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Transitioning to a Natural Beauty Routine? Here's What You Need to Know

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I am not a hippy.

I have reusable grocery bags, but I never remember to bring them with me. I recycle, sure, but only because I feel bad about the amount of plastic water bottles I use. I hate patchouli oil, lavender-scented anything, and I refuse to pull coconut oil in my mouth like some new-age tobacco farmer.

That being said, I am a natural beauty junkie. My spiral into the world of chemical-free cosmetics and synthetics-free skincare came hard, fast, and as recently as this year.

See also: Your Guide to DIY Acidic Beauty Remedies

I am a sensitive person and my skin follows suit. Technically, I have what the beauty industry has labeled "combination skin." I'm oily in some areas, dry in others, and, depending on what products I'm using, my skin will jump from one extreme to the other, causing me to breakout, break down, and then cover my face with my hair like Cousin It.

For years I have bounced around from drugstores to department stores, makeup counters to mail-order cosmetics, ultimately drawing the final straw at Proactiv, a product that kept my skin blemish-free but painfully dry. Thanks to its key ingredient, benzoyl peroxide, this three-step system had bleached my eyebrows, my pillowcases, and my towels.

After turning my face a paler shade of white, I began to put some thought into adopting a less harsh beauty routine. Slowly but surely, the green revolution has been gaining momentum in the beauty industry, thanks to books like Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry and No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about Your Beauty Products, which reveal the frightening ingredients and potentially toxic effects of mainstream cosmetics.

According to the The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a large number of lipsticks, foundations, moisturizers, and nail polishes contain contain mercury, lead, arsenic and other unsavory ingredients that are soaked into the skin and linked to cancer and reproductive issues. You can find more information on safecosmetics.org but be warned, you might lose some sleep and half of your medicine cabinet after doing so.

The natural beauty craze can also credit its rise to luxury natural skincare lines like Tata Harper (a favorite of Gwenyth Paltrow), May Lindstrom (a self-titled line created by the super model herself), and REN (a brand that's reportedly used by Leighton Meester and Beyoncé) as well as makeup companies RMS Beauty, jane iredale, Ilia, and Kjaer Weis. Together these brands are putting to rest the stigma that skincare has to be synthetic in order to be effective.

When these brands call themselves "green," they're not just talking about their carbon footprint or the fact that they don't test on animals. (Although many of them embrace earth-friendly manufacturing practices and tout the fact that they never test on animals.) The "green" title implies that a product is natural. Sure, they're created in labs, but they don't use harmful chemicals and preservatives. They're usually derived from fresh ingredients that are either organic or straight from the earth: fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc. So you won't find words such as lead acetate, chromium, benzophenone, formaldehyde, or anything ending with " paraben" on the ingredients list.

In the 10 months or so since becoming a full-fledged natural beauty junkie, I've learned a few valuable lessons and made (and corrected) a few mistakes. For those switching to a more natural routine, here are my key pieces of advice.

First, be patient. Yes these green products are effective, but sometimes mother nature needs a little time. If you switch from brand to brand without giving your face at least a month to drink it all in, you and your skin may both end up agitated. I learned this the hard way, jumping from product to product, week to week, without giving my skin enough to time to take in my 180-degree transition.

Speaking of agitated, it's kind of a rule of thumb that anytime you try a new product you should conduct a patch test first. Test the product on a small patch of your skin before applying it to your whole face. You never know what secret allergies your body may be harboring. Because these natural lines, especially the skincare products, can carry raw, unfiltered ingredients, your skin may have a slight reaction, especially if it is accustomed to watered-down synthetics.

Next, don't be fooled by the words "natural" and "pure" or the earthy packaging that's currently being rocked by brands like Aveeno, Neutrogena, or Burt's Bees. It only takes one hard look at the ingredients of these products to realize they aren't as natural as they suggest. Right off the bat, you want to look for labels that actually say the product is free of synthetics, parabens, sulphates, silicone, and cruelty. You can also find out how safe your favorite products are by entering them in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database.

When it comes to the natural beauty industry, you get what you pay for and chances are you're not going to find a lot of the top-notch lines at your local Walgreens or Target. That being the case, you can expect to pay a lot more for truly natural cosmetics than you do for a bottle of Cetaphil or Ponds. It's kind of like buying cheap frozen food at Savers versus buying fresh organic produce from Whole Foods. For me, the investment has been worth it.

My skincare favorites include Tata Harper's Purifying Cleanser ($58), which boasts broccoli extract and fruit enzymes to clean the skin, Tata Harper's Resurfacing Mask, which contains pomegranate enzymes (noticing a trend here?) and french pink clay to give you a natural yet seemingly unnatural glow. Illia lipsticks ($26) and RMS Beauty concealers ($36) are products that aren't just safe, they also provide moisture and serious coverage.

Unfortunately, some products I truly wanted to love just didn't love me back. These include the May Lindstrom Problem Solver Mask ($90), which was unfortunately a problem causer for me (trapped dirt was brought to the surface, but so were more pimples), and the Ren Vita Mineral Eye Cream ($30), that, after some brief use, gave me some itty-bitty hives around my eyes.

Your skin may go through an initial detox (small breakouts or bumps on the skin, something that could really happen anytime you switch skincare lines) but if you can ride it out without picking (dear god, please stop touching your face), then there's a good chance you will be rewarded. My skin is more balanced these days. The skin barrier has become stronger and more resilient because I don't have chemicals stripping it. As a result, my face is less dry and irritated. Plus the smells of these natural lines are intoxicating. Applying them feels like an at-home spa treatment -- as opposed to the medical-grade products I was using which smelled, well, medical.

Generally all of these brands sell directly to the consumer, and when you order online, you can expect to be showered with samples of their other products (because where else are you going to try them?). If you're like me and you enjoy actual face-to-face interaction with someone who can guide you to the product that best suits you, the best, and perhaps only, place in town is Citrine Natural Beauty Bar. It carries all of the green lines mentioned above, including makeup, and the sales associates there are just as, if not more, obsessed with their products as I am.

If you're a credit- or rewards-card-carrying member at J.Crew, Nordstrom, or Sephora and prefer the points and discounts that come with it, good news, they carry lines such as Tata Harper, RMS, Bite, and Coola (although you may want to call the store to double check because sometimes certain products are only available online).

It's been a very literally bumpy road to skin that I'm actually happy with. And while I may not be Beyoncé-style flawless, I'm finally at a point where my skin is healthy and, dare I say, glowing. I can put on products with a clear conscience knowing that my makeup is free of lead and fiberglass, and that my skincare hasn't been doused on the faces of lab mice and bunnies. If you've got nothing to lose and money to spend, I highly recommend putting some natural products on your holiday wish list this year.

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