From hyperpigmentation to dullness, fine lines and wrinkles to loss of elasticity, a lot of skin care products promise fast results.
The truth is, the faster the results, the more likely they are to contain problematic chemicals that could irritate all sorts of skin types. Not to mention, some of the ingredients might build up and cause adverse side effects like hormone disruption or even cancer.
Whether you have sensitive skin, are pregnant or nursing, live with a skin condition like rosacea or cystic acne, or just want to clean up your shelf, seeking nontoxic options that don’t inflame your journey to a natural glow can be time-consuming.
So, we’ve got good news for you: Below is our breakdown of the 10 best nontoxic skin care products — and the ingredients that make them work.
Here’s to the fresh, youthful complexion you crave!
1. Farmacy’s New Day Gentle Exfoliating Grains
Farmacy’s New Day Exfoliating Grains ($30) is a gentle scrub, which has a creamy texture when mixed with water. It’s the perfect way to organically exfoliate your skin.
- cranberry seed powder, a physical exfoliant that gently removes dead skin cells on the surface of the skin
- green tea extract, calms and soothes the skin
- proprietary Echinacea complex (Echinacea GreenEnvy), firms the skin, reduces redness, and evens tone
Why it’s great: Exfoliating your skin is a must. Getting rid of dead skin cells on the surface of skin leaves skin looking fresh and allows all of your other products to penetrate deeper into the dermis, upping their efficacy and delivering better results. But chemical exfoliants (like glycolic acids) can be typically too intense for more sensitive skin types.
2. Max & Me’s Sweet Serenity Mask & Wash
If you’re looking for a multitasking powerhouse of a product, you’ll definitely want to check out the Sweet Serenity Mask & Wash from Max & Me ($259). This two-in-one product, which acts as both a mask and an exfoliating cleanser, does it all — and it does it all without the use of harsh chemicals.
Why it’s great: “The whole product is packed with star [natural] ingredients,” raves Kate Murphy of beauty blog Living Pretty Naturally. “Raw manuka honey... has incredibly potent antiseptic and antimicrobial properties… [and] is also said to brighten the complexion, evening out skin tone and lightening scars and age spots.”
(Editor’s note: This product contains a significant blend of essential oils, which may irritate sensitive skin. Always remember to patch test before use.)
3. Peach Slices’ Citrus-Honey Aqua Glow
If you’re looking for an intense burst of hydration with a) no harsh chemicals, and b) a thin texture that will actually absorb into your skin, look no further than Peach Slices’ Citrus-Honey Aqua Glow ($11.99).
- glycerin, decreases skin dehydration
- ceramides, plumps and hydrates skin
- honey, acts as an anti-inflammatory, soothing any breakouts or skin flare-ups
Why it’s great: “[This product] is intensely hydrating without being heavy at all,” says Alicia Yoon, founder of cult-beauty site Peach & Lily and new skin care line Peach Slices. “I switched to this product because I find that super hydrating moisturizers can sit heavy on the face or cause milia [small, white bumps on the skin], especially around the eyes.”
4. Shangpree S-Energy Long Lasting Concentrated Serum
A cult favorite in Korea, the Shangpree S-Energy Long Lasting Concentrated Serum ($120) leverages a proprietary botanical complex they say protects the skin against free radical damage and combats fine lines and wrinkles. (Note: Wrinkle reduction always takes some time, so make sure to use your products daily for at least six weeks for results.)
“I ended up switching to this [serum] because I saw that no matter how sensitive my skin is or if I’m having a particularly tough time with eczema, this product produces results — but never irritates my skin,” Yoon says.
- Skullcap Callus, an anti-inflammatory that soothes skin, protecting against sun damage
- lavender, soothes skin
- sage, helps combat free radicals, and repair fine lines and wrinkles
- spearmint (in tea the antiseptic properties have been shown to prevent breakouts)
Why it’s great: “The superstar ingredient here is a botanical blend infused with skullcap extract that helps reinvigorate skin,” Yoon highlights for us. Skullcap leaves are high in antioxidants and have incredible anti-inflammatory properties — making it a great ingredient to treat skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema, without the trademark irritation you’d find in some harsher products.
Is lavender oil considered toxic? While most people (and brands) don’t consider essential oils as toxic, lavender and tea tree oil have been recently noted as hormone-disruptors when research showed they caused breast growth in three young boys. More research is needed to find the correlation, but for now experts recommend avoiding applying undiluted essential oil directly on your skin.
5. ULIV’s Golden Glow Hydrating Serum
Organic line ULIV combines all-natural essential oils and botanicals to create products to deliver results — the creator of the line started developing the products when she had to cut chemical-laden products as a result of her autoimmune disorder.
