henna?

    Aisha wrote on July 31st, 2013
    • Light mountain is good but fades in 4-6 weeks. Using Henna and Indigo, both skin grade will get any shade of red and brown.

      Tx Kel wrote on December 4th, 2013
  3. Enlightening post, as always, Mark. Though I wonder what you (and readers) have to say about Paula’s Choice cosmetics. If anyone has done her homework in terms of science article sifting and synthesising, it’s Paula Begoun, probably the foremost critic of the beauty industry. And she says the science seems to favour parabens, for one thing. I love Mark’s posts because they’re entertaining and backed by solid evidence, but this is one post where I simply had to reply with my two cents. “Natural” or “organic” isn’t always better.

    I’m not affiliated with Ms. Begoun in any way – I’ve just been following her work and using her products (on and off, mind you), but each time I do my skin gets visibly better. Still, I’d rather not put anything on my face if I can help it (especially when it comes with a hefty price tag), which is one reason I’m dabbling in the primal diet. My skin could be better.

    Maya wrote on July 31st, 2013
    • Maya, I agree with you regarding Paula Begoun, and her philosophy that “natural” may not necessarily be harmless. Her products have really helped my skin, and I appreciate that they are fragrance-free. That being said, I am actively removing/greatly reducing chemicals from all aspects of my daily life, especially anything that touches my skin. Paula’s Choice products will be reduced as well. She does have her “Earth Sourced” line that has less chemicals. I haven’t tried it yet.

      Thank you all for your great suggestions and recommendations.

      Ellen wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  4. I switched to Crystal brand mineral rock deodorant recently and so far it’s holding up really well. Two days ago, I hiked up a super-steep mountain trail near my house in 100-degree heat and while I did sweat a lot under my arms, there was no odor at all.

    I’ve also recently switched from conventional shampoo (Herbal Essences, to be precise…ugh) to “Every Day Shea” shampoo and conditioner by Alaffia. It’s made of good stuff and all of the ingredients they get from Africa are fair trade. So far it’s working well. My hair feels a little oily after washing, but I think that’s just because my head’s going through an adjustment period from the conventional crap to this more natural stuff.

    Jessie H. wrote on July 31st, 2013
  5. Terresentials! They make clay shampoos, lotions, and all your bodycare products. I love their frangrance-free face lotion and facewash the best. All of their fragrances are plant-based oils. Many of the plants they use are grown on their own organic farm!

    Lizzie wrote on July 31st, 2013
  6. This article was great, and exactly what I was looking for, but unfortunately I’m in Australia and it would be good to have recommendations for products here in our market. Is anyone here from Oz that has recommendations???

    Flo may wrote on July 31st, 2013
  7. I’ve always rather liked Chagrin Valley, they produce really lovely, natural soaps, shampoos, deodorants, moisturisers etc.
    Definitely worth a look if you are trying to cut out the chemical laced products!!

    Ben wrote on July 31st, 2013
  8. I wouldn’t call Weleda as very safe brand, it is better than conventional one’s like Dove and L’oreal, but it also has a mark of 3 and more in SkinDeep database

    Agne wrote on August 1st, 2013
  9. No-one seems to have mentioned Sukin Australian Natural Skincare?
    Found a few of their products at our local chemists (drugstore) in Australia..

    Not sure if they are a better alternative? but I have used and still use their products for my sensitive skin .. ok so the shampoo doesn’t foam up so good, but that’s probably a good thing?
    Ingredient list is on their website if anyone wants to back me up on this?

    Not affiliated with this in any way, I just really like their products!

    Kate wrote on August 1st, 2013
  10. Mark, please be careful when endorsing brands that have lavender or peppermint essential oils in them. Paula Begoun -who is probably THE authority on cosmetic ingredients- has done a lot of research on what is proven to be effective or harmful. She can back up all her statements with peer-reviewed scientific research and that research shows that lavender and peppermint (among other things) are harmful to our skin. And still we see it pop up in so many cosmetic products, including ones of the brands you endorse. Not good.

    Wendy wrote on August 1st, 2013
  11. Hi, I would like to add in the list for grokette: reusable menstrual pads. I know it may sound disgusting at first, but the more I think the more it makes sense.
    The ones you buy in supermarket were damaging my skin because they don’t allow it to breath, they are pure plastic and so were retaining the odours. Very bad for us and for the environment.
    If you are interested in reusable ones, there are many people who made them (or you can do them yourself). Plenty of tutorials on youtube.
    Since I went paleo, my period became a bit more regular and half a day shorter. Since I wear these pads it is another half day shorter and always on time. They are neither bulky nor smelly. Washing is easy. I highly recommend them.

