Many people have taken steps to clean up their diets, eliminating processed foods and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. The next natural progression to that is looking at chemicals outside the kitchen, including beauty products. Have no fear, the natural beauty market has greatly evolved and now products rival, and often beat, conventional offerings. Here, we talk with Aleigh Acerni, natural beauty expert and author of the blog Indigo+Canary, about natural versus conventional and her favorite natural beauty products—she’s tried ’em all.

How do you find natural products work compared to conventional?

In my experience, natural products are just as effective as conventional ones. There are a few exceptions, however. There is no such thing as a natural antiperspirant, for example—but there are plenty of natural deodorants out there that work extremely well. If you have a tendency to sweat a lot, they may not make you happy, since they are designed to keep you smelling fresh, not to keep you from sweating. (Sweating is a good thing!) But when it comes to acne treatments, anti-aging, facial masks, makeup, hair products, etc., I have found that I actually prefer using the natural products. As a whole, they tend to be made with higher-quality ingredients, come in recyclable (and sometimes recycled) packaging, and are better for both you and the environment. Just like with conventional products, it can sometimes take a little experimentation to find your personal favorites, but the natural products are just as fun to play with.

What’s your take on organic versus natural?

This is something I point out frequently—there’s a definite difference between organic and natural. There are many natural products out there that aren’t made solely with organic ingredients (and even many organic products that can’t claim to be 100 percent certified organic) that I think are just as safe and beneficial as the officially certified products. I care a lot more about the specific ingredients in the products I use and the fact that they are not synthetic or chemical-laden than I do about an organic seal on a label—which is why I always, always, always read ingredients lists! (And I look up ingredients I don’t recognize on EWG’s Skin Deep Database.) I typically use the term natural when I talk about the products I use, because I don’t use exclusively organic products. Some people refer to them as “clean” products.

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What 5 ingredients nix a product for you?

  • Phthalates
  • Parabens (there are six: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben)
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate
  • PEGs

I choose to avoid these ingredients for different reasons, as they each have a different potentially negative impact on the human body. Basically, the idea is this: your skin is your body’s largest organ. You use skin-care products because they sink into your skin and are absorbed—the best example is to think of a topical acne treatment, which you want to really soak into your skin and eliminate a blemish from the inside out. So when you think of the products you put on your skin, it makes sense to want them to be as natural as possible; and those five ingredients I named have been linked to all kinds of nasty things, from hormone disruption to cancer.

Do we really have to worry about mascara? It’s only on our eyelashes.

I think this is a personal decision. Mascara is the one product many women don’t leave the house without (including me!); so it’s one of those products you use every day, for years and years. Your eyes and tear ducts are direct openings into the body and your bloodstream—it’s a particularly sensitive area of your face. Mascara can often migrate into your eyes (whether you use a synthetic or natural version), and I personally would rather those ingredients be natural if they do manage to get into my eyes!

If you study the ingredients lists on many conventional mascaras, you’ll find some really icky things, like formaldehyde (a proven carcinogen), parabens, phthalates, and even sometimes mercury (often listed as thimerosal). I don’t want any of those things inside my body, whether they enter through my skin or eyes or mouth. But choosing cosmetics is a really personal decision, and there are many things you have to consider, whether you’re looking for a perfume or an eye shadow: cost, convenience, availability, performance and purity. You have to prioritize those factors in the order that works best for you.

What’s your bedtime skin-care ritual?

Ah, the nighttime skin-care routine. I typically wash my face with a gentle cleanser, usually one that foams so that it will remove any eye makeup, and pat dry (no rubbing!). I follow with a few dabs of a cotton ball soaked in organic apple cider vinegar on any blemishes (it’s an excellent natural acne treatment), and then rub in a great, soothing facial oil. If my skin is particularly dry, I’ll add a thin layer of a natural moisturizer on top of that. If not, I’ll add a dab of eye moisturizer underneath my eyes to lock in moisture in that super-sensitive spot. Then, sleep!

For more on Aleigh Acerni and the world of natural beauty, visit her blog, Indigo+Canary.