What's the best ethically-made lotion with healthy ingredients?
Posh for a Night
It’s that time of year. The air is cold and dry. And so is my skin. And to make matters worse, every time I walk passed Bed, Bath and Body Works, they try to lure me in with lotions scented like gingerbread, peppermint bark, and vanilla lattes. It’s a tough urge to fight. For some reason, I love smelling like a bakery exploding with mouth-watering goodies. Maybe it’s a calorie-free way to enjoy the sugary delights? But as I start to follow the sweet-scented trail, I remind myself that each of those scrumptious scents is created in a lab. With harmful chemicals. Every time you see “fragrance” on a product ingredient list, you’re actually looking at up to thousands of individual harmful ingredients that companies are allowed to combine into one, harmless sounding word. And don’t get me started on the other toxins, like parabens and liquid paraffin. There are a whole host of hazardous ingredients cosmetic companies are permitted to use in their products with side effects ranging from hormone disruption to cancer. Smelling like a Christmas cookie just isn’t worth it.
So, what do you do? Apart from walking around with skin so dry you might be growing scales. Fortunately, there are companies popping up all the time fighting the “toxin-free” fight. Companies that not only make excellent, non-toxic products, but are also environmentally and socially responsible. You can do your body good while doing something good for others.
Let’s take a look at some of them!
The Honest Co.
Honest Face + Body Lotion
Let’s be honest (pun intended), most of us try Honest beauty products because we’re hoping they’ll somehow transform us into the ridiculously gorgeous founder, Jessica Alba. And while I can’t promise that will happen, I can tell you that it’s a darn effective daily moisturizer.
Here are the Deets:
Scent: Honestly (last time, I promise), it’s not my favorite scent. But it’s not unpleasant. It’s subtle and smells faintly of citrus.
Feel: I’m typically a body butter kind of gal, so this lotion is on the light-weight scale to me. It goes on silky and actually sinks in, not settling on the surface. No slime transfer is always a plus!
Effectiveness: I used this lotion daily on my recent anniversary trip to Maui. I applied it after every shower and it held up its end of the deal. Even after several hours in the sun and salty ocean.
Price: This product typically retails for $9.99, but you can sometimes find it for around $5.99 at stores like Marshalls.
*Bonus: This lotion is for face and body. While I wouldn’t use it daily on my face, it didn’t cause any irritation or breakouts when I tried it.
Notes from our ingredient expert:
This is a nice product, but lacks some of the emollience that I personally prefer in a lotion. While I know that many people prefer a lotion that absorbs completely, I like a moist after-feel. I’m very familiar with the Honest brand and trust their integrity as a leader in ethically produced products. However, here are some facts about some of the chemical-sounding ingredients:
Caprylhydroxamic Acid (CHA) is an amino acid derived from coconut oil. CHA is a preservative and broad spectrum anti-fungal agent. CHA, unlike many other more common preservatives, is very effective at neutral pH levels. It is also a chelating agent of iron ions; low iron environments show lower levels of mold growth. CHA is thought to be a replacement to parabens, which are a widely used preservative but have numerous health and safety concerns associated with them.
Hydroxyethylcellulose is a plant-derived amino acid used as a preservative, emulsifier, binder and thickener in beauty products. It's a water-soluble polymer that provides colloid protection and can be thickened or thinned to be used in a variety of products. It is not beneficial in itself to the skin, but is a widely used ingredient because of its ability to serve many purposes.
Concerning ingredients: None.
The pop-up top style bottle is a little dated, but they are just rolling out all new packaging. A much needed update! Available pretty much everywhere now, the cost is a little on the high end, but still a great value based on their quality.
For Hands and Body Organic Lotion in Peppermint
At first sight, this lotion bottle is an explosion of tiny print. But hey, they like to get their message out there. The ingredients are on the FRONT of the bottle, not hidden on the back. And they have gads of emblems signifying that they are organic, fair trade, recyclable, etc.
Scent: Yum! It smells like peppermint candy. It’s VERY potent at first- enough to wake up the walking dead in the morning- but settles down when it’s on your skin.
Feel: Sleek. Silky. Soaks in. You won’t have to waste half of your morning waiting for your lotion to absorb just so you don’t stick to your pants.
Effectiveness: This is a light-weight lotion perfect for every-day use. I once heard that lotion is preventive, not prescriptive. Meaning, use it before you get dry skin, not to treat it.
Price: This lotion is also typically $9.99, but can be snagged for a lot less on Thrive Market!
Ingredients: First off, you can instantly see the ingredient list is much shorter than most. But most importantly—it’s all-natural. And in case you’re questioning the intense pop of peppermint—essential oils! Cool, huh?
Concerning ingredients: My top concern with this product was the use of ethyl alcohol, also known as grain alcohol, or what we drink in cocktails. Because of the alcohol content, there is the concern for alcohol related adverse reactions. It’s recorded pretty high in the ingredient list: fourth in the descending order of pre-dominance. Also, I’m not a fan of the use of hemp products or by-products, for no other reason than their association with the drug industry.
I opted not to re-use this product. I decided that the odor from the alcohol was too strong and I realize that absorption, being one of the functions of the skin, is a likely side effect I wouldn’t want. Grain alcohol is the only ingredient that I have concern for. All the others are pure, safe and wholesome. In general, this is not a lotion that I cared for. But to be fair to Dr. Bronner’s, a company that has been making the highest quality soaps and lotions for 150 years, I have to mention that they are one of the finest manufacturers of personal care products, with the highest of standards. Read their story interesting here: https://www.drbronner.com/about/ourselves/the-dr-bronners-story/.
