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!

Since launching The Crunchy Cookie, I’ve received several questions from friends looking for insight into certain products or wellness topics.  With their permission, I’ll address these questions in a feature called “The Crunchy Cookie Presents”.  If you have a question, please feel free to send it to me at  I’d be thrilled to look into it for you and give you the “crunchy” perspective!

My friend Monique has a great question about a product her dermatologist recommended for her, Cetaphil.  She writes: “I was wondering what your thoughts are on Cetaphil products?  I have been using their face wash for years but now I want to make sure it’s healthy for my skin.  My dermatologist in high school also recommended it which is how I started using it.”

I love this question because it helps me expand on one of the main purposes of this blog: providing an alternative, “wellness” perspective on health and beauty.  I am not a doctor or an expert of any kind and I firmly believe that Western medicine has a lot to offer.  So when Monique says that her dermatologist recommended it for her skin, I don’t necessarily want to contradict that because I think there’s a lot to be said for finding a product that works for you.  (For the record, my grandfather is a dermatologist and has recommended Cetaphil to me in the past.)  Dermatologists generally recommend products that are fragrance-free and considered gentle on the skin, something I can definitely get behind.

But I hope the the “crunchy” perspective can come in handy, too.  For example, while the cleansers in Cetaphil may work well on your skin, Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser includes two things I try to stay away from: parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

Parabens are chemical preservatives found in many cosmetics and are widely regarded as an endocrine disruptor, meaning that they affect your body’s hormones.  As far as my own health is concerned, I am most worried about parabens’ potential contribution to the  increase in the risk of blood clots.  Researchers have found that parabens mimic estrogen’s activity in the body and it’s known that estrogen absorbed through the skin, such as in the Ortho Evra birth control patch, increases the risk of blood clots in women similar to how the estrogen in oral birth control pills does.  You can check the Cosmetics Safety Database for more info on parabens’ ill effects on the body’s neurological system, their likelihood to cause irritation, and more.

SLS has also received a lot of bad press recently and you can find more and more products labeled “SLS-free” on the market.  This generally means that the ingredients do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate or its cousin, sodium laureth sulfate, both of which are used as emulsifiers in cosmetics.  Emulsifiers are used to create suds and bubbles to superficially signal to users that cleansers and soaps are doing their jobs.  Both of these SLS’s, however, have been shown to cause skin irritation and organ toxicity in animal trials.  Sodium lauryl sulfate has even been linked to cancer mutations.

The good news is that if you’re using products with these ingredients in them and rinsing them off thoroughly, you probably haven’t given your skin a lot of time to absorb the chemicals.  That said, I would try to find another cleanser for your skin that works as well as Cetaphil has without these potential toxins in them.  For combination skin, I like Juice Beauty’s Organic Facial Wash ($22.00 for 4 oz) and Alba Botanica’s Pineapple Enzyme Facial Cleanser ($12.95 for 8 oz).  A new discovery for me has been Blum Naturals Daily Combination/Oily Towelettes ($6.99 for a pack of 30), which are infused with tea tree oil and salicylic acid.  They’re perfect for travel, lazy nights when you don’t want to wash your face, and for keeping at your desk or in your gym bag when you need to freshen up.

Monique, I hope these suggestions help and that you’ll let me know what you decide to do with this info!

I was in Napa this past weekend to celebrate my mother’s 60th birthday (happy birthday, Mom!) and we stayed in Calistoga, CA, which is famous for its mineral springs.  The Roman Spa Hot Springs Hotel where we stayed had these wonderful pools filled with mineral water pumped in from the hot springs.  On a lark, the whole family, including my two rather macho brothers, opted to try out the spa’s mud baths yesterday.  They were… interesting.  We lay in these bathtubs filled with Canadian peat moss, volcanic ash from Napa, and the local mineral water.  We all expected the mud bath to be more akin to spreading a clay mask over ourselves, but it kinda felt like lying in a very supportive, warm, dirty, stinky pillow.  And yes, we probably should have known better.  And no, I don’t think any of us are in any hurry to have another treatment.

