Starting My Own Personal “Clean Beauty on a Budget” Odyssey, Beginning With Sunscreen

I swear to God, I was going to wait until 2018 to start “cleaning and greening” my beauty and personal care products. After all, it’s the holidays and work is picking up, and so is everything else…and the last thing I want to put on my plate is another “challenge” or “project.” Life has enough of them, right?

Still, I’ve recently been reading about and educating myself about the use of chemicals in personal care products — an industry that is basically unregulated in the U.S. when it comes to ingredients and transparency. (It’s not under the purview of the FDA, for example.) And while I’m not a super-rigorous environmentalist type, I do like to make whatever small changes I can towards a more sustainable world.

Since having a kid, too, I really would like not to put any more endocrine disruptors in his system as much as possible. So I’ve been learning about why phthlates are so bad, learning to put up yellow flags when I see certain ingredients on a label, and just educating myself in a manageable way.

I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t even say I’m super well-educated on the matter, but I’m aware of what matters to me, and that’s enough for a start. (I don’t have any remaining brain space for any more knowledge on this, to be honest — wait till my kid goes to school to school me further on this, please!)

Despite my changing mindset, I haven’t really embarked on a mindful, wholesale “throw out the toxic crap” project yet. Mostly because I’m a user-upper — it’s so Midwestern not to waste anything — and well, my money is going elsewhere for the time being. (And yes, going green is a little more expensive — sometimes a lot more, sadly.)

Then I somehow realized I got 35,000 “points” through Walgreens’ rewards program that I needed to use up. So cleaning up and detoxing my beauty routine became possible, at least when it comes to taking a small step, with what’s available at drugstores, which I realize isn’t often truly “green.” But I’m also a proponent of beginning somewhere. I’m also a true believer that green products should be more widely available and made at lower price points as much as possible, to be accessible to all kinds of budget levels.

So I had some resources to start my green beauty journey. The next question is: where to start?

According to many experts, the best place to begin — and first place to invest your hard-earned money — is sunscreen. First of all, chemical sunscreens are truly scary if you read scientific studies about them. (Chemical sunscreens are ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone, along with others.) The second, less scary, reason is that a good alternative — physical sunscreens like zinc oxide — are more readily and easily available than, say, a truly great green mascara.

The thing, though, is that those physical sunscreens — that basically form a nice layer to block out UV rays — often don’t have the nice “slip” and blendability that chemical sunscreens do. So I knew it would be a bit of a trial and error to get a product that worked somewhat nicely.

Plus, you’re ideally also looking for a “non-nano” sunscreen so that these physical sunscreens don’t sink into the body, though “non-nano” is a term that isn’t regulated in the beauty industry. (It basically means that it won’t break down and slip into your bloodstream or system — the particles aren’t teeny or “nano” enough.)

There were so many factors to weigh, so I made a decision that the most important thing for me was really to eliminate those “-benzones” and those problematic “salates”. I wanted a product that rated a “1-2” on the EWG scale. And if I could do it through Walgreens, I would. I did want something that blended decently, since I am darker and olive-toned in terms of skin. And bonus points if it was moisturizing, mostly because my current sunscreen is actually a Cerave day moisturizer, which I do like a lot — but it has those dreaded “-benzones” in it.

I did a bunch of research and spent time at EWG, and came up with Babo Botanicals, which gets recommended as a company in many places ranging from EWG to even Goop. I also saw California Baby ranked well, and knew I could pick that up at Target.

But then I came across Goddess Garden Organics at Walgreens. I looked up their “Facial Sunscreen Lotion in SPF 30” at EWG’s site — and yay, their products hit the desired “1” range. And basically I could get it super-cheap using up my crazy stash of points at Walgreens! So if it sucked, well, no harm lost, really.

But here’s the thing: this sunscreen is actually pretty great! (And this post is SO NOT SPONSORED by anyone: I actually bought this sucker myself.)

Okay, maybe my expectations are a little on the lower side, because I am so used to sunscreens feeling like invisible paste and making me look like a ghostly extra in a black and white Akira Kurosawa costume drama. But it goes on very light and it’s easy to apply, though it does get “spacky” as it dries and feels less blendable. (Tip: blend fast!)

It does take a bit of blending to reduce “sunscreen pallor,” but what I do now after putting on the sunscreen is spray some rosewater and glycerin mist on my face, and then pat (not rub!) a tiny bit of facial oil in. (I use Botanics facial oil, which I’ve been using for a few years now and love.) The addition of the oil seems to give it enough slip to blend a little better.

But I’m finding that I actually don’t need the last bit of oil now, though, because the Goddess Garden is very moisturizing on its own and the mist is enough to blend it in. (With pats, not rubs!) It’s full of great ingredients like aloe vera, coconut oil, immortelle oil, safflower oil and so much more — and there are no phthalates, parabens or sulfates! Yay! I’ve also worn it to the gym and it feels pretty sweat-resistant.

I’ve worn it for a few weeks now (and through a menstrual cycle and all its hormonal ups and downs!) and I’ve not had any breakouts or reactions, which is a godsend for my super-sensitive skin. The negative reviews I’ve read seemed to come from the acne-prone, who said this made them break out — and some formulations from Goddess Garden do contain lavender oil, which makes it smell great but which I also know can trigger sensitive skin, too. But for me, so far, so good. It’s replaced my day moisturizer (especially when I rub a bit of facial oil in) but I’m curious to see how it fares in the summer, when everything is just a bit greasier, oilier and ugh-er in general.

Anyway, I feel really happy to have come across a product that works well for me right out of the gate. The nice thing is that the price point is manageable for a trial — you can get a 1-ounce tube at the website for about $4 and see if it’s right for you without a grand outlay of cash. I am a person who, once they find something they like well enough, sticks with it forever, so I’ll be getting this in the summer for my child, too, since Goddess Garden Organics does a kids line. (And I don’t think my toddler cares if he has a ghostly pallor or not.)

With a nice green sunscreen in hand, I’m onto my next destination in this “clean beauty odyssey.” Where next? Lipstick? Cleanser? Hair care? Who knows! (Though hopefully I can find it at Walgreens…I still have 20,000 points to use!)

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