The Crunchy Cookie

Equal parts deliciousness and hippiness

This fall I’m headed back to school and for me, that means cutting expenses wherever possible (remember those $300 textbooks?  Eesh!).  So instead of heading to Whole Foods or another natural foods store to get my cosmetics, I’m headed to the drugstore in my building.  A quick survey of the products was pretty disheartening: so many chemicals in such small bottles!  But there are some good options out there at places like CVS and Walgreens.  They’re generally more expensive than generic or brand-name products like Pantene or Dove, but you get what you pay for in terms of the ingredients and company philosophies on animal testing and environmental responsibility.  Here are my drugstore favorites and be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post for some tips on “crunchy” drugstore shopping:

  • Organix Shampoos and Conditioners ($7): All Organix products contain active organic ingredients and are packaged in bottles made from post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin with compostable labels.  What they don’t contain is important, too: the products are paraben-free and sulfate-free and never contain ingredients tested on animals.  I like the Cherry Blossom Ginseng shampoo and conditioner for my fine, curly hair: it conditions nicely and smells delicious!
  • Burt’s Bees ($3-$25):  Burt’s Bees is one of the first national natural cosmetics companies.  Known for their distinctive yellow packaging and beeswax ingredients, all Burt’s Bees products are paraben-, sulfate-, phthalate-, chemical sunscreen-, and petrochemical-free.  The company is committed to charitable donations, environmentally friendly packaging and practices, and not using animal testing.  DG and I have the Beeswax Lip Balm ($3) in the car, in the bathroom, at our desks… pretty much everywhere and the Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream ($6) is easily portable, wonderfully moisturizing and smells absolutely amazing.
  • Almay Pure Blends ($7-$14): I love to see bigger companies like Almay provide healthier, natural alternatives.  The Pure Blends collection is talc-, paraben-, and fragrance-free and comes in less, more environmentally friendly packaging.  I’m a fan of the eye shadow in Lavender and the lipgloss in Petal.  The lipgloss stands out for its subtle color and smooth consistency.  (Though I haven’t tried it, the Organic wear line by Physician’s Formula is another makeup line found in drugstores that is paraben-, cruelty-, synthetic preservative-free and boasts that its ingredients are of 100% natural origins.)
  • Organic Cotton Balls and Cotton Swabs ($3-$4): Although these staples are a little more expensive than their generic counterparts, switching to organic cotton balls and swabs is an easy way to make your beauty routine more eco-friendly.  Conventional cotton is one of the most polluting crops in the world: it’s estimated that 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides are used in the production of cotton, which only makes up 2% of the planet’s agricultural land.  Though organic cotton clothing options like t-shirts and jeans can be pricey, making the switch to organic cotton balls fits into almost any budget.

Some do’s and don’t's for crunchy drugstore shopping:

  • DO prioritize your cosmetics.  Anything that stays on your body longer (like nail polish), covers lots of area (like body lotion), or is applied to vulnerable areas (like the skin around your eyes or on your lips) should be as safe as possible.  If you have to, compromise on things like soap and shampoo that are washed off and make sure that things like toothpaste and lip balm that are easily ingested aren’t harmful.
  • DON’T purchase nail polishes or nail treatments that contain toluene, DBP or formaldehyde.  Many drugstore brands contain these dangerous chemicals, but some, like Sally Hansen, don’t.
  • DO be sure to read your labels!  If you don’t know what an ingredient is or want more information on a product, check it out on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.
  • DON’T be fooled by the words “bio”, “natural”, or even “organic” in product or brand names.  These mean nothing.  Their use is often just a clever marketing gimmick, so be sure to examine the label for things like sulfates, petrochemicals, and parabens.
  • DO choose fragrance-free products or products that get their fragrances from essential oils whenever possible.
  • DO look for powder makeup that doesn’t include talc.  While not harmful when applied to the skin, the real danger is in inhaling it.  Stay away whenever possible.
  • DO buy products that come in bulk and environmentally-friendly packaging.
  • DO remember that less is more: buy products with fewer ingredients AND examine your routine to find products to eliminate.  Fewer ingredients and products mean fewer points of failure.
  • DO reflect on what’s important to you and prioritize your purchases accordingly.  Whether it’s organic ingredients, recycled packaging, local companies, or cruelty-free products you really care about, you can send a message through what you chose and chose not to buy.
  • DO experiment with everyday items you find in your kitchen or garden.  It’s amazing what things like olive oil and baking soda can do for your beauty routine.

