Would you take out your kidneys, if you could, and slather them with chemicals every day? Not likely, but most people do that to their skin—the body's largest organ—without a second thought. Luckily there's a better way, according to Kelly Uusitalo, who buys health and beauty aid products for Bastyr University's Center for Natural Health, in Seattle. Natural beauty products improve your overall health, she says, "not only externally so that you look good, but they also help your body internally." For instance, essential fatty acids, whether consumed in foods or used in lotions and cleansers, feed your skin to help give it a soft, youthful glow.
Natural beauty products are often as effective, or more effective, than their chemical cousins, says Uusitalo. "The natural industry has jumped into the future by researching new ingredients and by responding to what consumers say is working or not working." For example, findings on green tea's antioxidant properties have made it a common antiaging ingredient in natural moisturizers, eye gels, and more.
Of course, change doesn't come easily. (Uusitalo's mother has used the same brand of lipstick since college.) But when it comes to better-for-you products, it's worth heeding the commercial jingle, "Try it—you'll like it." Here are Uusitalo's favorite personal-care products and natural beauty recipes.
Tip>> Take two
Because natural deodorants don't have chemical antiperspirants to prevent sweating, you may need to reapply during the day.
Product pick>> Weleda Sage Deodorant
"It's basically an alcohol with essential oils and some herbal ingredients added to it," says Uusitalo. Any deodorant you choose should be free of aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, and synthetic perfumes, which can cause allergic reactions. Deodorant should include a natural preservative, such as alcohol or grapeseed extract, Uusitalo says.
Product pick>> Weleda Calendula Toothpaste
This tube is free of sodium laurel sulfates (possible irritants) and doesn't contain fluoride, or artificial whiteners or brighteners that can damage your teeth. "It also doesn't have any chemical preservatives," Uusitalo says. "And it tastes great and makes your teeth feel super clean and shiny." Also, because it doesn't contain peppermint, it won't interfere with the action of any homeopathic remedies you may be taking.
Product pick>> Ballard Organics Soap
"The combination of different essential fatty acids—the olive oil, the coconut oil, the cocoa butter—is high-quality and clean," says Uusitalo. "So it has a really nice, soft, emollient feel when you use it, and it doesn't dry out your skin." She says if you can't find Ballard products in your area, go with her second favorite: Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Organic Soap.
Lotion tip>> Feed your skin
Look for lotions with healthy fats, such as avocado or coconut, as opposed to synthetic ingredients, which tend to mask a problem rather than heal it from within.
Product pick>> Logona Free Body Lotion
This scent-free product will appeal to those with sensitive skin. "Also, it has great essential fats and is very moisturizing," says Uusitalo.
Tip>> Wait for it
Natural shampoos do not perform like chemically laden products, according to Uusitalo. Instead, natural replacements restore the intrinsic sheen and healthy volume of your hair over time. So be patient—and you'll be impressed with the results.
Product pick>> John Masters Organics Shampoo and Conditioner
John Masters shampoos and conditioners are fairly "clean" (free of sodium laurel sulfates) and will come close to working like your old shampoo. Look for those in the line that do not contain acetamide MEA, which may be toxic.
Bryce Edmonds is the personal-care editor for The Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine.