If you’re new to the world of natural beauty products, it can be overwhelming to know where to start a natural beauty routine. But before you go tossing all your old drugstore makeup and lotions in the trash, start small. You don’t need to replace every single item all at once; you can gradually start to swap in natural products as your current inventory runs out. With that in mind, here are four kinds of products to consider switching out first. Not only are they an easy transition—they’re also among the least expensive products to replace.
Swiping a few times under each arm every morning is something few of us think twice about. Yet in recent years, rumors that underarm antiperspirants may cause breast cancer has caused an explosion in the natural deodorant market. No strong epidemiologic studies currently directly link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, according to the American Cancer Society. However, traditional deodorant brands usually contain parabens, or chemicals used as preservatives, which can be absorbed through the skin and were indirectly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in a small study.
Proponents of natural deodorant also tout the absence of aluminum, an active ingredient in traditional brands that blocks sweat glands—essentially helping the product do exactly what it’s supposed to do: prevent sweat. Aluminum compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells, leading to increased risk for breast cancer; yet it’s still unknown exactly how much aluminum can be absorbed, so more research is needed.
If you’re at an increased risk for breast cancer due to family history, it might be a good idea to switch to a natural product. “Deodorant is where people come into the natural beauty industry first and foremost, [using products] with no aluminum,” says Laura Lemon, beauty expert and owner of Lemon Laine natural beauty shops in Nashville and Houston.
Schmidt’s makes a natural deodorant free of aluminum that effectively neutralizes odor with plant-based powders. If you’re a frequent traveler, Pacifica’s natural deodorant wipes are easily portable and smell delicious, thanks to the addition of coconut milk (they’re also a great item to toss into your gym bag if you won’t have time to shower).
This item may be surprising, but yes, toothpaste is considered part of your beauty routine. When was the last time you checked a tube’s ingredient list before buying? It’s not something of us think about, but it is worth considering.
“Anything you’re putting directly into your mouth should be as clean as possible,” says Lemon. “Someone might be eating a super clean diet, then using [a toothpaste containing] parabens and sodium.”
Demand has grown rapidly as of late for nontraditional ways to brush your teeth, from charcoal pastes to salt-and-baking-soda formulas. Conventional toothpastes have been shown to contain not-so-great ingredients, including things like triclosan (classified as a pesticide by the EPA), sodium lauryl sulfate (a cleansing agent that can stay in the body for up to five days) and propylene glycol (generally recognized as safe by the FDA, yet frequently used in antifreeze).
While dentists typically recommend fluoride toothpastes to effectively prevent cavities, research is mixed on whether exposure to too much fluoride—either through drinking water or toothpaste—may be dangerous. If you want to experiment with natural toothpaste, brands like Jason and Tom’s of Maine both offer fresh-tasting toothpastes free of fluoride and chemicals.
3. Body Lotion
This one might be the most important of all, because it covers the largest area of your skin—and is therefore absorbed by your skin in the greatest amounts. “In terms of quantity used on a daily basis, body lotion is the No. 1 product for most women,” says Lemon. “For that to be clean is way more important than your shampoo or a tiny bit of eye cream.”
Again, it comes down to ingredients. Many big-name lotion brands contain things like BHA, a food preservative that’s “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” according to the National Toxicology Program; DMDM hydantoin, a weird-sounding preservative reported to release formaldehyde that’s used in about 20 percent of all cosmetics and personal care products; and parabens, to name a few.
Body lotions can also be thick with fragrance and perfumes. While initially these may smell delicious (cinnamon brown sugar, anyone?), many of those scents are likely not naturally derived, and as such, can be irritating to both your skin and your sinuses.
If you’re a scent lover, you don’t have to give up fresh-smelling body lotions completely. Instead, swap out your current product for a brand like Glonaturals, which makes a non-GMO, natural body lotion that contains coconut oil, hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming chamomile. Or, if you’d rather go fragrance free, try Alba Botanica’s unscented body lotion, which comes in a 32-ounce bottle.
Reports saying the average woman consumes four to nine pounds of lipstick over her lifetime are largely unproven, yet just the thought can be enough to convince you to switch to a chemical-free variety. A report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released in 2007 tested 33 popular brands of lipstick and found that 61 percent of them contained lead levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million.
Lead is not the only concerning ingredient in many lipsticks, however; other studies show many also contain toxic heavy metals, like chromium, cadmium and aluminum. More research is needed on the cumulative effects of long-term exposure to these products.
To be safe, Jessa Blades, a natural beauty expert and celebrity makeup artist, recommends lipstick as the first natural cosmetic product you should swap in. “Lipstick is something that is constantly applied throughout the day,” she says. “I’m not worried about the very specific red that you only wear to special events a few times a year; it is the every day color you use [that’s most important].”
Luckily, many new natural and organic lipstick brands offer products that are just as beautiful, and available in as many colors as drugstore brands. For example, Honeybee Gardens lipstick comes in more than a dozen different shades (from natural mineral pigments) and glides on smooth for long-lasting color. For an ultramoisturizing lipstick with a natural look, Burt’s Bees is available in 16 hues, including extra-dark colors for a dramatic look.