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A Cruelty Free Make Over
by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 19, 2004
Alternative cosmetics have recently pegged a finger on the pulse of beauty culture. Take Urban Decay, for instance; the trend-setting cosmetics company famous for color names inspired by the sordid realities of urbania (Roach, Smog, Rust, Oil Slick and Acid Rain) has flouted the puke-perfect priss of conventional makeup lines for years. Then there's Real Cosmetics, the pioneering company launched by Lubna Khalid that addresses the absence of products catering to ethnic skin. But as much as funky tones and (finally!) hues that flatter non-white skin have turned the traditional market on its head, healthy alternatives to mass-produced products are still few and far between.
Gaia Tree in Hayes Valley operates on a simple premise: offering consumers a viable substitute for products containing harsh ingredients. Gaia Tree carries a range of high quality products- oils, medicines, skin care items- that utilize blends of premium ingredients. All products are eco-friendly and you'll never find harsh chemicals, artificial colors, or artificial fragrances in Gaia Tree's offerings. The store itself is an epicurean setting: part day spa and part beauty vendor, Gaia Tree's most popular services are facials and massages. Treatments include their $145, 75-minute Sundari Herbal Aromatherapy Bliss, a mixture of ayurvedic herbs, deep cleansing, chamomile eye treatment, and an essential oil massage for the face, décolleté, neck, and hands. Gaia Tree also carries exquisite body care sundries, ranging from the San Francisco-based Zia line to stainless steel tongue cleaners.
Aside from offering makeup application sessions to anyone so inclined (with mineral face makeup, which contains natural sunblocks and no preservatives), Gaia Tree offers an extensive array of cosmetics, including the Lola and Longcils Boncza lines. The Longcils Boncza eyelash conditioner ($24) is a transparent gel enriched with an effective tri-vitamin complex that aids eyelashes in growing. One caveat with the available cosmetics is that some aren't all-natural and require preservatives to prevent bacterial contamination- so be prepared to check your labels and ask questions about ingredients.
While Gaia Tree primarily focuses on perfect skin as the most essential cosmetic enhancement, Berkeley's Elephant Pharmacy, like any other drug store, is equipped with affordable aesthetic accoutrements- from lipstick to mascara- sans the synthetic gunk factor. Elephant Pharmacy, one of the East Bay's fixtures in alternative retail, is a supplier of everything from pragmatic Walgreens-type products to alternative health, beauty, and lifestyle commodities from around the world. Elephant Pharmacy offers over 100 free events and classes per month that are led by local practitioners. Every Sunday in May, licensed aesthetician Jennifer Tanner offers a free seminar in making spa products: teaching participants how to craft their own moisturizers, lip balms, and more. Moreover, complimentary makeup consultations and applications happen every Sunday from 12-6 pm.
While their other perks include holistic approaches to stress and education around reiki and qi gong, Elephant Pharmacy is also attuned to customers' more humdrum needs, such as foundation that won't cake. Almost all of Elephant Pharmacy's cosmetics are vegan. One thing to note about natural products is that there's a difference between a cruelty-free label and a vegan label. Vegan products adhere to cruelty-free standards, but they also don't contain animal ingredients or byproducts.
San Francisco based Hemp Organics offers lip products made from organic hemp seed oil. Their Hemp Shine ($5.99) is a moisture stick with hemp oil and aloe vera. Eco Bella also offers its nourishing Lip Smoother ($12.99) with a hint of color, in shades of Spice, Sugarplum, Rhubarb, and Clover, and its inimitably smooth mascara, blended together with flower waxes of lavender, sage, chamomile, and sunflower. For covering blemishes, Dr. Hauschka's holistic decoratives include jojoba cover sticks and translucent face makeup; all their products are plant-derived. Aside from regular cosmetics, men and women spend billions of dollars per year on hair dye; the Aubrey line uses botanical extracts like chamomile, blue and black malva, and henna to subtly affect color and add depth and richness to hair.
The opportunity to make conscious lifestyle choices isn't always readily available to us, no matter how many Whole Foods and herbal/organic vendors abound in the area. But if you know what you're looking for, you can color your hair without damage, paint your face without unnecessary abrasion, and pamper yourself without hurting the environment. As the market for all-natural everyday items opens up to something as commonly trivial as cosmetics, it's heartening to think this could be a trend that won't stop at the occasional pore-clogging remedy. After all, who really believes that beauty is only skin deep?
by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 19, 2004