Your Guide to Safe, Non-Toxic Makeup

Alden Wicker

woman putting on pink lipstickAt LearnVest, we believe in investing in your health. Eating right, getting the necessary checkups and taking time for yourself all pay dividends down the road.

But sometimes the information out there about what’s actually good for you can be confusing. Take beauty products, for example: We’ve all heard of “green” cosmetics. But is it worth shelling out more for organic lipstick? What’s all the fuss about parabens? And could the makeup you wear every day actually be hurting you at the same time it’s beautifying you?

Today we tackle green and toxin-free makeup—to help you get to the bottom line about natural and organic beauty.

The Pink Ribbon Conundrum

It’s a timely topic—October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and major cosmetics companies are rolling out products branded with pink ribbons, even as it’s becoming clear that certain ingredients in products we use every day may increase our risk of developing breast cancer.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “Nearly 90 percent of the 10,500 ingredients the FDA has determined are used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA or any other publicly accountable institution.” Many of these ingredients, which are known carcinogens, have been linked to breast cancer. Further complicating matters, the United States currently has no system in place to regulate potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics, although a bill has just been introduced. (More on that below.)

With one in eight American women predicted to develop breast cancer over her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society, odds are the disease will impact someone you know. That’s why we believe it’s worth looking a little deeper into the products we use every day.

Let’s go take a peek in your makeup drawer, and find out what you need to know to go natural the LearnVest way: wisely and affordably.

The ABCs of Organic Beauty

1. Read the Label

Every makeup product has a list of ingredients, and there are a few red flags that should make you think twice about buying that mascara. Namely, ingredients like “phthalate,” “sulfate,” “paraben,” “triclosan” or “toluene,” listed as either a stand-alone ingredient, or as part of a longer-named ingredient, means you can be sure this product isn’t safe for your health, no matter how natural it claims to be. For more details on how to tell green from “greenwashing”—a phenomenon in which companies trump up their green claims with false labeling—read our post on the subject.

2. Look It Up

You don’t have to commit a list of suspect ingredients to memory. This is such a hot topic, there are two different websites where you can look up the ingredients in your favorite products and get a quick and dirty rating in the form of a single number. The Skin Deep database, by the Environmental Working Group, focuses on personal care items, while Good Guide rates just about every household product out there, and even has a smartphone version by the same name that lets you scan the barcodes of a product you’re considering right in the store aisle. 

3. Support the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

As it stands now, the FDA has no power to evaluate or approve ingredients before they make it into the products you use every day, which is why carcinogenic and hazardous ingredients are in our mascaras, foundations and lipsticks, even in items that are supposed to support the fight against breast cancer (that’s called “pinkwashing”). If this bothers you, you can do something about it. A bill has been introduced to close some loopholes in how companies list their ingredients. To support its passage, go to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website and learn more.

4. Find Trustworthy Brands You Like

Unfortunately, every single drugstore brand of makeup has at least one of the offending ingredients listed above in some or all of their products. You can look your favorite brand up in one of the websites mentioned above to find their safer offerings. Or you can save yourself time and stress by finding a quality brand of makeup that you love and trust with your health. (Find out other ways to take care of your skin; read this.)

Not all non-toxic makeup is created equal—or exactly like what you’re used to—so we took the time to test six toxin-free lines and reveal our pick for their product we think is most worth the investment. In other words, these picks for everything from lipstick to foundation aren’t just great for being safe, they’re just plain great.


In Europe, there are actually stricter regulations for which ingredients can go in your makeup. This German skin and makeup company has exported its high standards to the US with its line of organic, cruelty-free and vegan makeup products. It’s a relief to actual recognize the ingredients on the label!

Price Range: From $14.50 for eyeliner to $25 for mineral powder

Executive Editor Carrie Sloan says: “I’ve never worn organic makeup before, but the foundation smells pleasantly lemony and goes on light and natural, giving me great coverage with a dewy finish. I’m a convert!”

$22.50 at, or your local Whole Foods

Juice Beauty

After learning that your skin absorbs 60% of what’s placed on it, Karen Behnke, who was pregnant with her first child at the time, created Juice: A brand of makeup and skincare products that uses 98% USDA certified organic ingredients.

Price range: From $12 for eyeshadow to $35 for foundation

Editorial assistant Gabrielle Karol says: “I like the blush in organic fig. It’s a nice bronze color—not too rosy—and gives me a healthy glow!”

$16 at, your local Whole Foods or your local Ulta

Afterglow Cosmetics

This line of makeup has an impressive colorwheel of rich hues for its lipsticks and eyeshadows, not surprising with founder Kristin Adams’ background in fine art and color theory. All Afterglow products are cruelty free, and there are even options for those of you who are vegans.

Price range: From $18 for the eyeshadows to $32 for the organic mineral foundation

Deputy Editor Allison Kade says: “I really like the under eye concealer. It blends well and is creamier than what most other regular brands offer.”

$29 at or at your local Whole Foods

Gabriel Cosmetics

The founder of Gabriel draws his inspiration for this natural and cruelty-free brand from memories of his grandmother concocting traditional remedies from the sea. His modern versions all involve those same healing ingredients … only created in consultation with biochemists.

Price range: From $12 for the lip and eyeliner to $28 for the liquid foundation

Senior Editor Laura Shin says: “I love the lipstick. It goes on smoothly, feels nice, and the colors are amazing.”

$16.75 at or your local Whole Foods.

Alima Pure

Alima Pure really does live up to its name with its ladylike line of mineral makeup. Its eyeshadows, which come in subtle, shimmery colors perfect for daytime, score a perfect 10 on GoodGuide—that’s practically unheard of.

Price range: From $11 for eyeshadows and eyeliners to $29 for the kitten makeup brush

LV Moms Editor Cheryl Lock says: “The satin matte powder foundation gave me more coverage than I would expect from something so lightweight. And the eco-friendly brush I applied it with is so soft.”

$22 at

Jane Iredale

You’ll find anything you could ever desire in this professional grade line of mineral makeup, from lip glosses to kits stocked with brushes and an array of eye colors. If you’re serious about your makeup routine, and not just dabbling in green, this is the brand for you.

Price range: From $11 for an eyeliner pencil to $52 for pressed base powder

Account Manager Corey Laffel says: “I never wear lip color, but I got so many compliments when I tried the red dual lip stain and gloss that it’s changed my mind. Plus it smells really nice.”

$30 at or

Learn More

To find out how to buy safe, consciously and green in every aspect of your life, read our guide.

You’ve detoxified your makeup drawer, now detoxify your cleaning supply closet. Read this.

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

  • mepeartree

    I cannot believe you reference the Cosmetic Safety Database as a credible source of information. As a senior executive in the beauty industry, I know first-hand the damage that misinformation – which you are supporting – can do to a beauty brand. The Cosmetic Safety Database uses outdated ingredient lists to ‘rate’ products, gives uncommon (NATURAL) ingredients ‘hazardous’ ratings simply because they have not been used before in cosmetics – even ingredients that have been used for centuries as healing herbs in other parts of the world, has an enormous margin of error in their rating system… in short, it alarms consumers without cause, and spreads misinformation while supporting unsubstantiated rumors about ingredients. The site looks at ingredients and rates them, without taking into consideration the level at which that ingredient is in a product. For example, silver is a very healing metal, used medically for decades to disinfect skin and treat severe burns. If you covered your body, head to toe, in pure silver you would suffocate. But at .0001% in a face cream, it can stimulate cell turnover, protect skin and help speed up the healing process. Silver gets a 4-6 on their hazard rating scale. Fragrance is another ingredient that kicks many brands into the ‘hazardous’ zone. For sure, there are some unhealthy things that can be hidden in fragrances (certain types of phthalates that are potentially harmful, for example) however an eco-conscious or healthy brand would never have phthalates in their fragrances. The CSD rates fragrance as 10 (out of 10) on the ‘hazardous’ scale, with absolutely no regard for the actual ingredients in the fragrance they are supposedly rating. The site is totally inflammatory and irresponsible, and I am surprised and disappointed that sites like Learnvest are continuing to support and spread their propaganda. 

