Product review: Essence LE Floral Grunge blush “Be Flowerful”

Hey everyone! Sorry I’ve been so AWOL from the blogosphere for the past week. I just haven’t had a lot of drive to sit down and write lately. But I wanted to finally post this review of the Essence blush that I picked up as part of my birthday makeup haul.

The product: Essence LE Floral Grunge blush “Be Flowerful”; $3 at drugstores

The claim: Silky soft blush for a fresh and stylish look.

Ingredients/ingredient notes: Talc, mica, magnesium stearate, polyester-3, caprylic/capric triglyceride, ethylhexyl palmitate, bisdiglyceryl polyacyladipate-1, caprylyl glycol, hexylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, yellow 5, yellow 7, orange 5, red 21, red 28, titanium dioxide. There are mild toxin concerns for talc, mica, phenoxyenthanol and titanium dioxide as well as the colorants used in this product, according to the Skin Deep database. Essence does not test their products on animals and this product contains no animal-sourced ingredients, so it is vegan-friendly.

I tried it: The packaging is a very simple, slim, clear case with a hinged lid. Nothing fancy, but I like that it’s sleek enough to fit in a small pocket on a cosmetics bag and yet has a large enough pan to allow you to easily sweep up the product.

Surprisingly, this is fairly pigmented blush. It’s buildable and you can create a very bright look if you want, but if you use a light hand you can also get a sheer, pretty wash of coral color for daytime wear. This is a bit more of a coral pink on skin than it appears in the package, and it is bright–but it does have a satiny finish, so you won’t look like a disco flamingo, I promise. 

I feel like the wear time on this blush is fairly decent, provided you’re layering it properly over a primer and foundation. On my bare skin it fades more quickly as I have combo/oily skin. For extra wear time you could use it over a matching creme blush like this Flower Win Some Rouge Some blush that I reviewed earlier this year.

My final thoughts: For $3 you really can’t go wrong, but this is one product that would be a bargain at twice the price! I personally prefer peachy/coral blushers to standard pinks as I find they’re much more flattering for my skin tone, so I’m thrilled to finally find a powder formula that combines a good formula with a wallet-friendly price.

What’s in my…toothpaste? Product comparison (Tea Tree Therapy vs. Tom’s of Maine)

Today I have a slightly different post for you. At last week’s #greenchat with +Ana Green (follow her blog here or find her on Twitter), the topic was greenwashing. Loosely defined, greenwashing means that a product or company portrays themselves as very natural and “green” while in fact the products contain plenty of synthetic ingredients, harsh chemicals, etc.

It’s an interesting topic and one that I’ve tried to learn more about, since there are no regulations on how a company uses the terms “natural” or “organic” and the burden is really on the consumer to know what they’re buying. This means understanding the ingredients list on the product. I would be the first to admit that I’m still learning what all of those strange terms on my products really mean, and the #greenchat sent me off on a quest to unravel some of the more puzzling labels in my bathroom cabinet.

I was thinking of doing a little review on these two tubes of “natural” toothpaste we’ve been using anyway, and I thought I might as well compare the ingredients in the two at the same time (since a toothpaste review alone seems like a weird feature for a beauty blog!). If you’d like to see more posts like this one, let me know, and I will do some ingredient comparisons for shampoo, body wash, etc.

Here are the two toothpastes: Tea Tree Therapy Toothpaste with Baking Soda and Tom’s of Maine Whole Care with Fluoride. Tea Tree Therapy is an independent company; Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, which is not green and tests their products on animals. This might not seem like a big deal but if you’re trying to be very, very green, you’ll probably want to stay away from products owned by non-green giant corporations. Both of these products are vegan-friendly and claim to be “natural”, and they both retail for about $5, so let’s see how they compare. If an ingredient scores higher than a zero in the Skin Deep database for possible toxicity/allergens/other, I’ve listed the number (on a scale of one to ten).

Tea Tree Therapy lists the following ingredients for their toothpaste. This product contains no fluoride or artificial sweeteners:

  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • sorbitol — thickener/preservative that can actually have a laxative effect
  • water
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • sodium lauroyl sarcosinate (3) — a foaming, synthetic surfactant
  • flavor
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • titanium dioxide (1-3, depending on usage) — a nanoparticle used as a white pigment
  • melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil (1) — has antiseptic properties but can be an allergen/irritant
  • carum petroselinum (parsley) seed oil — freshens breath
  • helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil — natural cleanser

Tom’s of Maine lists the following ingredients:

  • sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.13% w/v fluoride ion) — fluoride was once used as an insecticide and still has poison warnings on it for over consumption. There is also debate over whether it really helps keep teeth clean and healthy.
  • glycerin — can “coat” teeth and prevent them from re-mineralizing, which can weaken them and cause issues with sensitivity and cavities
  • water
  • calcium carbonate — mineral compound that serves as an abrasive cleansing agent
  • hydrated silica (1) — an whitener that can damage tooth enamel
  • xylitol — a “natural” sweetener that has been widely touted as helping to prevent cavities, but do you know how it’s typically sourced? From GMO corn. Surprised? So was I! It can be derived from birch bark, but it’s much cheaper to get it from GMO corn (of course), so if you don’t see a “non-GMO” label on the package it may be something you want to avoid. If you’d like more info, The Healthy Home Economist has an interesting blog post here talking about why xylitol is not quite as sweet as it seems.
  • carrageenan (2) — a thickener; can be inflammatory
  • spearmint leaf oil and other natural flavors
  • sodium lauryl sulfate (1-2 depending on use) — a foaming agent that can be corrosive and irritating
  • sodium bicarbonate —  can potentially be too abrasive for tooth enamel
  • zinc citrate (3) — anti-plaque agent

It’s really interesting to see the difference between these two products. At first glance they both seem really similar, and the Tea Tree toothpaste isn’t 100% free of ingredients that could possibly cause an issue. (However, I don’t think any product is 100% free of such ingredients.) However, the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, which looks very natural, has fluoride, glycerin, xylitol, and a sulfate–not quite as “green” as it looks! That one kind of surprised me.

As far as performance, I don’t see much of a difference between the two. My teeth seem no whiter nor my breath fresher using the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. The Tea Tree Therapy does have a very strong taste but overall I would say it makes my mouth feel fresher. However, I did read that the presence of glycerin in toothpaste is what causes your teeth to feel gummy and I think that my teeth definitely feel less gummy and icky throughout the day with the Tea Tree toothpaste, as opposed to using a conventional paste. So that was kind of an interesting find!

My natural journey is obviously far from over, and I’m learning as I go, but I have to say that it’s really eye-opening to look up the individual ingredients and see what they are, where they come from, and what they do. (Time-consuming, yes, but so worth it!) I don’t know if I’ll buy the Tea Tree Therapy paste again but I probably won’t repurchase the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, now that I know ore about the fluoride and glycerin.

Any natural toothpaste recommendations for me? Have you ever bought a “natural” product and then found a really strange ingredient in it that just didn’t fit?

Product review: Giovanni Street Chic Premium Lip Balm SPF 35

I probably should have done this sooner, but since summer is here I thought it would be a good time to review some of the SPF products I have around the house. Today I’m reviewing a lip balm I picked up some time ago. I’ve heard that this is now discontinued but I’m not sure if that’s true.

I decided this week that I’m going to change the way I write up my review info. I’m becoming more interested in including ingredient information and notes on vegan formulas and possible toxicity issues, so I’m going to start including notes on the ingredient lists when possible.

Product: Giovanni Street Chic Premium Lip Balm SPF 35 in Tropical Punch, $3 through health food stores

Claim: Soothes chapped lips and protects from sunburn.

Ingredients: Octinoxate 7.5%, octisalate 5%, oxybenzone 4%, avobenzone 1% (sunscreens); *sunflower oil, *beeswax, *jojoba oil, *cocoa butter, tocopherol, *aloe vera, *mango oil, *pineapple oil (*organic).

Ingredient notes: Vegetarian formula (contains beeswax). Leaping Bunny certified. Octinoxate has been rated a 6 by Skin Deep and Oxybenzone has been rated an 8 for toxicity, because they sink into the skin, as opposed to a physical barrier sunscreen like zinc oxide. Skin Deep rates products and ingredients on a scale of 1-10 for toxicity and other concerns; learn more about the Environmental Working Group and Skin Deep here.

I tried it: This is a standard waxy balm with very little scent or flavor. I was expecting the Tropical Punch flavor to be, I don’t know, punchier somehow. On the one hand, I was disappointed, but on the other at least it’s a good neutral balm for use alone or under lipstick.

I like the high SPF, though I don’t love the ingredients (see above). I feel like this balm doesn’t last as long as I might like; it’s better than the Burt’s Bees stinker I tried this winter (sorry, Burt’s!) but I do feel like I have to reapply every hour or so. I guess with SPF you should be reapply anyway, right?

This formula did leave my lips soft and smooth and I like that it’s lanolin free. I don’t mind the inclusion of beeswax, but that does mean that the formula is not vegan, for those of you who are interested.

My final thoughts: This was just an okay balm. Not bad, not good, just okay. I would not repurchase.

Product review: Alba Botanica Natural Hawaiian 3-in-1 Clean Towelettes Deep Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme

After I fell in love with my Giovanni towelettes (review here), I thought nothing else could ever compare. Once my local Target stopped stocking them, however, I had to find a replacement while I waited to order more towelettes from the Giovanni website, so I picked up these cloths from Alba Botanica. I’ve had good luck with other Alba Botanica products in the past and I remembered seeing these recommended in a beauty magazine some time back, so I thought they were at least worth a shot!