None of their products deliver results quite like the Golden Glow Hydrating Serum ($35).
Why it’s great: Nikki Sharp, author behind “Meal Prep Your Way to Weight Loss,” has been using this product for a year. She says she’s seen “incredible results [and] has been in love ever since.” The turmeric also gives your skin a fantastic golden-girl glow.
6. Be The Skin Botanical Nutrition Power Toner
Finding a toner without harsh ingredients (like alcohol or salicylic acid) that strip the skin can be a challenge — and that’s why the Be The Skin Botanical Nutrition Power Toner ($29) is such a score.
“My favorite toner is the Be The Skin Botanical Nutrition Power Toner,” says Yoon. “I’ve been using it for six years straight and the no-alcohol, royal-jelly-infused toner is equal parts hydrating, soothing, and nourishing.”
Why it’s great: This toner is a fantastic product for people who deal with extremely dry skin or eczema. The gel texture adds an extra dose of hydration and soothing protection before a moisturizer.
7. Tata Harper’s Restorative Eye Crème
The skin around the eyes is the first to show signs of aging — and because it’s so sensitive, it can also be the first place people notice a reaction to their products. Finding an eye product that’s both effective and free of harsh chemicals is tough — but the Restorative Eye Crème ($98), with 100 percent natural ingredients from Tata Harper is a definite winner.
- buckwheat wax, reduces puffiness
- menyanthes trifoliata (also known as buckbean), strengthens the skin
- vitamin C (courtesy of date palm extract), enhances skin barrier protection and brightens the under-eye area
Make it greater: Keep this gel on the door side of the fridge before application. Apply a small amount around the upper and lower eyelids AM and PM. The cooling effect is great for battling poor circulation under the eyes.
8. Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Brightening Essence
Everyone wants brighter skin — but not if that brightening product comes packed with chemicals that are going to irritate your skin.
Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Brightening Essence ($38) uses a potent cocktail of all-natural green apple to instantly refresh the skin and add a healthy glow — without any nasty side effects or irritation.
Why it’s great: Packed with acids and antioxidants, this essence is your key to lightening hyperpigmentation and dark spots. Essences, which are thicker than serums, contain more active ingredients and are great for overall face treatments. (Serums are more for spot treating.)
9. ILIA’s Flow-Thru Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20
SPF is a non-negotiable — especially for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions. But reapplying throughout the day can be a hassle for those who wear makeup… unless you’ve got ILIA’s Flow-Thru Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20 ($34)!
Why it’s great: This powder, which you can apply directly over your makeup throughout the day, provides all-natural sun protection. Convenience, sun protection, and a healthy glow? Sign us up.
P.S. While this is a great touch-up product, don’t forget to include higher SPF protection underneath your makeup.
10. Aromatica Natural Tinted Sun Cream SPF 30
SPF can be a catch-22 for people with sensitive skin. You need protection from the sun, but most sunscreens on the market contain questionable chemicals — like octocrylene, which has shown to cause dermatitis — that can wreak havoc on your skin.
Enter the Aromatica Natural Tinted Sun Cream ($25).
Why it’s great: Instead of using chemicals that absorb UV rays and convert them into heat (and can irritate skin in the process), this natural, ECOCERT-certified sunscreen uses titanium dioxide for no irritation in sight.
Are the nanoparticles in sunscreen toxic? There’s been some safety concerns around titanium dioxide nanoparticles and whether or not they help toxins reach cells. A 2017 literature review shows that nanoparticles (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) do not penetrate the skin, and toxicity is highly unlikely.
For the most part, labels like “natural,” “nontoxic,” and “hypoallergenic” are marketing buzzwords that aren’t regulated by the FDA or USDA. (The term “organic” is strictly regulated, meaning that the ingredients were grown under strict eyes.)
How do I know if a product has potential for harm?
I advise not using any products containing diethyl phthalate (DEP), a common constituent of fragrance; parabens, a widely-used preservative; triclosan, an antibacterial constituent of soaps and toothpastes also used as a preservative in other products; and carcinogenic formaldehyde and “donor” preservatives that release it, such as quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin. If used in the manner the product was intended and not used on an overly repetitive basis, then other products should be fine, unless you’re specifically informed otherwise.Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BCAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Some harmful ingredients can increase your risk for skin irritation, birth defects (if pregnant or nursing), hormone disruption, and even cancer — in other words, on our avoid list!
Finding products that provide results — without potentially damaging chemicals — can be a challenge. But once you see your skin after incorporating these products into your routine, it’s safe to say it’s a challenge you’ll be happy you accepted.
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Deanna deBara is a freelance writer who recently made the move from sunny Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. When she’s not obsessing over her dog, waffles, or all things Harry Potter, you can follow her journeys on Instagram.