    • Petalcare

      THANK YOU for that response! Too much credit is given to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. While a wonderful and important idea, they do not do enough real research and have caused damage to cosmetic companies who are doing great work.

    • Jennifer Campbell

      Poison ivy is  ”… (NATURAL) ingredients ‘hazardous’ ratings simply because they have not been used before in cosmetics…”
      Mercury was “…used for centuries as healing herbs in other parts of the world…”

      “…however an eco-conscious or healthy brand would never have phthalates in their fragrances…” 

      That’s nice to know but I would like to know about these so I can look for it rather trust a company that slaps on an “green” label.

    • Anonymous

      Your statement is INCREDIBLE! You sure about silver?!! A guy is in hot for poisoning people with silver! I don’t like replies, but you people are positing incredible, stupid statements!

    • Kgbrn

      Mepeartree, if you are in the cosmetic industry and don’t like having all fragrances rated a 10 on the hazardous scale, then change your industry so these ingredients are individually listed.  The lack of openness to the fragrance ingredients is what pushes ALL fragrances onto the list: tell the world what’s in yours, and get yourself off the list.

    • Non Cosmetic Company Executive

      Well, madame cosmetic company executive, it just so happens that I have recently discovered that I have developed a high sensitivity to hormone disruptors. I thought that I was buying “safe” products because I bought them from the health food store. Not so. Their products contain dangerous chemicals, too, and I have solid proof that they cause damage. I noticed your main concern was the damage the ewg database causes to the cosmetic companies, not the consumer or the ecology. Scientists are learning more and more that even small amounts of endocrine disruptors can have very negative effects on our health. Look at the epidemic levels of cancer, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, and infertility that is occurring. You have a tremendous amount of nerve complaining about the ewg database. It isn’t a perfect database. But if you want to rate propaganda and evil on a scale of 0-10, I’m going to say that the greedy, deceptive, unscrupulous cosmetic industry gets a hazard rating of 10, the ewg database gets a 2. What you need to do is clean up your act and work with the ewg to make sure that the ingredients in your products are up to date on that database. If you are doing so, then you, madame, shouldn’t have a complaint.

  • Cosmetic Scientist

    I applaud your article; however, as someone who works within the raw material supply chain for the cosmetic industry, it is clear you did not contact a professional for additional information.

    Cosmetic companies go out of their way to ensure the ingredients they use in their products are of the best quality to meet their marketing concept as well as international regulations. If this was not done, companies would not be able to sell their materials outside of the US marketplace.

    Furthermore, suppliers of these materials, conscious of the necessity to meet international regulations, will not approve raw materials for sale manufactured under substandard practices or where there is any question regarding safety or regulations.

    Regarding the Environmental Working Group’s statement, “Nearly 90 percent of the 10,500 ingredients the FDA has determined are
    used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the
    CIR, the FDA or any other publicly accountable institution,” you are talking about thousands of ingredients that are either natural or have been studied extensively and do not require a CIR evaluation, or have been replaced by better alternatives and are not in use.

    Also, your statement: “Many of
    these ingredients, which are known carcinogens, have been linked to breast cancer.’” is in fact misleading and causes unnecessary fear in consumers. When you say “many,” what percentage of 10,500 ingredients are you referring to?

    As I stated earlier, cosmetic professionals strive to provide the best materials to consumers through scientific research and professional knowledge. Instituting further regulations only limits the ability of these professionals to offer more advanced materials to the marketplace.
    I do not mean to state that there are not materials out there that are not safe. But it would be of the utmost benefit to consumers to understand all sides of discussions surrounding  products they purchase to make a fully informed decision based on facts and not misinformation.

    • Anonymous

      You are so full of it!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s why there is LEAD in L;Oreal, trash in Dove’s soap, and so much CRAP people can’t keep up with it!

