August 22 2014

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Red-Flag Chemicals For Natural Beauty Novices


This column features weekly tips and advice from a revolving cast of industry leaders, on hand to discuss your beauty dilemmas, from blemishes to Botox. To submit a question, e-mail

I’m thinking about greening my beauty routine, starting with go-to’s like nail polish and foundation. I’ve seen a few products that claim to be “organic,” but what does that mean as far as something like lacquer is concerned? Are these formulas really better for me?

Polishes like those from Zoya and SpaRitual are not really “organic” in the same way that some other cosmetics or foods are labeled as organic, but they are better for you, because they’ve been formulated with safe ingredients. These polishes are free of toxic substances like toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde, and rely on nontoxic solvents and polymers to create a nice, durable finish. So yes, it’s worth switching to a natural-based polish if you’re concerned about any chemicals and you paint your nails frequently.

In the case of foundation and things like primers, many are formulated to be silicone-free, which is what gives them their “natural” connotations. Yet silicones provide a variety of benefits in makeup products, including lubricity, silky skin-feel, and wrinkle-hiding effects. Some people are concerned that silicones are damaging to the environment, though. Considering the amounts used in makeup products, the impact on the environment is negligible compared to the amounts that come from other industries. But if you are an organic or green-friendly consumer, you might want to switch to a silicone-free formula, regardless of any added health benefit.

James Hammer is a cosmetic chemist who analyzes and formulates products for the beauty industry. He works with the Pharmasol Corporation in Easton,

Photo: Norman Parkinson / Sygma / Corbis

The Doctor Is In