    Groketta wrote on August 1st, 2013
    • Yep, I’ve been using them for a while and cloth/reusable menstrual pads are better for numerous reasons. I just throw them in with my other wash.

      Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
      • Some women use sea sponges as reusable tampons. You can find videos on youtube.

        Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
    • Instead of tampons, I’ve been using a menstrual cup for about 10 years. They come in different materials (latex/rubber or silicone). The first one lasted just two years, but the replacement I bought in 2006 is still working fine; mine were both the latex/rubber. On my heaviest day I may need to rinse and replace it once, but otherwise it will last me 24 hours. I bought mine online (The Keeper), but I imagine other brands are pretty similar.

      Diane wrote on December 4th, 2013
  12. I love 100% pure! Another alternative for deodorants and shampoo is chagrin valley! The postage to europe is insanely high but you americans can buy you some cheap long lasting, well working stuff there! My favourite brand all time is terre d’oc for makeup and john masters organics for hair(my hair does not really cope well with shampoo cakes because of its length). Love that more people wants natural products. And no antiprspirant works better than coconut oil and baking soda, Ive been hiking sweating in the sun for days before I actually need to wash my armpits.

    Emelie wrote on August 1st, 2013
  13. My 2012 New Year’s resolution was to switch to chemical free body products & cleaning products. After lots of trial & error I use Mercola products for skin, hair, teeth & laundry. For the arm pits we use a local product that works for me, but not hubby, so will try some of the suggestions – what a great resource these comments are!

    Janet wrote on August 1st, 2013
  14. I just wanted to share the company Chagrin Valley. I have been using their products for 4 years and I’m hooked!!! Their deodorant is awesome, and all organic. I also die for their shower bars, lotion bars and body oils. I have recommended their products to anyone who will listen and everyone is a fan.

    Carolyn wrote on August 1st, 2013
  15. I use dreadlock shampoo. No nasty stuff just good oils. Smells great, lasts ages and cleans hair and body really well. Not just for dreadlocks either :-)

    Steven wrote on August 1st, 2013
    • Well, I just bought some of the dreadlocks shampoo… I’ve been having a hard time finding a shampoo that doesn’t make my hair feel brittle and tangly (when wet) and like straw (when dry). The liquid version has salt in it and I worry that I’ll have the same issues, but at least the ingredients list looks a lot better than the shampoo I’m using now. Here’s hoping..

      JT wrote on December 4th, 2013
  16. I didn’t see any pre-shave lotions for electric shavers mentioned in the list or in the comments, but I will throw in my support for rubbing alcohol (with maybe a bit of olive oil, baby oil, etc for lubrication) as an effective electric shaver pre-shave lotion.

    Paul wrote on August 1st, 2013
  17. Are you familiar with Red Apple lipstick? They are a new company and state they are gluten free and healthy. I’d like to know your opinion.

    zusiqu wrote on August 1st, 2013
  18. I have been using a deodorant with probiotics I found on Etsy at Frugally Sustainable ( ). It works much better for me than the lavender deodorant I bought from Primal Life Organics. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of their other products, but the deodorant does something odd with my body chemistry…not a pretty smell. The jasmine deodorant from Frugally Sustainable initially smells like a Tootsie Roll, however, due to the cocoa butter/jasmine combo. Not a bad thing, just took me by surprise. The shop also sells solid perfumes and other handmade products. I am currently enjoying the “Lover” scent.

    Thanks for this list. I am trying to replace my toiletries with healthier options as they run out, but it’s hard to get info on it all.

    Tracy wrote on August 1st, 2013
  19. Putting in a plug for BlackBox Cosmetics! Lots of botanicals, NO parabens or other nasty stuff. There’s a link on my website, above.

    Hadass Eviatar wrote on August 1st, 2013
  20. Any idea for make up available in Korea? None of these companies ship to Korea, some ship to Japan but not Korea. There are some brands in Korea that claim to be organic and natural but when I read their ingredients (sometimes they are not even listed) they are actually not. Any ideas?

    flower wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  21. Deoterant and Antiperspirant recipe

    I’ve been using it for months in our TX heat!!
    1/4 cp arrow root
    1/4 cp baking soda
    8 TB coconut oil, melted (melt by putting container in hot water. Don’t microwave!!)

