Why buy organic makeup?

You eat organic produce and wouldn't dream of bringing a glass of antibiotic-filled milk to your lips. But here's a question you might not have considered: Is your face really organic?

You know, the thing you slather lotion, makeup and cleanser onto on a daily basis? Over the last decade, a number of natural skin-care lines have emerged, hoping to convince consumers they should treat their faces with the same concern for organics as they do the rest of their body. Now, with mainstream companies such as Estee Lauder and L'Occitane en Provence jumping on the organic makeup bandwagon, it's clear consumers' demand for natural beauty is changing the face of the cosmetics industry.

The hitch is, organic skin-care products aren't necessarily pesticide- or chemical-free, despite what their name suggests. The word organic on a bottle might simply mean a product was made with "organic material" like plants or minerals -- or it might mean nothing at all. Many companies are happy to exploit customers' growing interest in natural skin care by misleading them into buying a product based on a faulty organic claim.

Also, unlike in food, where organic is generally the safer choice over conventionally grown food, the jury is out whether certified organic makeup is actually better for your skin than the nonorganic alternatives. There are many other factors aside from an organic claim to take into consideration before dusting that rosy bronzer over your cheeks -- like whether the product contains synthetic ingredients that might leach through your incredibly porous skin. According to Nashville newspaper The Tennessean, the three big "no-no" ingredients to look out for in makeup are:

parabens (linked to breast cancer)

phthalates (potentially harmful to the reproductive system)

• talc (linked to ovarian cancer)

Additionally, whether or not a product is organic has nothing to do with whether a particular mascara, lipstick or eyeliner contains animal by-products or was tested on animals. Luckily, the brands that are explicitly "cruelty-free" tend to say so on their package.

The organic-makeup and natural skin-care industries are growing rapidly, and also very much still in formation. Until stricter policies and labeling laws are in place in the United States (right now, a French company called Ecocert is the leading organics certifier of cosmetics), concerned consumers need to be more inquisitive in the cosmetics aisle of their market than the produce section. In the meantime, here are three cosmetic and skin-care lines that walk the walk when it comes to their stated environmental and ethical values. And that's a beautiful thing.

Burt's Bees

Recently purchased by Clorox, this skin-care company (lip balms, soaps, lotions, cologne, etc.) maintains its commitment to the environment and customer health. Unlike many cosmetic companies, Burt's is transparent about its products' ingredients, and even helps consumers translate the fine print. Vegans should note that it does use carmine (a red coloring that comes from the shells of the cochineal beetle) in some of its products because the only alternatives are synthetic, and often fossil-fuel-based.

Kiss My Face

Kiss My Face makes everything from tinted lip balm to shampoo and shaving cream. In addition to being an independently owned company (a rarity these days), it eschews artificial colors, animal ingredients, animal testing and unnecessary chemicals.

Organic Wear Makeup

Free of harsh chemicals, made with certified organic ingredients, and packaged in eco-friendly containers, these products (everything from powders to eyeliner to lipstick) will help you hide the bags under your eyes without all the environmental baggage. 

See also:

What's a Great Natural Mascara?

Learn how to green your grooming routine