Readers' Choice Awards

From old faves to new finds, you told us what rocks your natural beauty world.
By Elizabeth Marglin

The first-ever Natural Solutions’ Beauty With a Conscience awards last October had everyone buzzing with excitement. After ABC News in Chicago reported on our awards (see it on, we received numerous comments from women who thanked us for letting them know that what they use on their skin (and even worse, on their children’s skin) can have serious health consequences.

In the process of choosing our beauty award winners, we were amazed—and delighted—by the sheer number of companies making, or at least striving toward, pure, clean, and luxurious skincare. The awards confirmed what many of us editors already suspected: Good-for-you and gorgeous can go hand in hand.

But our contest wasn’t only about our own personal can’t-live-withouts. Our follow-up Readers’ Choice awards passed the beauty baton over to you. We got to hear you speak out about why you used natural skincare products and what your must-haves were—and kudos for turning us on to a bunch of great companies we hadn’t heard about yet. Your reasons for going natural ranged from asthma to ovarian cancer to environmental contamination. For example, Wendy Schwartz of Chicago, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 32, started using chemical-free skincare as part of her “new healthier lifestyle plan in the hope it will help prevent any recurrence of cancer.”

Many readers mentioned their concern with the environment as a major factor in their decision to choose clean cosmetics. Corinn Conrade, of Westerville, Ohio, put it this way: “I feel good about doing whatever I can to not contaminate my body and the planet with toxic chemicals.” Who would have thought (besides readers like you) that what we use to clean our bodies can impact entire ecosystems? Amazingly, the petroleum-based polyethylene beads found in many mainstream scrubs end up in our oceans, harming the marine life that feed on them.

On a lighter note, one of our favorite responses was from Barbara Cissell, of Louisville, Kentucky, who says, “I love natural products because they make this old bag look like a young chick again.” Anne Wendt of Cary, New York, discovered that “artificial fragrances triggered my allergies,” while another reader realized that the alcohol often used in conventional skincare dehydrated her skin. For some readers, the simpler the ingredient list, the better, while others adored the fresh (synthetic-free) fragrance that natural beauty products are known for.

Corie Mustoe, an aromatherapist in Leawood, Kansas, shared her pungent way of illustrating how our skin absorbs toxins: “If you rub a clove of garlic on the sole of your foot, within a couple of hours you can taste the garlic.” No better way to clear up any doubt that you are not only what you eat, but also what you moisturize with.

Not surprisingly, our March cover model and reader, Cameron Elmendorf, is also on the holistic lifestyle bandwagon. Raised in the epicenter of the natural products industry, Boulder, Colorado, Elmendorf’s choice to use clean, healthy cosmetics—her favorite is Dr. Hauschka—was pretty much a no-brainer. “The skin soaks in so much of what’s on your skin’s surface,” she says. “Your skin cells are equal-opportunity receptors, absorbing harsh, toxic chemicals both topically and internally.”

Call us biased, but even in the midst of our Great Recession, we think that spending money on a few well-chosen, toxin-free skincare products makes total sense. Many of you pointed out that because natural bodycare products have fewer cheap fillers, they are actually a better value. And what’s truly priceless about a healthy dose of glamour? You can change the way you think of beauty, one (hemp) lipstick at a time.

Readers’ Choice
Best of Beauty
Your letters told us loud and clear: These are the brands you trust on your skin—and your family’s. And they won’t break the bank either—all of the following give you a lot of beauty for your buck.

Avalon Organics
CoQ10 Wrinkle Defense Cream
Co-Q10, an antioxidant derived from fermented vegetables, is one of the few ingredients with clinical research to support its claim as a free-radical fighter. Mixed with hydrating jojoba oil, this cream pulls out the big guns for youthful skin. $25, 1.75 oz;

Alba Botanica
Papaya Mango Cream Body Wash
Enriched with cocoa and shea butter, with extracts of mango and papaya thrown in as added skin candy, this foam-free cleanser leaves skin silky soft. $9, 7 oz;

Kiss My Face
Liquid Rock Roll-On Deodorant
Salt, white willow bark, and lichen fight the good fight against odor while the patchouli fragrance sends out a covert message of peace. $6, 3 oz; kissmy

Shear Miracles
Shine Like a Star Soothing Hair Serum
Encourage frizzy locks to gleam with this hair serum made from olive, hemp, and meadowfoam oil, renowned for its ability to penetrate and repair the hair fibers. $17, 1 oz;

Burt’s Bees
Citrus Facial Scrub
A heady mixture of rose and orange oil, combined with nutmeg and clove powders, make for a scrub you don’t want to rinse off. It also contains almonds, pecans, and oats to do the grunt work of exfoliating and almond oil to moisturize what’s underneath. $8, 2 oz;

News to Us
Thanks for giving us the heads up on so many wonderful, eco-minded natural skincare companies. Here are some of our newly
found faves:

Nubian Heritage Carrot & Pomegranate Body Scrub
This company, originally based in Harlem, New York, was a true revelation—one of the few we know of that base their formulations on traditional African recipes. We love their obsession with fair-trade ingredients and we salute their work with women cooperatives and indigenous farmers. The scrub’s carrot oil fights free-radical damage, while calendula extract nourishes irritated skin. $22,
17 oz;

Hemp Organics Lipstick
This light, easy-to-apply lipstick uses natural kaolin for a matte finish. Hemp seed oil, one of the richest sources of polyunsaturated fats, makes it extra moisturizing. Coral, $15;

Kisu Lip Balm
Fair-trade shea butter, sourced from women’s co-ops in Ghana, and regenerative Neroli essential oil make for an irresistible kisser. Its staying power and seductive scent had us hooked. $7, 0.15 oz;

Zuzu Luxe Liquid Eyeliner
Who knew retro glamour could be so clean? Liquid eyeliner goes on like butta, no raccoon eyes at the end of the day, and not a toxin in sight. Raven, $14;

Gabriel Cosmetics Botanical Exfoliator
Natural jojoba beads slough off flaky skin, while herbal extracts cleanse and tonify. Effective without being aggressive—just right for sensitive skin. $24, 4 oz;

And the Winners Are …
So many of you entered our contest and told us why you choose nontoxic skincare. We loved all your responses but these four answers really said it all:

“When I use natural beauty products, I am nurturing and taking care of myself by using products that employ ingredients closest to nature. I read beauty product labels as carefully as I read food labels because what goes on my body is as important as what goes in my body.” —Robin Alper, Los Angeles

“I like that I am avoiding chemicals, such as 1,4-dioxanes, parabens, and phthalates that not only absorb easily through our skin, but also pollute groundwater, harming wildlife habitats. Purchasing natural beauty products also allows me to support companies with a conscience—those who use environmentally friendly methods, avoid animal testing, and include only healthy ingredients.” —Julie Jeshke, Hope, Maine

“We already have too many toxins in our environment that we can’t protect ourselves from, unless we trek to the Himalayas and live in a cave. I really like that almost all natural beauty product companies are also cruelty-free because I love animals and abhor killing them to appease my vanity.” —Elizabeth Gregoire, Ogden, Utah

“The main reason I introduced my family to natural products is because my 2½ year old has eczema and developed asthma and allergies over the past year. I love the fact that we are not exposing our bodies (especially the little ones!) to all the chemicals and preservatives found in many conventional beauty products.” —Jennifer Hein, Allenton, Wisconsin