    • Persona

      Wow!  Whatever helps you sleep at night, I bet cigarette “scientists” can relate to your frustration.  
      Your statement:”Instituting further regulations only limits the ability of these professionals to offer more advanced materials to the marketplace.”This statement would be the best laugh I’ve had  all day if it wasn’t affecting the health of present and future generations.  If you truly are a scientist, and respect our planet and its people, please turn your attention to making sure chemicals are PROVEN harmless before being unleashed into the population. 

      • ZZ

        Oh, good grief. Who do you expect to pay for that? Get real…

        • SaneDonna

          It comes out of the huge profits they make off we unsuspecting trusting consumers. You get real. If it isn’t proven harmless, it shouldn’t be marketed. We have so many wonderful choices now, there is no need to endanger any of us anymore.

    • ash

      Yea, because I’m going to trust the FDA when they let “Aspartame” in the consume market.. I researched that, made a 14 page paper with credible sources from my college database and found that it was nothing more than dirty politics that got that sweetner approved. The credibility of the FDA is increasingly decreasing. Who knows, these “natural ingredients” were probably allowed in based on some dirty play in politics.

    • No More Chemicals

      I’m have high sensitivities to endocrine disruptors. I’m down to using products that rate 0 on the ewg website. Have fun with this video:

  • k.

    i agree with using more natural products, but not with the support of  the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. small online companies i use would be under fire, even though their ingredients are safe and vegan, because even safe, naturally occurring ingredients, can cause reactions in people. like, say cinnamon in perfume oils.

    sodium laureth sulfate and many other chemicals are obviously bad though, and i support the regulation of those ingredients.

  • Andrea Newman

    I have to completely agree with mepeartree’s comment. EWG is about as credible and trustworthy as Wikipedia, which is not saying much! It’s disappointing to see it promoted. I thought LearnVest was better than that. I sell Arbonne and they give our products a very (unfair and and unwarranted) hazardous rating, which is absolutely ridiculous. 

    • Aembermoon1

      If you sell other products, don’t you have your own conflict of interest? Back up your comments against EWG with references, please. Otherwise, I find them fairly reliable.

    • Products Made Me Ill

      EWG references case studies from respected sources, so dry up and blow away.

  • Eva

    It seems everyone criticizing this article has an agenda. You sell another kind of makeup?  You are a beauty industry executives? As a money-strapped graduate student in nursing, I found this article extremely helpful.  It simplified the key words to look on for on the back of labels, and reminded me to think twice about what I’m putting on my face. These are all great brands, but I use a different one. The bottom line is, make an informed consumer decision!

    • ash

      Totally agree. I’m impressed. Too many people drink the coolaid and blindly follow the FDA’s lead.

  • Lema

    I definitely agree that the
    Lavera organic makeup line is wonderful!  It’s crazy to use products that don’t smell
    like chemicals or feel unnatural on my skin, but this line is really great.

  • Anonymous

    Try Beautypedia to learn more about ingredients and make your own decisions, rather than basing anything on a brief, very brief, article.

    • Jennifer Campbell

      Try lots of sites! Read, read, read! Just because one site says it good or bad does not make it so!

  • Jennifer Campbell

    boom sticks are the greatest!

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, this article seems like a lot more fluff than substance though I do appreciate the info on avoiding greenwashing and pinkwashing as a way to save money.

    • Anonymous

      To LenaJ10 Why do you consider this fluff? Substantiate your statement!

      • Anonymous

        While I understand the concept of “investing in your health”, I visit LearnVest for sound financial advice (substance) but don’t think they are the go-to source for non-toxic makeup recommendations (fluff)…don’t get me wrong, there was some good info in the article.

  • Anonymous

    I have left several replies, bc I can’t believe the crap I reading from you people! One claiming silver is wonderful, another one saying that companies go out their way for quality ingredients, (yes but at what price). 

  • Ck

    loved the articles about green make-up and skin care – thanks

  • Sarah

    The company Peacekeepers ( sells really nice lipstick and their nail polish is the least toxic on the market (a cosmetic not covered here). 