That said, today my skin is super soft and my husband, DG, is reporting the same thing.  This got me thinking about the supposed detoxifying properties of volcanic ash (of which I remain skeptical) and the benefits of another volcanic byproduct, pumice.  Pumice can be used in its stone form as a great exfoliation tool for rough areas like the feet and elbows and is found in its powdered form in one of my favorite exfoliators, derma-e’s Microdermabrasion Scrub (retails for $32.50 for 2 oz but can befound on Amazon for $16.46).  This treatment is gentle on the face and neck yet effective for smoothing my skin and getting rid of flakes on my forehead and nose.  It has a very light, pleasant smell and every friend I’ve had try it has raved about it.  There is a disclaimer, though: it contains alumina, which gets low (or rather, high) marks from the Cosmetic Safety Database for neurotoxicity and enhanced skin absorption in moderate doses.  That said, the data gap is pretty high for alumina, it’s pretty low down on the ingredient list, and you’re washing it off so it may not have the same opportunity to enter your bloodstream as if you were to apply it and let it remain on your skin.  Even with this in mind, I do recommend this product!

Another good product out there is Naturopath’s Espresso Mud Body Scrub (retails for $32.00 for 5 oz).  This scrub combines black silt clay and pumice with coffee for a much better-smelling alternative to the Calistoga mud bath.  The caffeine in the coffee may help temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite by constricting blood vessels and plumping up the skin.  In any case, the ground coffee does help provide extra exfoliation but be sure not to scrub too hard or the jagged edges of the grinds could create irritation.

Pumice stones themselves can usually be bought for about $3.00 at natural and health food stores and pharmacies.  You can also make great exfoliation treatments at home using ingredients in your kitchen.  Try mixing olive oil with sugar to make a paste to use in the shower as a body scrub.  For the face, try mixing a little baking soda with your cleanser for extra exfoliation, but be sure to rinse thoroughly as some people find that baking soda irritates their skin and do not use it on broken skin or acne.  Generally, salt and sugar scrubs are too harsh to use on the delicate skin on your face and neck.

Have you had luck with an at-home exfoliation treatment?  Want other product suggestions or at-home spa ideas?  Leave your feedback in the comments section 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!

If you’re like me, you care about what goes into your cosmetics but don’t have a PhD in chemistry.  There are certain chemicals I know to avoid–like parabens, PEGs, phthalates, fragrances, anything ending in -eth–but it can be hard to know what I’m looking at when I’m looking at an ingredient list.

That’s why I’m so excited about the new Sunscreen Buyer’s Guide App from the Environmental Working Group.  It’s my favorite price (free!) and I can use it when I’m actually in the store looking at my options.  This is perfect for travel when I need to buy sun protection on-site and I’m unfamiliar with what’s available.  I also love that the App rates not only the UVA and UVB protection in the products but the UVA/UVB balance and the stability of the sunscreen, ensuring that what you purchase lives up to your expectations.

Also, when you find a product that meets your criteria, you can purchase it through by pressing a button on the App and it will help support EWG.  It’s a nice way to give and get something in return!

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?

Just in time for tank tops and swimsuits, I switched from one hormonal birth control method to another and my skin went haywire.  The good news?  I looked ten years younger.  Why?  Because I looked like I was going through puberty again with all that acne.  Not cute.

So I went out and bought the Blemish Clearing Serum from my old stand-by, Juice Beauty.  My skin has finally started calmingBlemish Clearing Serum down and I’m a believer in this serum.  Unlike the harsh chemicals in other acne treatments, the ingredients in it smell great and are petroleum- and toxin-free.  The salicylic acid reduces the number of blackheads I have and I can use it on my chest and back as well as my face because it won’t bleach my clothes or towels like benzoyl peroxide does.  It doesn’t dry out my skin or feel sticky when I use the recommended few drops, but I do have to wait a few minutes before putting on my moisturizer for it to sink in.  Small sacrifice, if you ask me.

And the bonus for summer?  I use a few drops on my bikini line to keep it bump- and ingrown hair-free!  The salicylic acid helps keep pores clear of bacteria and dead skin, meaning smoother skin wherever you use it.