What's trendier these days than going green? Not much, it seems. "Al Gore has totally changed Americans. I hear his voice every day in my head," said Mona Mensing, a Bend makeup artist. She was only half-seriously referring to the former vice president's influence since his environmentalist manifesto film, "An Inconvenient Truth." The makeup and cosmetics counter certainly isn't immune from the trend. Products touting their "natural," "botanical," "essential" and "organic" contents abound. But why? Is there something wrong with most mainstream cosmetics? Some say yes, some say no. But if you are concerned about what you're putting on your face, there are some resources out there to help you keep it safe and healthy, for you and for the planet. Safety, Controversy While the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires cosmetics sold in the U.S. to be safe when used as directed, "cosmetics are not subject to pre-market approval by FDA (Food and Drug Administration)" except in the case of color additives, according to the FDA's Web site. Further, there are no FDA limits on contaminants in cosmetics, such as lead. A 2009 FDA study, a response to a study of lipstick by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, found lead in every lipstick sample it took, including lipsticks from Cover Girl, Clinique and L'Oreal. However, the FDA said the lead contamination, which ranged from 0.09 to 3.06 parts per million, does not constitute a safety concern, though the agency does plan to continue investigating. Jessa Blades, an organic-beauty consultant and makeup artist in New York, said she's not willing to risk even "safe" levels of lead or other ingredients of concern, like parabens, talc, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates, all ingredients you'll find listed on common cosmetics. Blades said she had an epiphany when she was working in the fashion industry nearly 10 years ago. She was already trying to lead a sustainable lifestyle, including eating organic food, but when it came to makeup and personal care, "the products we were using were contaminating myself and my clients." She decided to make a change. Now, while Blades admits she will use a waterproof mascara for a crying bride at a wedding, for the most part she avoids using products from companies she doesn't believe are doing all they can to avoid potentially harmful chemicals. "They're not directly causing things like cancer and learning disabilities," she said about the chemicals, but the widespread use of what she described as known toxic ingredients and carcinogens "contribute toward those sort of diseases." Mensing wasn't as quick to give up her favorite eye shadow. "I just don't know that they can prove yet that any (cosmetic) you put on topically is going to kill you or hurt you in the long run," Mensing said. "A lot of people say, 'Why bother?' I agree." "Until someone says to me, 'Use this eye shadow and you'll die,' I'm going to use it." Nonetheless, Mensing said she didn't see any harm in watching what you put on your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or a history of cancer, either personally or in your family. Dr. Stephanie Trautman, a dermatologist with Bend Dermatology Clinic, said generally speaking, cosmetics are safe. But those with sensitive skin should pay careful attention to ingredients and consider the possibility that they are allergic to some of them. Some people may even be allergic to a natural ingredient, like lavender. Dermatologists can perform patch tests if you think you might have skin allergies.
If you do decide to go natural, many sources suggested being skeptical when you shop.
"It's all about marketing and packaging," Mensing said. "The consumer has to beware."
The regulation of terms like organic is not the same with cosmetics as with food. And words like "natural" aren't regulated at all.
Everyone we spoke with agreed on one tip: Check the list of ingredients. The list of ingredients may not be on the makeup container, but it should be on the box, or the retailer may have a copy of the list of ingredients if the packaging is too small to print on.
"Paying attention to the first six ingredients is important, according to Melanee Rossa, an aesthetician at Bend's DermaSpa, because this indicates the highest concentration in a product."
Trautman suggests individuals with sensitive skin avoid ingredients such as fragrance, parabens, formaldehyde and lanolin.
Lists of other ingredients of concern can be found at places like the Web site of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Blades said a number of companies have come out with high-quality natural cosmetics, and many of them are just as good as the mainstream lines, with prices comparable to moderate to high-end makeup. For mascaras and lipsticks, she put this in the range of $16 to $20.
"We have to demand better for ourselves," she said, but we can still have fun. "I'm not trying to put people in brown mascara and chapstick."
Some critics of natural makeup voice concern about the longevity of the products if they don't contain synthetic preservatives.
Nancy Caigan, founder of Primitive Natural Makeup, said their products perform as well as their synthetic counterparts by using natural preservatives like vitamin E (listed as tocopheryl acetate) and by making wax-based, rather than water-based, products.
For lipsticks, she said the typical shelf life is one to two years from purchase.
"Most either use it or lose it before then," Caigan said. Generally, the drier the product, the longer it will last. So a lip liner, for instance, will last longer than a lip gloss.
Blades and Mensing both mentioned that natural products bought outside of the cosmetic aisle can also make good natural care items. Blades said she uses organic sweet almond oil as a skin moisturizer, and Mensing said she uses wet tea bags for puffy eyes, salt and sugar scrubs as exfoliants, and oatmeal in baths. Mensing also suggested plain yogurt as a gentle face cleanser.
For most people, the goal will be to find balance.
"I agree ... you have to be aware and conscientious," Mensing said. "But if you go crazy every day looking for something that's going to kill you, I think you'll go nuts. Maybe with fabulous, all-natural skin, but you'll go nuts."