Top Picks for Eco-friendly Cosmetics

Searching for the perfect lipstick that is sustainable and toxin-free? We have the top eco-friendly cosmetics brands for you to try.

Credit: Sappho Cosmetics

On the hunt for toxin free and sustainable makeup

Green makeup doesn’t refer to emerald-hued eyeshadow; it’s all about choosing products that are toxin free and manufactured sustainably. But locating green cosmetics in the frenzied souk that is the multi-billion dollar a year beauty industry takes cunning and endurance. It can make the heartiest amazon despair and opt for Scarlett O’Hara’s signature cheek pinch.


And it isn’t only the individual consumer that encounters difficulties. Higher up the chain, even retailers like Whole Foods have issues sourcing eco-friendly options in the wholesale market.


“We look for products from around the world. Certified organic and fair trade are equally important, but finding one that’s both 100 percent certified organic and fair trade on every single ingredient is a real challenge,” explains David Moore, Whole Body Buyer and Merchandiser for Whole Foods. “We don’t have anything in-store that’s 100 percent on both.”


Yet Moore isn’t about to give up. He expects the increasing demand for eco cosmetics to have an impact on supply.


“Consumer interest is larger than ever,” says Moore. “People are searching for better choices.”


Considering that the average woman inadvertently chows down on five pounds of lipstick in her lifetime—the same woman who cares enough to score organic strawberries at the market—it’s worth attaining a safe tint.

They say the average woman swallows five pounds of lipstick in her life. Yikes! Image: Flickr/Manuel Cacciatori)

Dangerous chemicals to avoid when buying makeup

So which ingredients are harmful? One of the main offenders is a group of chemicals known as parabens – preservatives that mimic estrogen and have been linked to cancer. Although Health Canada considers parabens safe in small amounts, the usage limitation is hardly incentive to smear daily applications on our body’s largest organ.


Other irritants common in most cosmetics are petrochemicals, which are derived from petroleum and synthetic dyes. Both can cause pore blockage and inflammation, exacerbating common skin conditions like dryness, rosacea and acne.


Mineral makeup—all the rage in 2008—was seen as a solution to chemical additives because replacing chemicals with ingredients like bauxite, zinc and iron oxides allowed skin to breathe. But even a technically natural product like Mineral Makeup comes with its own set of caveats in terms of sustainability and fair trade. Common mineral additives are extracted from the earth by large-scale mining companies—not the fuzziest friends of the environment or the laborer.

Making the packaging as green as the product

Once you’ve dealt with issues of toxins and fair trade, you’re hardly done.


“We avoid products with synthetic dyes or harsh preservatives like parabens. Then we look for recyclable packaging, products that utilize additional botanical extracts,” Moore elaborates.


When these options don’t exist, Whole Foods has even been known to work with start-up cosmetics companies to achieve a higher ration of organic and fair trade ingredients. One Vancouver-based example is Sappho, a cosmetics brand created by JoAnn Fowler, the Emmy-nominated makeup artist for the L Word, which Moore hopes to have in Whole Foods by 2012.


“I hesitate to use the term mentor,” says Moore, “because they are the experts. It can be great to work with local producers on due diligence during their pre-launch phase. That’s the fun part of the job.”


Read on to find out more about the companies that are making headway with eco-friendly products and where to scoop up their cosmetics.

Eco-friendly makeup brands to try


Described as “luxurious eco beauty,” by Jennifer Beals, of L Word and Flashdance fame, Sappho by JoAnne Fowler is a local brand with 100-percent chemical free ingredients and recyclable packaging.


Sappho's "Sweet Tart" loose shimmer eyeshadow
Sappho’s “Sweet Tart” loose shimmer eye shadow (Image: Sappho)


It’s no wonder Beals digs it. As the L Word make up artist, Fowler used the line on production set and the liquid foundations, like “Generous Jennifer,” bear the names of the actors. Our picks are the loose matte and shimmer eye shadows, in rich hues ranging from an infinitely useful “Craving Cocoa” that applies as a silky red-taupe, to a standout magenta “Love Lavender” perfect for statement-making days. The rose toned shadows, “First Pink” and “Sweet Tart” also double as blusher.


Website | Buy at Health on the Drive, Dream Designs, Finlandia


butter LONDON

butter LONDON is the hip new kid of the beauty world. Their 3-Free nail polish is completely without formaldehyde, toluene and DBP.


While eco polish is often synonymous with clumpy application, butter goes on with a lustrous and impervious finish. The lacquer’s color palette is saucy and very this-season. Their soft, greige “No more waity, Katie” shade launched in honour of the royal wedding. But we prefer the electric, pink “Snog” and juicy, orange “Jaffa.” You’ll find the line everywhere from back stage at London Fashion Week to on set at Vogue and Harper’s shoots.


Website | Buy at Beauty Mark and Fine Finds


Gabriel Cosmetics

Gabriel Cosmetics mascara, enriched with vitamin B-5 (Image: Gabriel Cosmetics)

We love Gabriel cosmetics for their mascara, which lasts all day and has vitamin B-5 known for helping lashes grow uber-long. The gentle formula uses plant waxes to condition and ensure clump-free application. Other happy botanical supplements include Euphrasia officinalis (eyebright) extract and Aloe Vera juice.

Website | Buy at Capers/Whole Foods Market



Not only is Australian-brand Zuii certified organic, it flaunts floral ingredients. Our favorite product is Zuii’s Flora Liquid Foundation, which doubles as a moisturizer and smells amazing—like a bouquet of flowers had a head-on collision with a bottle of French perfume. It provides a silky medium coverage and contains Calendula, vitamins A,C, and E, along with orange oil, rose buds, chamomile and geraniums.


No wonder the company’s motto is “Wear flowers on your face.”


Website | Buy at Capers/Whole Foods Market


Zuzu Luxe

ZuZu is our pick for long-lasting lipstick. The 24-shade line conditions lips with jojoba, sesame and safflower essential oils. Colors range from red-hot “Starlet” to a nude “Vegas” shimmer, and day-appropriate, peachy “Sazerac.” Each lipstick is paired with a corresponding liner that keep the tones from feathering and fading.


Learn how to choose the best lipstick for you.


Website | Buy at Capers/Whole Foods Market