Editor's note, June 2, 2017: In light of yesterday's shocking and incredibly disheartening news regarding the United States' withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate agreement, Team Byrdie wants to reemphasize its own commitment to protecting the planet as best we can. That's why today, we're highlighting our eco-friendly beauty content in an effort to illustrate that even seemingly small (and easy!) decisions can add up to a huge impact on our environment.
It all started with no-poo.
When I decided to give up shampoo a few years back, it wasn’t exactly based on the need to be all-natural. In hindsight, however, it marks the beginning of my journey toward a now plant-centric beauty routine. I had already adopted a vegan diet at this point, but aside from trying to choose products that were certified cruelty-free, this Earth-friendly philosophy hadn’t exactly expanded from the kitchen to my vanity. I wasn’t really reading labels, and I was still overloading my hair and face with synthetic ingredients without a second thought.
But then I read something about going no-poo, took stock of my own straw-like and heat-damaged strands, and I decided it could be an interesting project. Interesting it was—but even with a few bumps along the way, I was amazed when it transformed my mane for the better.
In retrospect, it’s kind of sad (and superficial) that I needed to see results before really committing to a natural regimen. But that’s basically how it went down: It wasn’t until I saw how great and healthy my hair looked that I realized it was a bit hypocritical to be so discerning about what I put in my body while paying no mind to what I was using on it. Then again, we forget that just a few years ago, it didn’t seem so obvious—many of the incredible plant-based products and brands we now take for granted (and can find just about anywhere) were either fledgling or still very under-the-radar.
A natural beauty regimen was still considered crunchier than it was chic, and it was easy to assume that if I wanted to go that route, I would probably be exclusively spending my time mixing up essential oils and assembling DIY masks using items in my pantry.
And that’s actually what I did (and I still do!)—all the while holding on to most of my existing products, only rotating them out when I got my hands on something plant-based that was a worthy replacement. I followed this slow and steady strategy while continuing to educate myself on ingredients and label-reading, and over the course of several months, I managed to completely overhaul my beauty cabinet.
My current beauty regimen is by no means perfect, but it’s the eco-friendliest it’s ever been—and honestly, my skin and hair have never looked better. I’m still perpetually on the hunt for new and improved products (if anyone knows of a way I can do that for a living, let me know), but treating this whole process as a continual work-in-progress has made it manageable and even fun. I’m not sure I would feel the same way if I had taken an all-or-nothing approach.
Still, I understand that overwhelming feeling of Where do I even begin? So let’s fix that, shall we?
How to Get Started
First, let’s clear something up: Anyone can try this, no matter your motivations or how green (or not) your life habits are. This isn’t a club, and it can be as much a part of your lifestyle as you’d like it to be—even if that just means swapping out one product or heightening your awareness about labels and ingredients. As I learned, it only takes one good experience to lead to another one (and another and another), so make that your initial goal.
Apart from that, there are some lessons I’ve learned during my own journey that I know would have been valuable and comforting to know from the beginning…
Pick One: Makeup, Skin, or Hair
My trajectory was hair → skin → makeup, and just choosing one aspect of my routine to focus on at a time has been a breeze. It also helped that I started with the easiest part of my routine since I only use two or three products on my hair. After I decided I was done with no-poo, I didn’t want to mess up several months of detox in a matter of days, so I opted for very clean shampoo and conditioner formulated only with ingredients I recognized (by Rahua, if you’re wondering, which I still highly recommend).
Once I felt confident with my hair routine, I moved on to my skin, which was only slightly trickier because of the larger volume of products. I’m currently still on makeup, which has been the biggest challenge.
Your ultimate goal is to treat a product label as you would a nutrition label, and that means knowing exactly what to look for and what to avoid. Read up on common and controversial ingredients (we have a handy guide for you) and what the little symbols below the ingredient list mean. Grab some of your own products, and start comparing notes. You don’t have to commit to throwing them out or even buy products that are 100 percent natural: Just get in the habit of reading labels when you shop, and try to choose products with as few offenders as possible.
Another great skincare-specific resource is Adina Grigore’s Skin Cleanse ($15), which has a lot of this info plus a very informed (but manageable) guide to detoxing your complexion. (Seriously—you’ll find it on every Byrdie editor’s bookshelf.)
Know False Advertising When You See It
Did you know the word “natural” isn’t regulated by the FDA? That means that any brand can put the word on a product no matter what it actually contains. A lot of products will advertise themselves as “natural” or as “containing plant ingredients”—and though they might actually contain a plant derivative or two, those ingredients are listed alongside a series of synthetics. “Organic” is a little more regulated but does not necessarily indicate that every single ingredient in the product is certified organic—usually, it’s a certain percentage.
This is where your newfound knowledge of ingredients will come in handy. (And if all else fails, vet a brand online before making a purchase.)
In addition to focusing on just hair, makeup, or skincare, break it down even further by taking it product by product, one at a time. Part of this process is noting how you react to different ingredients and formulas, and that’s much more difficult when you’re trying to take stock of several things at once.
Begin to Note Your Favorite Brands and Ingredients
If you realize that witch hazel or jojoba oil is doing wonders for your complexion, then why not look for more products starring that ingredient? The beauty of natural ingredients is that it’s much easier to pick out what’s working for you. Take a similar approach to brands: I have a wide variety in my beauty arsenal, but there are a few favorites that I tend to come back to again and again.
Take a Holistic Approach
You’d be amazed at how much your diet impacts your skin and hair. Again, how far you go is up to you, but as you begin to try more plant-based products, consider extending that mindset to what you eat too. Certain foods, like sugar and dairy, can wreak havoc on our skin, which might skew the results of your newfound beauty approach. Get your daily fill of antioxidant-packed veggies and healthy fats when you can. (Investigating the vast market of ingestible beauty products couldn’t hurt either.)
Do you incorporate any natural products into your routine? Tell us your story (or even just your go-to brands!) in the comments below.
This story was originally published on March 11, 2016.