Morning Routine Makeover Part 3: Skin Care

This is the part where you roll your eyes at me because I’m one of “those girls.” I was blessed with pretty good skin. I used to NEVER wash my face. And rarely got zits. In fact, the rare occasion of washing my face usually caused the zits. I’m aware of how lucky I am, and give thanks for this almost daily.

I only started to regularly wash my face in the last couple years. Mostly because I was wearing makeup much more often and saw some article that showed the aging effects of not washing your makeup off for a month. Yikes, I didn’t even have to read the whole article and I was already convinced I should start cleaning the junk off my face before bed.

And now, learning about toxins and how not-regulated the cosmetics industry is, I’m starting to alter some of my habits even more. More on that shortly.

Today we’ll uncover 5 more toxins commonly found in skin care products and cosmetics. Although, just like the other chems covered in this series, you’ll find these toxins in more than just cosmetics and facial care products. Then we’ll talk about some new things I’m trying out, plus clean brands you can trust and, of course, DIYs to try. So, here we go:


Nanoparticles are a relatively new technology with inconclusive but potentially dangerous study results. They are micronized versions of certain chemicals in a product. These are found in makeup, sunscreens, anti-aging creams, and acne treatments.

Why it’s harmful: These particles are so tiny they can easily penetrate your skin down to the cellular level. They have the potential to cause gene damage, cancer, lung damage, cell toxicity, and even harm unborn children. They are bioaccumulative and extremely hazardous for our waterways, as they destroy the microorganisms we need to maintain healthy watersheds.

How it’s listed: Look for these terms on the packaging “nano-”, “micronized”, “microscale”, or “fullerenes”. Just know that in the U.S. (and Canada) they are not required to be listed. The Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies has put together this list of products known to contain them.


They are in just about anything with SPF that doesn’t specify a mineral or physical blocker.

Why it’s harmful: Padamate-O, a chemical found in many sunscreens, is a suspected carcinogen. It and the other chemical sunscreens are all suspected hormone disruptors. Also, since many chemical sunscreens do not block UVA rays, one of the ugly side effects is premature aging. No thank you! 

Titanium dioxide and iron oxide are only dangerous if they are in nanoparticle form, which is usually advertised as sunscreen that “goes on clear” or “disappears quickly” or something to that effect.

How it’s listed: Padimate-O, PABA, avobenzone, benzophenone, oxybenzone, homosalate, octyl-methoxycinnamate, octinoxate. 


BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are synthetic antioxidants that are closely related. They act as preservatives in lipsticks and many other cosmetics. You’ll also find these bad boys in a lot of food that requires preservatives.

Why it’s harmful: Endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, irritation, allergies. BHT is also linked to neurotoxicity and biochemical or cellular level changes. They are highly toxic to aquatic wildlife and bioaccumulative (in the environment/wildlife as well as humans).

How it’s listed: BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene, BHA, butylated hydroxyanisole (Check the links for more synonyms)


Surprisingly, heavy metals are found in most lipsticks. These are typically contaminants (read: not listed) but are sometimes used in the form of thimerosal (in mascara and other eye makeup). Like all the other crazy things in our products, companies can get away with it because the amounts are “so small the effects are undetectable.” But exposure to the same toxins on a daily basis for years on end can result in detectable effects. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be that guinea pig. 

Why it’s harmful: Heavy metals are HIGHLY toxic to humans and are absorbed into the body through the skin. Other than death, lead can cause miscarriages, smaller babies, long-term learning disabilities, depression, and aggressive behavior. Mercury can lead to renal failure, dementia, mental deterioration, and muscle tremors. 

How it’s listed: Usually they are not. But sometimes as thimerosal.


Hydroquinone is good at lightening the pigment in skin. It’s used in skin lighteners, sunscreens, anti-aging creams, and nail treatments and is popular in African and Asian markets. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) states that it should be rinsed off after application, but in many cases that’s not clearly indicated in the directions of the product. It’s also not supposed to be used in concentrations larger than 1%, but is available OTC at 2% and in a prescription at 4%. 

Why it’s harmful: It’s potentially carcinogenic and can cause ochronosis (dark, thick skin with bluish-black lesions). If ingested, it can cause serious problems (in doses as low as 1g) and possibly death (in doses as low as 5g). Hydroquinone is banned in Japan, the European Union, and Australia.

How it’s listed: Hydroquinone, variations of 1,4-benzene (dihydroxybenzene) and hydroxyphenol. It’s also a possible impurity in nearly anything with tocopherol or tocopheryl.


When it comes to our faces, we each have a completely unique set of problems, preferences, and resources. So instead of trying to do the impossible by recommending products for your specific skin and preferences, I’ve put together a list of trusted brands and added a load of DIYs for different skin types to our Natural Personal Care pinboard

Mostly these focus on skincare. We’ll get into makeup another time. (Maybe soon, watch for an update–or subscribe if you haven’t already–about an event that is coming up!) But first, of course, I want to share what we are currently doing.


What we’re doing

Kris is washing his face in the shower with the same liquid Castile soap we wash our bodies with. He says, “it’s pretty much like using Neutrogena, only less sudsy.” Enlightening, Kris, thank you. 

I have been experimenting with my face a bit. Here’s what I’ve tried so far and how I felt about it:

Ology Moisturizing Face Wipes - They are about $6 for a package of 30. I use them on heavy makeup days because I feel like they get all the extra gunk of my face pretty well and don’t irritate my skin. They are GREAT after a long day/night when you really don’t want to take the time to fully wash your face.