    Whip until creamy. If you keep your house cool enough you can put it into an old deodorant container. Otherwise just use 2-3 baby food containers. Works great!!!

    Tx Kel wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  22. 1) Remove make-up and/or washing your face check out OCM- Oil cleansing method

    2) Face cleanser: 1/2 tsp-1T of raw honey rubbed in your hands to warm up, spread on your face and rinse with water.

    Nicole wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  23. What about kiss my face brand? Ive never seen these things in store. Is there anything on this list that’s college student on loans can afford?

    fuwa wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  24. “Lavanila – They specialize in fragrance-free fragrances.” What is the point of fragrance-free fragrance?

    Marian wrote on August 4th, 2013
  25. Hi there Mark
    Have you heard of Miessence, they are Australia’s greenest certified organic company that make personal care, cosmetic, household and superfood products. For those reading looking for options in Australia try looking at

    We also ship international if you are interested but not a local :)


    Narelle wrote on August 4th, 2013
  26. Some good products that I’ve tried (and I’m a purist) are:

    Face wash/moisturizer: The Vital Image
    Foundation: Devita, Everyday Minerals
    Blush: 100% Pure
    Mascara: Dr. Hauschka, Earth’s Beauty
    Sunscreen: Badger Balm
    Hair: Max Green Alchemy
    Deodorant: Real Purity
    Lotion: Acure
    Soap: Dr. Bronners
    Laundry: Biokleen

    Blythe wrote on August 5th, 2013
  27. Look into Keys Care. I’ve been using their products for awhile because they’re gluten free and organic. Very clean product. They also have a line for pets.

    Mary Louise wrote on August 5th, 2013
  28. Has anyone ever tried Melaleuca’s products? They claim to be all natural/toxin free without phthalates or parabens, they dont’ even have safety caps. Any good?

    Amber wrote on August 5th, 2013
  29. I’m a huge fan of Griffin Remedy Body Lotion, which I also use for face moisturizer and hand lotion. I love the Bulgarian Lavender! Found it at my health food store, but also at some larger Whole Foods, or at They also make really good all natural shampoos and conditioners.

    Darshana Maya Greenfield wrote on August 7th, 2013
  30. I’ve been thinking about making my own vitamin C serum but recipes call for vegetable glycerin. But is this something I should stay away from? Is it toxic?

    Sarah Chapa wrote on August 9th, 2013
  31. My philosophy is that if you can’t eat it, it shouldn’t be on your skin. So I’ve been chemical-free for years.

    I use a method called oil cleansing where one uses olive oil and castor oil for cleansing ( or often just plain honey which makes a great antibacterial cleanser. I use a drop or two of grapeseed or jojoba oil as a moisturizer afterwards. Want to exfoliate? Crush a strawberry with honey and make a mask (strawberries contain salycic acid which is a key ingredient in acne scrubs and washes).

    For home cleaning, a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar mixed with water and the juice of half lemon is a very effective spray cleaner and disinfectant. Need to scrub your sink or tub? Baking soda. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

    If you’re a do it yourself kind of person, there are a ton of cheap, easy recipes for making natural skin care and cleaning products for your body and home floating out there in the blog-o-verse. Crunchy Betty and Wellness Mama are both great places to start for anyone who is interested.

    Second to MDA, this is the best change I’ve made in my personal life. I reduce exposure to chemicals, save money and my bathroom cupboards are no longer cluttered with toxic junk:)

    kelly wrote on August 11th, 2013
  32. Iherb is selling amazing bio products. I use a shampoo from Caretel and it’s beyond any expectations

    amy clarke wrote on August 29th, 2013
  33. “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).”

    WOW…I hope you did not hurt yourself falling for their marketing! 100% Pure is one of the few cosmetic companies that actually had to issue a recall of their eye shadow last year, because an FDA investigation found it contaminated with hazardous bacteria.

    100% Pure is also using illegal colorants – the FDA has very few rules for cosmetic ingredients but the use of colorants – because colorants can be so hazardous – are strict. 100% Pure uses colorants that have not been FDA-approved.

    This company is a perfect example of “greenwashing” – telling consumers what they want to hear but not backing up their statements with science, safety testing…or even the truth. I reported them to the FDA for these and other reasons.

    Sue Apito wrote on August 31st, 2013
  34. My favourite deodorant is:
    Miessence Tahitian Breeze Roll On.
    It just takes a little longer to dry than the toxic ones I used to use!

    Claire wrote on September 18th, 2013

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