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High-Quality, Natural Products That Work!

High-Quality, Natural Products That Work!

Image: Holistic Vanity products by Pure & Simple

Image: Holistic Vanity products by Pure & Simple

Want to treat your skin, hair and the environment with a little more respect but hesitant to give up your name-brand beauty routine? Totally understandable, if misguided. Changing up your beauty routine to include better-for-you, toxin-free products doesn't mean that you'll be left combing your pantry for DIY potions. 

While coconut oil, tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar can do wonders for your complexion and tresses, after a decade of writing about beauty, I know that a little research and development go a long way. After all, you can slather your face in milk but you won't get the same results as a lactic acid peel. We need chemists and scientists and skincare experts to extract the best ingredients—and know how to use them.

Luckily, there are plenty of companies producing toxin-free, healthy products that actually work. Here's what you need to know to find them:

First, know the ingredients to avoid

While many governmental bodies have deemed most ingredients on the products we use safe, many health professionals and environmentalists care to disagree. There are studies showing that certain beauty product preservatives (like parabens) and foaming agents in cleansers (SLS and SLES) can be harmful and potentially carcinogenic.

Canada's David Suzuki Foundation outlines the 12 "dirty dozen" ingredients to avoid in beauty products. These include words you've most likely heard before like phthalates, parabens, petrolatum—and parfums. Yes, you read that right. French for "perfume," a product's specific parfum is often considered a company secret so the exact ingredients don't need to be revealed. These fragrances may include any of the other 12 preservatives that aren't so healthy.

The Environmental Working Group runs an easily searchable site called Skin Deep, which ranks beauty products by health and environmental hazard. They also have a handy app that allows you to scan product bar codes while shopping. Their shopping guide for different types of products outlines ingredients to avoid by product type, shopper and then a list of specific dangerous additives.

Shop smart
You don't necessarily have to shop your local health food store to stock your makeup bag—although that's not a terrible idea—if you know the words and ingredients to look for, you can shop even major beauty retailers.

For instance, choose any category on sephora.com and along the left side of the page, you'll be offered a variety of ways to sort the products. Look under "Ingredient Preferences" and check options like "Fragrance Free," "Natural," (although be careful with this one, more on that below) "Paraben-free" and "Sulfate-free". And once you've narrowed down your product selection, the description may even include a section called "What it is formulated WITHOUT:" You will probably also be given the option to review the full ingredient list. 

Beauty.com in the U.S. and well.ca in Canada (although both will ship outside of their respective countries) also offer similar "sort by" functions.

Don't automatically trust "natural" and "organic"
If only it was as easy as looking for products that said "natural" or "organic" on the label. There are no real standards for defining these words when it comes to beauty products and just because something is natural or organic doesn't mean that it's necessarily good for your skin or hair or better than a synthetic, but harmless, ingredient. For instance, hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring substance in our bodies that helps keep us looking young but many skincare companies use a synthetic version in their products to give skin a more youthful look. And as far as we know, there's nothing harmful about the ingredient. Natural or not, it's totally harmless.

Toxin-free shops and brands we love
Want to skip all the studying and careful shopping and go right to finding fabulous, healthy products? Here are our favourites:

Pure & Simple is a Canadian spa, retailer, e-tailer and skincare brand (plus co-owner Kristen Ma is a SoFresh contributor!). You can buy a selection of home-grown products like eponymous line Pure & Simple or co-owner Kristen's other brand Holistic Vanity in stores or online but they also offer mineral makeup by Jane Iredale, John Masters organic haircare and celeb-favourite Australian line Jurlique, among others.

FreshFaced.ca only sells brands that are made without toxins or harmful ingredients so you can shop confidently. They ship to Canada and the U.S. and carry an array of skincare, cosmetics and bath and body products.

Pai Skincare is a UK-based line of "organic solutions for sensitive skin". The company actually has an organic certification from the UK Soil Association and promises non-irritating, gentle products.

• Natural, toxin-free makeup can be hard to find or just not all that effective. Josie Maran changes that. Using 100 per cent pure argan oil, the company makes luxurious, healthy, responsible products for both you and the planet.

Aveda is dedicated to creating environmentally responsible hair, skincare and cosmetic products with at least 50 per cent naturally derived ingredients. It's a big, well-known brand you can actually trust.

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