Choose natural foundation
Choose a foundation made from plants, not petroleum: opt for organic, natural, and cruelty-free foundations. Many traditional foundations—and not just powder formulas—also contain harmful talc that must be mined, as well as parabens, formaldehyde, titanium dioxide, and other dangerous chemicals.
How to choose a natural foundation
- Avoid petrochemicals and other synthetic chemicals: Many of those caustic chemicals you're coating your complexion with aren't good for you or the environment. Top chemicals to avoid include:
- Petrochemical byproducts used in foundations, which include mineral oil and propylene glycol, are produced by refining oil. The production and use of petroleum products pollutes the air, water, and soil. Oil drilling and exploration may disturb 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.
- 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.
- Titanium dioxide is 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 dioxide shouldn't be inhaled, and can cause lung damage in high concentrations.
- Talc is a naturally occurring mineral (magnesium silicate) that usually contains small amounts of boric acid, zinc oxide, or other powders as a coloring agent. Talc mining and processing generates talc dust and noise pollution, and 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. 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). 
- 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 foundation 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 foundation 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.
- Opt for minimal or eco-friendly packaging: The manufacturing energy saved by opting for a glass bottle instead of plastic-packaged foundation could power the light in your makeup mirror for over seven hours. And, if 1 out of every 20 women opted for a glass bottle rather than a plastic container the next time she bought foundation, it would save enough energy to fill up a 20-gallon gas talk once a week for 24 years.
Find it! Natural foundation
Silken Earth may look like mineral makeup—but it’s better! These natural colors are made with sustainable and agricultural ingredients. Feather-light, translucent base powders go on flawlessly for beautiful, breathable coverage and all-day wear. Leaping Bunny certified.
A talc-free finishing powder with flower wax-coated pigments. Provides light to medium coverage in a flawless finish. Packaged in a recyclable paper compact with a mirror and puff—an earth-friendly alternative to plastic. Four shades: pale to medium. Contains mica, zinc and iron oxides.
This water-based foundation glides on incredibly smoothly and absorbs within seconds. Contains titanium and iron oxides. No petroleum, synthetic fragrances, parabens, or formaldehyde. Leaping Bunny certified.
Fair and medium-toned complexions glow with this all-natural foundation. Organic aloe and almond oil are the essences in this perfectly soft blending formula along with anti-aging sun protection from natural minerals. BDIH certified. Packaged in #1 PET. Vegan.
The perfect base for a beautiful face. Creates a flawless finish and natural radiance with clay pigments and a powdery liquid texture. No parabens, phthalates, petroleum or mineral based oils, synthetic fragrances, colors, or preservatives. BDIH certified.
Get the performance and coverage of a foundation with the blendability and natural finish of a loose powder. Natural kabuki brush included. Formulated with corn starch to mattify the skin. No synthetic preservatives, colors, or fragrances. Free from parabens and GMOs. ECOCERT certified.
Like no other foundation you have ever tried! Incredibly light, this base covers while letting your own skin shine through. It feels and looks like you don't have foundation on at all. Great for normal to oily skin. No petroleum, artificial fragrances, parabens, or formaldehyde. Good value.
Cover and balance your complexion with silky, matte textures, while caring for your skin with certified organic jojoba and chamomile extract. Available in three 1 fluid ounce shades. Contains titanium dioxide. No petroleum, synthetic fragrances, parabens, or formaldehyde. BDIH certified.
Soft, natural, effective, this lotion-based liquid mineral foundation helps conceal facial imperfections while moisturizing and protecting your skin. Contains certified organic ingredients, colored by mineral pigments. Free from parabens, synthetic colors, mineral oils, and animal products. GMO-free. 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 foundation helps you go green because…
- It avoids the use of harmful petrochemicals, such as mineral oil and propylene glycol which pollute the air, water, and soil.
- It doesn't require the energy-intensive mining of talc, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
While your face may look like a cover girl when you use one top-selling foundation, you might want the company to come clean about the health and environmental effects of its ingredients. A top "hypoallergenic" foundation fares even worse in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database, earning EWG's lowest (10) rating for its ingredients: in this case a clear complexion may not mean a clear conscience. Common ingredients in these and most other foundations include petroleum by-products (mineral oil, propylene glycol, and polyethylene), mined minerals (talc and titanium), parabens (plasticisers that act as hormone disruptors), and antimicrobial agents that release formaldehyde (quaternium-15 and imidazolidinyl urea).
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.