Choose natural eyeliner
Choose formulas free from petrochemicals—such as acrylates, coal tar colorants, and propylene glycol (PEG)—that are byproducts of oil refining; unhealthy preservatives (such as parabens and formaldehyde); harmful talc; and toxic titanium dioxide. Eco-friendly options include multi-purpose mineral makeup or a wood-encased eyeliner pencil.
What to look for when choosing natural eyeliner
- Choose eye pencils to reduce plastic packaging waste: Eyeliner pencils encased in wood are better for the environment than liquids or pencils packaged in plastic. Wood is biodegradable, while plastic has a landfill life span of more than 500 years. In fact, if one out of every 20 women who wear eyeliner made the switch from plastic-encased to wood-encased eyeliner, it would reduce the need for almost 10,000 pounds of plastic.
- Avoid petroleum byproducts: Eyeliners commonly contain acrylates, coal tar colorants, and propylene glycol, all of which are byproducts of oil refining. The production and use of petroleum products pollutes the air, water, and soil. Oil drilling and exploration disturbs land and ocean habitats. Producing oil at refineries releases pollutants into the air, while faulty oil storage tanks leak oil into the soil. Even washing petroleum-based makeup off your face sends petrochemicals down the drain and into waterways, where they can harm humans, animals, and marine life. Coal tar colorants, specifically, are a thick liquid waste product—the same substance that that's elsewhere classified as hazardous waste, and the subject of Superfund cleanups. Acrylates are strong irritants and can cause allergic reactions, nasal lesions if inhaled, or dermal irritation if applied to the skin.
- Opt for plant-based ingredients in place of phthalates: Unfortunately, phthalates don't have to be called out on the label: any product that lists "fragrance" in its ingredients can contain phthalates. To avoid them, choose products with fragrances made from plants and essential oils, and those that spell out what's in their fragrance. Avoid cosmetics listing 'Diethyl phthalate (DEP) as an ingredient. Phthalates are used in cosmetics such as eyeliner to make it smooth. A 2002 test of 72 name-brand beauty products found almost three-quarters contained phthalates. Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption; neurotoxicity and neurodevelopmental disorders; toxicity of the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs; and birth defects in the male reproductive system. Research shows a probable link between phthalates and asthma, as well as allergies. Phthalates are just one of the chemicals that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found polluting the San Francisco Bay. Check out EWG's phthalates cheat sheet for more info.
- Keep an eye out for talc in the ingredient list: Talc is a naturally occurring mineral (magnesium silicate), the mining and processing of which generates talc dust and noise pollution. Talc mining is an energy-intensive process that burns a lot petroleum, releasing greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Talc is a lung irritant with a chemical composition much like asbestos, a known carcinogen. Prolonged inhalation can be damaging to the lungs. A 2002 study of workers at a talc mining and milling facility also found that workers had higher than expected death rates due primarily to lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory disease (NMRD).
- Avoid titanium dioxide: Titanium is a pigment used in many cosmetics, including eyeliner. It's extracted from open mines—some in Georgia and Florida—and processed using chlorine, which releases large amounts of carcinogenic dioxins into the atmosphere and persists in the environment. Dioxins can accumulate in animals and people and have been found in shellfish in St. Louis Bay, Mississippi, close to a titanium dioxide refinery. Titanium can cause lung damage in high concentrations.
- Steer clear of health-endangering preservatives, such as parabens and formaldehyde: Parabens, including methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben, can affect the endocrine system, which produces hormones. Acting like estrogen in the body, they increase the risk of breast cancer, with recent studies finding parabens in breast tumors. Skin exposure is more of a risk than parabens in food, since the digestive system breaks them down. Parabens have been found in breast milk, blood, and body tissues, and can enter a developing fetus. Parabens can also cause contact dermatitis (skin rashes). Formaldehyde, which is listed on the label as quaternium-15 or imidazolidinyl urea, was at one time banned by the FDA for use in cosmetics and is a known carcinogen. Imidazolidinyl urea is linked to contact dermatitis, mutagenic effects, cell toxicity, and skin toxicity. Quaternium-15, which contains and/or releases formaldehyde, is also used in cosmetics and is linked to allergic reactions, skin sensitization, reproductive effects, and birth defects.