Other factors I consider before making a purchase are the dispenser and the overall value of the product. Being a bargain shopper, I am always looking for a good deal. Typically, organic and well produced products cost more than mass brands, but this was a fair priced lotion. I like the pump bottle - easy to use, convenient. But if we are being honest, not too many of us would buy Dr. Bronner’s because the bottle looks pretty on our bathroom counter:) In fact, it is one of the least appealing looking packaging of all the brands we review! But they are committed to spreading their message, so good for them - they’ll continue to print the words of their manifesto on the bottles of their great products.
Hawaiian Ruby Guava Body Butter
I’ve been using Pacifica products for a long time. Huge fan. Vegan. Cruelty-Free. Free of toxins. Made in the USA. Lots to love. Let’s see how this product stacks up to my other faves.
Scent: So very (VERY) sad to say I didn’t love this scent. Neither did my husband. It’s strong, which is great if the smell appeals to you. And it lasts. Which is another bonus. Again, if you like the scent.
Feel: Ah, body butter… you are my friend. This lotion is thick and creamy, yet doesn’t leave you feeling greasy. As I imagine lathering yourself with actual butter would. (No, I haven’t tried it. Adding it to the list. Maybe ghee?)
Effectiveness: Left my skin feeling soft. Could be used as an every-day and also to attack more stubbornly dry skin. I rubbed in extra on my knees and elbows to remove the elephant hide look.
Price: If $15.00 sounds steep, watch for sales online and in your local Sprouts.
Ingredients: Free of parabens, phthalates, mineral and peanut oils and petroleum. Sounds good to me! However, it IS quite a long list of ingredients. Their scent is achieved with their “own fragrance blend” with includes natural and essential oils. I’d prefer if it only contained essential oils, since, occasionally, “natural” has been known to be…. Well, unknown. And used loosely.
Concerning Ingredients: Phenoxyethanol and Ethylhexylglycerin are conditioning agents and preservatives, which work together, and have been elected by some manufacturers to replace the very high toxic parabens. However, two studies have found Ethylhexylglycerin to be a skin irritant, even at low concentrations, so people with sensitive skin may experience contact dermatitis. In addition, it is an eye irritant in animal studies. More concerning, however, is Phenoxyethanol. It has been linked to certain cancers, neurotoxicity and possible endocrine disruption. The greatest threat I feel comes from lack of substantiated data on this ingredient. To date, there have only been four tests conducted on it to prove its safety.
Pacifica and I go way back. I have loved them for a very long time. Great, clean products - very no-nonsense but with a ton of flare. Packaging leaves you with a very Hawaiian feel. Sturdy tubes that last. Overall, a bit pricey in general, but if you can find one at a discounter like Marshall’s, score:) Their fragranced products are the key reason most people choose Pacifica. Light, organically derived fragrances essentially sets them apart from the competition. Known for being a company that truly cares about the earth, and all its inhabitants, it’s fun to watch this company expand and grow. I even fell in love with their mascara recently (at Target, $18). So even though they have used some ingredients that we would not prefer in our personal care and body products, the options are slim, so I overall feel that the benefits outweighs the concerns.
I always wished Pacifica would improve their packaging. While the hand lotion minis are great for purse use, it really isn’t vey elegant. I would love to see the larger size body butters incorporate a pump dispenser
Cocoa and Shea Intense Body Lotion in Vanilla Mocha
This product was my first experience with this company. I was impressed with their company ethos and anxious to see if their product quality held up.
Scent: Immediately, the words Vanilla Mocha gave me a tingle of excitement. This scent seemed right up my alley. Vanilla AND Chocolate? Yes please. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decide if I liked it. It didn’t smell bad. But not exactly like a vanilla mocha either. I ultimately decided my feelings toward this scent were neutral.
Feel: LOVE the feel. Rich, creamy, luxurious. The thickest consistency of the five, akin to a whipped body butter. My skin drank it up like… a vanilla mocha. It didn’t leave a greasy residue either. Win!
Effectiveness: This would be my go-to for dry skin. As the “intense” in the name suggests, it delivers on moisture. To make sure, I did a very scientific test. I rubbed Alaffia on one leg, then each of the other lotions on my other. Then I asked my husband to tell me which leg felt softer. Alaffia won. And I had him double check. As I said, very thorough and scientific.
Price. Another $9.99 price tag. Sensing a pattern? The bottle is 8 oz, compared to the similar sizes of Pacifica, Dr. Bronner’s, and Shea Moisture, while Honest weighs in at 8.5 oz.
Ingredients: A short list of generally natural ingredients. My one hesitation is the inclusion of potassium sorbate. While typically considered safe, it’s used to prolong shelf-life and prevent bacteria growth. However, this substance is debated in the health world and can (rarely) cause skin irritations. I still consider this product far and away a healthier option for dry skin than most. But oh, how I wish they would leave this ingredient out.
Vanilla Extract (because of the potential for allergic reactions) and Potassium Sorbate (a sodium based preservative). Vanilla is fine unless you’re allergic to it (like my boss is!) But here’s what Jillian Michaels’ website has to say about potassium sorbate:
“Potassium sorbate's use as an antimicrobial preservative prevents the growth of mold, bacteria and fungi in products. Many personal care products use potassium sorbate to prolong shelf stability and prevent bacteria contamination.”
Potassium sorbet has been linked to migraine headaches and can cause serious skin reactions. There have also been questions raised about possible links to reproductive toxicity in animals. In any case, this is not an ingredient I feel good about, although evidence points to it being fairly benign when used in personal care products.
In spite of the potassium sorbate use, I really like this product. It actually surprised me how much I liked it. Great consistency, great finish, lovely light fragrance.