Castile Soap - I use Castile soap when my face feels extra dirty. However, it feels a little drying to me, so I follow up with jojoba or coconut oil as a moisturizer and that works out well. 

Oil washing - Yeah, sounds weird. Feels weird, too. This is really just rubbing a bunch of oil into your face to draw all the dirt out of your pores. Another one of those counter-intuitive green beauty tricks. This is supposed to work on oily skin as well, so I’m probably going to force Kris to try it at some point so I can have proof. ;) But honestly, this works great for me. My skin feels clean, smooth, and balanced.

Double washing - Essentially, this is just adding an extra step to the oil washing method. After you draw out all the dirt with oil and steam, use a clean (read: toxin-free) face wash for a light washing. This method is great after a heavy-makeup day.

After the double-washing, I feel all fresh-faced and ready to be makeup-free for awhile.

After the double-washing, I feel all fresh-faced and ready to be makeup-free for awhile.

I haven’t yet tried any store-bought clean face washes (other than Castile soap) mostly because the other options are so much more affordable, and they work! But don’t worry, I’m bound to try some soon and I will be sure to update this when I do. 

For moisturizer, I used Oil of Olay for YEARS. All the women in my family have. But I've run out and decided to not replace it for awhile (it is rated okay–about 3 or 4–on SkinDeep, I'm just trying to use less products in general). Now I use coconut or jojoba oil. A thin layer of this helps makeup go on smooth too. Bonus!

Seeing as it took me years to just wash my face, you could probably guess that I didn't get much past moisturizer. I just never really got into the many other creams, serums, astringents, and whatnot. So I can't really make personal recommendations. However, the brands below have wonderful options for these, and there's even some DIYs if you're adventurous.


Brands you can trust

This list is curated based on the following factors (and if you’ve been following the series, you may recognize a few): 

  • most, if not all, of their products contain completely clean ingredients (but PLEASE always check the ingredients list anyway)
  • they are easy to find (most are online, but some are in stores)
  • they are a great value (this doesn’t necessarily mean cheap ... incredibly high quality warrants a higher price, and some of these are the HIGHEST quality you can find)

Aubrey Organics - Already mentioned in this series, Aubrey is a natural brand that has a load of options and a pretty convincing history in all-natural personal care, plus it’s a great value.

Avalon Organics - Most of their face products are great, but some contain retinyl palmitate, so, as always, read the ingredients. This stuff is reasonably priced and pretty widely available (at most commercial drugstores and Whole Foods, and of course, online).

Beautycounter - Founded just two years ago in response to the need for accessible high-end, toxin-free face care and beauty products. Beautycounter is setting new standards for the personal care product industry, and their products are as luxurious and effective as an product on the market.

Dr. Hauschka Skincare - Dr. Hauschka is touted as one of the top clean brands out there. High standards, high quality, high price tag. Their fragrance has 100% natural ingredients, so don’t let the SkinDeep ratings scare you.

John Masters - Their face care lineup is just as clean and wonderful as their hair care. All of it on the pricier side.

Jurlique - Expensive but worth it. These products are totally pure and worth every penny. So say other people. I JUST received a sample from them, and am so excited to try it out! More coming soon.

Pangea Organics - Located in Boulder, CO, Pangea is fully committed to creating truly natural products that do more than just cleanse and beautify. Using aromatherapy and a process that considers the end of the product’s life, they also nurture our bodies and the Earth.

Suki - Suki is honest, transparent, and committed to integrity and ethical manufacturing practices using low-impact manufacturing and packaging processes and sustainable sourcing to honor the environment. This stuff is legit. Their “fragrance” is completely organic and natural, but EWG and Goodguide still rate it as though it’s a big question mark. 

Weleda - As mentioned in the Hair post of this series, they’ve been doing things the right way for nearly 100 years. Their facial care products are no different. And they are really decently priced on Vitacost. 


Where to buy

Like always, I’m a big fan of supporting your local economy, so if you can find the brand you want locally (especially if it’s a small business), by all means, please do. 

Good places to find some of these brands are: Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe, homeopathic shops, natural stores, and most commercial drug stores (though their selection will be minimal). Online you can find them for discounted prices at Thrive Market, Vitacost, and Amazon. And Bulk Apothecary is great for sourcing ingredients for DIYs.

DIYs to try!

Head on over to our Pinterest to check out these DIYs to try!


Whew! You made it through part 3 of the Morning Routine Makeover! I hope you are feeling informed and armed with some alternatives. But I’m sure you have questions, concerns, curiosities, and maybe even things you want to share. I may not have all the answers, but we can find them together. Either way, I’d REALLY love to hear from you.

If you are following along: What has your experience with beauty products been like? Or your experience with your skin… any mysterious side effects or ‘unsolvable’ issues?

If you are ahead of us: What does your face care routine consist of? Do you love and respect a brand that isn’t listed above?

Have a beautiful day, friends. I’ll see you in the comments section!



75% of Sunscreens are Toxic: What to do Instead. (2012, May 25). Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

BHA and BHT. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

Nanoparticles found in 10 top brand cosmetics. (2009, December 16). Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

Quilty, D. (2009, September 24). What Is BHT And Why You Should Avoid It. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

Siti Zulaikha R., Sharifah Norkhadijah S. I., Praveena S. M. (2015). Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review. Public Health Research Journal. 5(1), 7-15. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

The Potential Dangers of Nanoparticles in Food and Cosmetics. (2014, July 8). Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

Zerbe, L. (2009, April 2). Your Makeup Could Have an Ugly Effect on Your Health. Retrieved August 10, 2015.