- Go organic: Cosmetics can claim to be organic and still contain 30 percent or more synthetic ingredients. With 70 percent organic content, the label can say "made with organic ingredients"; with less than 70 percent organic ingredients, "organic" can't be used on the packaging except in the ingredients list to call out specific organic ingredients. To be sure that your eyeliner is truly organic, look for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Seal on the label. This seal certifies that the mascara contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
- Look for eyeliner that does not employ animal testing: While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
Find it! Natural eyeliner
Enhance the natural beauty of your eyes with this smooth, jojoba-based formula that won't drag or pull delicate skin. Comes in 5 great colors: Jet Set, Belgian Chocolate, Brown Sugar, Smoking Gun, and Blue Jeans. Easy to apply for a long-wearing look. Paraben free.
PowderColors™ is a blend of pure mineral pigments and oxidized mica, with no fillers or preservatives. These versatile, beautiful loose powders can be used as eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, even mixed with Clear WaterColors Nail Enamel to create custom nail colors.
Lavera Eyeliner provides easy, soft, and brilliant application. Pure organic beeswax and palm oil give smooth texture and consistent results. Natural, all-mineral based shades highlight and accentuate your eyes. Contains carmine (made from cochineal beetles) and titanium dioxide. BDIH certified.
This natural eyeliner is made with a sugar-based biopolymer, not synthetic plastics. Colored with earth pigments. Stays on all day, won’t smear or smudge. Remove with soap and water. The wand has a rubber tip offering precise control. Good value. Paraben-free. No nanos. Vegan.
Before you buy
While seeking certifications to verify a product's green claims, beware labels claiming that a mascara is "natural". Natural has no current legal definition, but on May 1, 2008, the Natural Products Association (NPA) announced a new certification program that defines "natural" and includes an easily-identified seal. The certification requires that a product contain at least 95 percent all natural ingredients. While not yet applicable to cosmetics like foundation, keep an eye out for an expanded range of certification in the future.
Also be wary of products labeled as hypoallergenic. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states, "There are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term 'hypoallergenic.' The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean." On the upside, products designated as hypoallergenic may have common irritants removed, and are often fragrance free.
Opting for natural eyeliner helps you go green because…
- It avoids the use of harmful petrochemicals, such as acrylates and coal tar dyes, which pollute the air, water, and soil.
- It doesn't require the energy-intensive mining of talc, titanium, and other minerals which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Propylene glycol gets highly mixed reviews when used in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and personal care products. Eco-friendly Tom's of Maine removed propylene glycol from its deodorants and replaced it with a vegetable glycerin in 1993, in an effort to replace petrochemicals. After customer complaints that the deodorant stick was “soft and mushy” and feedback that the vegetable glycerin seemed to actually increase the growth of odor-causing bacteria, Tom's recalled the glycerin-based deodorant and went back to using propylene glycol in its formula. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for propylene glycol states that in concentrated form it can cause temporary reddening, stinging, or swelling of the eyes or skin, but Tom's points out that MSDS sheets apply to material storage and handling of large amounts of the ingredient in its pure form; this doesn't mean that a product containing the ingredient will have these irritating properties.
Mineral make-up's recent surge in the marketplace has created its own green controversies. Since use of the term "mineral make-up" is not regulated, some may be all minerals and others may contain synthetics. While top-selling Bare Escentuals contains only pure minerals, not all mineral makeups do. Minerals also require mining. The Mineral Information Institute claims that to "maintain the American standard of living" each person in the US uses over 48,000 pounds of minerals each year. Mining disturbs the land and pollutes our air and water: it accounts for 8 percent—6 million tons per year—of the world's sulphur dioxide emissions and 4 to 7 percent of the world's energy use. 
- Rogers, Elizabeth and Kostigen, Thomas M. (2007) The green book: the everyday guide to saving the planet one simple step at a time. New York: Three Rivers Press: 101
- Ashton, Karen and Green, Elizabeth Salter (2008) The Toxic Consumer: Living Healthy in a Hazardous World. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: 40-81
- US Food and Drug Administration - Hypoallergenic Cosmetics
- Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource management (ACR+) - Mining Facts