Classic Cosmetics: Kinder to Your Skin, Your Wallet and the Earth

IMAGE SOURCE Spa / Beauty ROB LEWINE - Oatmeal mask
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Makeup can be dangerous.

Looking at the rows of toners and powders, lipsticks and rouges packing the corner drug store, cosmetics seem innocent enough. But under the bright colors and attractive packaging, the sex appeal and huge advertising budgets, dangers lurk -- industrial solvents and carcinogens, deadly metals and petroleum distillates. And even beyond the health dangers, there are environmental worries -- concerns about where these ingredients come from and what their extraction does to the Earth.

On the other hand, it wasn't always this way. Sure, the ancient Romans sometimes mixed lead with their cosmetics, and 19th century Americans occasionally killed whales to get the raw ingredients for their perfumes. But, on the whole, cosmetics and skincare have gotten a lot less friendly over the past few decades.

Luckily, many of the classic cosmetics and skincare products your grandmother used are still going strong today. Here are nine of our favorite brands that are gentle on your wallet and will leave your skin and hair feeling great.

Classic Cosmetics: Kinder to Your Skin, Your Wallet and the Earth
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Classic Cosmetics: Kinder to Your Skin, Your Wallet and the Earth
Technically, this isn't a cosmetic, but when it comes to a low-cost, environmentally friendly method for reducing hair tangles and improving your skin, it's hard to beat a satin pillowcase. The friction from cotton pillows can make hair fragile, and the dry fabric can leach moisture from skin. Satin pillowcases, on the other hand, are hypoallergenic, easier on your skin and hair, and start at less than $10.
In terms of all-around skin care, it's hard to beat witch hazel. For centuries, native Americans used the leaves and bark of the North American witch hazel shrub to treat a variety of skin disorders. Today, a distilled version of the plant extract is available in almost every drugstore, and it makes a great skin conditioner, aftershave, sunburn remedy, bug bite soother, bruise reducer and diaper-rash treatment. One warning, though: Many companies mix their witch hazel with up to 14 percent alcohol, which can dry out skin. Ideally, you want to go with Humphrey's, Thayer's or another alcohol-free brand.
Another great skin toner. More gentle than witch hazel, it soothes skin and reduces inflammation. It also makes a great base for numerous other traditional skincare concoctions. In our office, we tried this one, which combines one part witch hazel, two parts gycerine and two parts rosewater. It smelled great and left our hands hydrated. On the downside, it took a while to sink in. Cotton gloves?

Cold cream has probably been around for almost 2,000 years. The earliest known recipe was written down by Galen, an ancient Greek physician. Cold cream recipes are practically a history of beauty ingredients: The original used beeswax and olive oil, but by the 1700s, chemists were using spermaceti from whales. Today, Pond's cold cream uses artificial ingredients like mineral oil and triethanolamine. Luckily, some companies, like Weleda, offer healthier blends.  But whatever its ingredients, cold cream has dozens of uses, including removing makeup, soothing sunburns, and softening rough skin.

A mix of petroleum jelly, cottonseed oil, and essential oils, rosebud salve is lightly scented, easy on the Earth, and not too expensive. Best of all, it's another multi-use product: It is good on skin, moisturizes lips, softens cuticles, removes eye makeup, and can even be used to smooth out frizzy hair.
Officially, bag balm is designed for use on cows, but most of the 113-year-old company's ointment goes to humans, who use it for everything from quieting squeaky bedsprings to hydrating cracked skin. With a hearty dose of lanolin, the concoction isn't the sweetest-smelling thing in the world -- in fact, it brings to mind a wet sheepdog -- but it does an amazing job at rehydrating your skin and protecting it against water damage.
Unless your grandmother was Greek or Italian, chances are that she didn't use pure olive oil soap. Then again, the soap that she did use probably only had four or five ingredients, and the main ingredient was most likely a basic animal or vegetable fat. Greek olive oil soap follows this route: My favorite, Papoutsanis, is made with just olive oil, water, salt, and vitamin C. It leaves me feeling clean without feeling dried out, and costs less than $2 a bar.
Cosmetic brands seem to change from season to season, but Coty Airspun Powder has been around since 1935. It's not hard to see why: It only has a handful of ingredients, all of which have been widely tested and none of which is toxic. It does a great job of reducing shine on your skin and, perhaps best of all, is inexpensive: 2.3 ounces of the stuff costs just over $5.
Anybody who's ever used an Aveeno product already has an idea of the soothing, anti-inflammatory properties of oatmeal. It's great for treating most skin rashes, and also helps with acne and dry skin. You can either mix it with water to make a face mask or can steep it in water and use the oatmeal-infused liquid.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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