  • Cornelia

    New resource: Guide of Non-Toxic Hygiene, Beauty and
    Cosmetics Products available for free on

    This Guide demystifies the issue of the safety in cosmetics, explains
    the logos and certifications, the hazards of the fake bio, shows what to avoid,
    how to read labels, what resources are available to the costumer to analyse the
    products available on the market and especially provides healthy and
    environmentally friendly alternatives. It identifies, based on their safety,
    over 500 products with no danger for children, men and women available in the
    Quebec and Canada market. All the products have been scrutinized, analysed one
    by one and ingredient by ingredient using scientific tools that are explained
    in the Cosmetology Portal.

    The founder of this non-profit website is Cornelia Dum who did this
    extensive work with passion, following a breast cancer. This informational
    website is meant to be a reference
    for those who wish to cease polluting their body and the environment and is
    dedicated especially to the sick people facilitating at the same time women’s
    task who often take in charge the entire family’s health. 

  • Sandy

    I love natural makeup but they are so limited when it comes to darker shades.  Juice beauty does not provide any colors for my skin tone. Please, provide more options for us ALL.

  • Guest

    The lavera foundation you mention is not healthy for skin. First, it has alcohol in it, which can cause skin cell death. Second, it has Myristyl Myristate and Coconut Oil in it, which are potent comedogenic ingredients. This foundation will make you break out. In fact, this foundation is CHOCK full of oil.  Finally, the fragrance is not good for your skin. 

  • Karen

    Jane Iredale has dimethicone in it; therefore, I’m surprised that it’s on this list. Yuck.

  • Sarah Kennedy

    I made the switch from my Toxic make Up to 100% Natural Mineral Make up!! I found a product that I liked so much, I joined the Company :)

  • SaneDonna

    I left the toxic beauty industry just recently, and am now making my own non-nano, beautiful mineral makeup for a fraction of the cost! Just go done making amazing natural red lip balm from coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter. I even make my own laundry soap, and deodorant. The beauty industry is big business, and wherever there is big money, there’s sure to be a disregard for another’s well-being.

  • Karen K.

    I use Arbonne for most of my cosmetic needs, and some other non-harmful cosmetics. I have found that Arbonne’s anti-aging face caer line and natural retinoid products are AMAZING for hydrating my skin and repairing fine lines and skin damage.
    But, their cosmetics are also professional grade. They are free from all of the harmful chemicals mentioned above. They are gluten-free, GMO-free, vegan-certified and NOT tested on animals. That’s more than enough to get my vote!
    I was so impressed with all of their products, that I decided to join up as an independent consultant. I would never imagined myself (anxiety-prone) being a salesperson for any company, but I have a passion for their products that I never had with anything else. If anyone is interested in safe products, I’d be happy to talk with you about what we offer, and what can meet your skin care needs. I have plenty of samples, that I am more than willing to mail out free of charge. No one should be using the garbage at the drugstore these days. It’s just not wise. :/
    God bless,

  • LEF

    I’m looking for a titanium dioxide free foundation. I read about Lavera on your site but when I click on the “ingredients” of their foundation it contains titanium dioxide! And a lot more ingredients that don’t sound natural at all. I’m disappointed with your recommendation. You need to read the labels even on items that are recommended as natural.

  • Eva

    Beautycounter is transparent with their ingredients and when it comes to cosmetics it’s the only company I trust:

  • Guest

    I wish I could pin this!

  • Eliza Nightingale

    I love natural cosmetics but they are so restricted when it comes to deeper shades. Juice beauty does not provide any shades for my complexion.

  • Ariel

    I’m alergic to thmarisal, and I can never find makeup (or any cosmetics for that matter) that doesn’t make my skin feel like it’s burning off. Thanks for helping! I can’t wait to go try all of these out.

  • Deb R

    Why is Titanium Dioxide still an ingredient in most makeup, since it’s considered a potential carcinogen? Even Jane Iredale foundation has it.