The product: Alba Botanica Natural Hawaiian 3-in-1 Clean Towelettes Deep Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme; $5.99/30 count at drugstores.

The claim: First, gentle cleansers remove makeup. Second, pore-refining pineapple and papaya enzymes break through oil and dull surface cells for a pore-deep clean. Finally, aloe and awapuhi tone and balance to refresh without tightness. pH Balanced. 100% Vegetarian. No: Animal Testing, Artificial Colors, Parabens, Phthalates, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Myreth Sulfate. Leaping Bunny certified.

I tried it: Same standard deal as any facial towelette: open up the resealable package, use the sturdy and well-moistened cloth to clean your face, reseal the package and be done with it. Except that in the case of these wipes, I did not feel like they’re a one-step wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am deal. They promise to be a “makeup remover + cleanser + toner”, but they left my face and hands feeling tacky and not thoroughly cleansed. I had to wash my hands after using them, and as for my face? Well…

I’ve recently become a convert to the school of using witch hazel as a natural toner post-cleansing, and let me tell you, it makes such a difference in the way my skin looks and feels. It’s also a great test to see if your “cleanser” is really cleansing. In the case of these wipes, when I used them to wipe away a long day’s worth of foundation, grime, etc., it took not one but two cotton balls soaked in witch hazel to finish the job and leave my face feeling truly clean. I’m sorry, but that is not my definition of a “cleanser”, nor am I pleased that I have to add another step to what is supposedly a one-step cleansing routine.

I want to point out one more thing as a comparison to the Giovanni wipes. If you look up the ingredients for both of these products (just search for them at, the Giovanni wipes have a much more natural ingredients list. The Alba Botanica wipes also contain both limonene and linalool; limonene has been rated a 6 out of 10 on Skin Deep’s hazard chart and both of these ingredients are listed as known allergens, with linalool apparently serving as a trigger ingredient for eczema.

I am not 100% hippie natural (well, not yet anyway) and I am okay with some products being a little less “natural” if they’re just for my use, but I’m trying to rid the house of skincare products with these ingredients because my husband will from time to time pick them up to use them, and I feel like it’s just better to avoid these allergens where possible. And obviously, if you have allergies, it’s a bummer to realize that a product that looks and sounds so green and pure has something in in that can be so harmful.

My verdict: I love Alba Botanica and I’d love to love these towelettes, but quite frankly they do not even come close to cutting it for me. They just don’t leave my face feeling clean! I will definitely not repurchase.

Product review: Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Lip Balm

I normally prefer vegan lip balms, but when I was out, chapped and desperate, I picked up this Burt’s Bees balm, figuring it was at least better than buying something laden down with nasty chemicals.

The product: Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Lip Balm, $4 at drugstores

The claim: 100% natural lip balm to hydrate and soothe. Free of petrochemicals and Leaping Bunny certified.

I tried it: Right off the bat, I have to say that I love just about anything citrus scented and I loved the fragrance of this product. I also love anything pink, natch. From there, it’s kind of downhill. For starters, I didn’t feel like this product was terribly moisturizing. I have very dry lips to begin with but I don’t think I should have to constantly reapply a lip balm in order to stay moisturized.

I’m also not thrilled with the ingredients list. Yes, it’s mostly natural, but two ingredients stand out to me: limonene, which is an allergen and toxin (listed 6 out of 10 on Skin Deep’s hazardous chart), and lanolin, which is derived from sheep fat. Honestly I just think that’s kind of gross, and I don’t want it in my beauty products, especially when there are so many vegan lip balms out there that work so much better!

(Edited: it was pointed out to me that I misphrased the bit about lanolin. While it’s referred to as “sheep fat”, it’s the sheep’s sebum, which collects in their wool and is collected after shearing. So, not a fat from a dead animal–but for vegans who wish to avoid the wool industry, which tends not to treat animals very well, it’s still a no-go. (And even if the animals are not harmed, I would still personally rather avoid having an animal’s secretions on my lips. Yuck.) Sorry if that bit caused any confusion!)

I have mixed feelings about Burt’s. On the one hand, it’s great that they’re giving consumers without ready access to natural and vegetarian beauty products a mass-market alternative. On the other hand, I feel like they’re not as “green” or as “kind” as they might be marketed, and it also bugs me that most people don’t realize they’re owned by Clorox, which is decidedly not green or animal-friendly. On a totally personal and opinionated note, I also feel like their products are a poor cross-section of the green/vegetarian beauty community, since many of them are a little more expensive and not quite as effective as other brands out there (Nature’s Gate, Giovanni, etc.)–so consumers might use them and say “meh, I don’t know what’s so great about this stuff!” before returning to their other brands. I hope that doesn’t offend any Burt’s Bees lovers out there–if the products work for you, great! They’re just not my first pick.

My verdict: I was good enough to get me through until I could go to the health food store for a different lip balm, but I would not recommend or repurchase this product.