Is this post missing your favorite drugstore brand, product, or conscious buying tip?  Post in the comments section below or email me at!

You may be familiar with The Story of Stuff, a short, informative Internet film that takes us through the creation, distribution, and disposal of consumer products: it’s been viewed on the Web over 10 million times!  (If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!)  My awesome friend Renée works for The Story of Stuff Project and gave me a heads up on their new project, The Story of Cosmetics, created in association with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  I’m really excited to see it when it comes out on July 21, but until then, all I have is the teaser they released today.  It promises to follow in the footsteps of the Project’s earlier films in its accessible tone and direct explanation of what happens when corporations aren’t looking out for the little guy.

See the teaser for the new film here and let me know what you think in the comments section!  Are you as eager to see it as I am?  Do you have thoughts on The Story of Stuff Project’s other films?  Let me know below!

I love the idea of having a signature scent. It all seems very sophisticated and sexy and well, French, to have one. That being said, I’ve never had much luck finding one and that’s partially due to the fact that many perfumes trigger headaches for me, especially synthetic fragrances in perfumes, body lotions, and deodorants. When you combine this sensitivity with safety concerns about “secret chemicals” in fragrances, it seemed like a good move for me to avoid perfumes altogether.

But there’s hope out there!  I recently discovered two companies that avoid the use of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, petrochemicals, and other nastiness:

Lavanila, as the name implies, makes perfumes and other cosmetics that are all based on a vanilla note.  (Interestingly, the founders started the company because they bonded over their shared experience of “fragrance headaches” like mine.  Beats starting a support group!)  My absolute favorite is the Vanilla Grapefruit, and it doesn’t hurt that my husband loves it on me too!  Lavanila also includes antioxidants and healthy oils in its perfumes, supporting its claim to be a “healthy fragrance” company.

Pacifica is another great choice, and they have a greater variety of perfumes available as well as delicious-smelling and environmentally friendly candles.  The next time I have some cash burning a hole in my pocket, I’m going to spend it on one of Pacifica’s solid perfume gift sets, a great value that will allow me to experiment with scents and travel with them with ease.

Because who really wants one signature scent when you can have a dozen?

Now it’s time for a feature I like to call “Who knew?”, basically a collection of little nuggets of knowledge that make me go “huh”.

First up, have you ever noticed that little icon on your cosmetics that looks like this?

Expiration Date

I had, but never really gave it much thought.  In my mind, it had something to do with a European labeling system of the number of grams in the product or whatever.  If you had asked me “Sarah, what does this mean?”, I would have said “I think it has something to do with Europe.”  Seriously.

Well, now I know better.  The symbol is known as the Product After Opening (PAO) symbol and it tells you the expected lifetime of the product after you open it.  In the image on the left, “12 M” (sometimes written simply as “12″) refers to the twelve months a product should be good after you open it.  Of course, shelf life can also depend on how the product is stored and how you use it.  For example, a cosmetic will probably not last that long if you store it in direct sunlight and apply it with your fingers, which can spread bacteria and encourage their growth.

Also, I would like to point out that unless you’re buying your cosmetics in gallon tubs, any product that’s working for you shouldn’t last all that long because you’re using it up.  Don’t be afraid to get rid of things that don’t work well and don’t keep anything that has developed a strange odor.

If you’re interested, here’s a recap of the general guidelines for different cosmetics:

Foundation: 3-6 months (be sure to apply with a brush or sponge to avoid bacterial contamination)
Mineral makeup: 6 months (these often don’t contain the same preservatives as traditional makeup so they don’t last as long)
Concealer: 6 months (see note for foundation)
Stick Concealer: 12 months (use a cotton ball to remove a layer every so often to get rid of bacteria on the surface of the stick)
Powder/Blush: 12-24 months
Lipgloss/Lipstick: 12-18 months
Mascara: 3-6 months
(be sure to toss if you develop an eye infection, and don’t pump)
Eye Cream: 6 months
Eye pencils: 12-24 months
(sharpen often)
Eye Shadow: 12-24 months

Also, it’s recommended to clean your brushes and applicators every week.  I don’t do it that often, but it’s something to shoot for.