I might look as if I was raised on Champagne, but I need a T-shirt that says, “Raised on Natural Beauty”—because I was raised by a mother who was a totally natural beauty, in every way. My mother grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and was a DIY dynamo before anyone even thought to coin the term.
When we were penny-pinching to pay for school, she’d save bacon grease to mix with lye to make laundry detergent. Her beauty routine consisted solely of almond oil, vitamin E (inside and out), a heavy salve called Bag Balm and Epsom salts. Her luxury item? A single bottle of Shalamar perfume that lasted her lifetime and beyond.
During our teen years, my mom would scrutinize the endless parade of cosmetics that my two sisters and I brought into the house, knitting her eyebrows in consternation as she read the promised results on the labels. Then she’d turn the jar to scan the ingredients, with the trained eye of a registered nurse, before declaring: “They have every fool thing in here. I hope it works.”
My mother knew the importance of ingredients way back when we were watching Soul Train on Saturday afternoons and pressing our hair for church on Sundays—and long before the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit pro-environmental-protection organization, published a study citing that cosmetics marketed to black women are likely to contain more toxic chemicals than general-market products.
From lipsticks to hair relaxers (which are sold in every country in the world where you find black and brown women), the EWG study tested 1,177 products, making comparisons between 60 separate databases for toxicity. In this study, toxicity was measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Alarmingly, 1 in 12 products tested were found to be highly hazardous.
To put this into context, black women account for 13 percent of the female population of the United States, but according to this study, our spending makes up a full 22 percent of the money spent in the $42 billion U.S. beauty market. Logic suggests that using more cosmetics means that we are exposed to more of the chemicals contained in those cosmetics.
My mother always told me, “Be careful of the company you keep, baby.” Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve tried to “baby myself”—and my babies—by using as many organic products as possible, including deodorant and body lotions, since skin is the body’s largest organ with the highest potential for exposure to toxins. I also think it’s important to give our bodies a total chemical-free break at least once a week.
Smart women are woke to the need to be natural. To help you do the same, I’ll be revisiting this topic to share my favorite finds with you. (And you can share yours in the comments!) But for now, here’s my starter list of ahead-of-the-curve cosmetics and personal-care lines coming to the rescue with good, old-fashioned common sense. My mother would be proud.
#SheCodesinPink nail polish from Shoo satisfies both my sassy side and my inner science nerd. This black-owned brand was founded by a former science teacher and boasts a 9 Free formula—don’t forget to check out the pretty lipsticks to match!
La Vanilla deodorant is all-natural and works for us girls who want to bring the noise but not the funk, or suffer the consequences of harsh chemicals.
Pretty Peaushun’s Skin Tight has caught me with a love jones, because you can match this all-natural blinged-out body lotion to your skin tone!
Trepadora’s Coconut Almond Smoothing Conditioner is a vegan cult brand from London that sells out before it hits the shelves. Catch it if you can!
Kaori Kiss Natural lip balms are a vegan line developed in 2015 by then-11-year-old beauty adventurer Kaori Adams, a pretty-smart girl who has grown up to be a big beauty entrepreneur! (I’m sure her mom is proud, too!)