Vintage image of woman applying face powder

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While most of us won't plant a forest of trees or rescue an indigenous species this Earth Day, the surprising truth is that we can impart a greater impact by banding together to make a few simple changes in the way we groom.

In fact, experts say that coloring parts of your beauty routine "green" is not only good for the environment, but can be tremendously beneficial to your health -- and sometimes even your wallet, too.

After all, it's the personal product industry where many of today's most controversial chemicals and ingredients lurk. Even in this day of eco-consciousness, it's still common to come across ostentatious packaging that is big on flash, plastic and wrap, and yet fully lacking in both environmental and fiscal sense.

At the launch of The Body Shop's Three-Minute Shower Challenge at Columbia University, head exec Shelley Simmons tells StyleList that what we throw out should actually be the least of our worries.

"When you wash off most products, they go down the drain and never break down. They continue to exist in the water system. At the end of the day, no product is environmentally friendly because everything has an impact on the environment. But what you can do is use products that minimize that effect," says Simmons, director of brand communications and values at The Body Shop.

Actress and eco-activist of 17 years, Amy Smart, also adds that chemicals that don't break down pose potentially hazardous risks to your health.

"Beauty products are laden in chemicals like sulfates and parabens. Our bodies aren't equipped to dispel of those types of chemicals, so they can literally stay lodged inside of us. Over time, I'm worried about that breaking down our immune systems and causing disease," Smart told StyleList at press event.

To that end, The Body Shop is launching its first completely biodegradable Shower Gels for Earth Lovers line, which comes packaged in 100 percent recycled plastic bottles filled natural ingredients that fully disintegrate. We find that scents like Apricot & Basil, Cucumber & Mint and Fig & Rosemary smell so distinctly authentic and delicious, it was all we could do to keep from taking a swig.

Fortunately, there are plenty more rewarding ways you can "green" your routine.

Lop three minutes off your shower time. By cutting just those three minutes, you can save a whopping 50 gallons of water -- a change you'll be happy to see reflected on your monthly water bill. Time-saving strategies could include cleansing with a moisturizing shower gel so that you need not apply a separate shaving cream, and skipping a shampoo when possible, which also benefits the health of your hair.

If you want to indulge, take a bath. That's right, we just recommended you take a bath -- which is often the target of environmentalists as a wasteful luxury. But that's not always the case. "I feel like most of us linger in the shower because we're singing and daydreaming. If you want to enjoy a relaxing experience, soak in a nice bath. You'll save much more water than if you were standing in the shower for ages, like you're hypnotized," says Smart.

Discover the beauty of oils. Foaming cleansers, soaps and moisturizers can be packed with both controversial and irritating synthetics, but model and brand founder Josie Maran tells StyleList that essential oils are a nourishing alternative. "Using oil to cleanse and hydrate is an ancient tradition, and is more commonly accepted in other cultures today. I love it because it's 100 percent natural, it's rich with nutrients like fatty acids and vitamin E, and the oils balance out your skin, so it doesn't produce too much or too little oil. Oils also clean deeper than detergents, but it doesn't strip the skin," says Maran, who is known for her line's brand of argan oil. Other brands that specialize in the use of essential oils include Dr. Hauschka, Weleda, DHC, Darphin and Jurlique.

Choose an eco-friendly toothbrush. Dentists advise changing your toothbrush every three to four months, which could mean continually tossing plastic into the trash. "Today there are tons of eco-friendly toothbrushes made of sustainable materials like wood and flax, as well as toothbrushes made from 100 percent recycled plastic that work just as effectively," says Dr. Jeff Golub-Evans of the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. And if your momma didn't already teach you -- your old toothbrushes make the ideal scrubbing tools for places like the microwave, stove top and even dirty shoes.

Go fluoride free. If you aren't cavity prone, try a toothpaste that doesn't contain fluoride, which today raises concerns as a potentially hazardous chemical. "Toothpaste containing baking soda or bamboo is a great alternative," says Dr. Golub-Evans.

Turn off the tap. Did you know that turning the the tap off while cleansing your face and brushing your teeth can save gallons of water per day? You're also less inclined to rush through the full cleansing breakdown of makeup or the requisite two minute tooth brushing if the water isn't running.

Opt for biodegradable products. When a product is biodegradable, it means that it can be fully broken down, leaving no residue or chemicals in its wake. Brands that go to the trouble of using fully biodegradable ingredients will make note of it on the label. "Using biodegradable products gives you the peace of mind of knowing that you're not putting something down the drain that's going to be harmful to fish or other people coming in contact with the water," says Simmons.

Skip the silicone. Countless beauty products use silicone to impart smoothness on skin, shine in hair and silkiness in makeup. However, silicones are difficult to break down, and thus, are known to build-up, and some experts question the safety of such a daily onslaught of personal care products that employ the ingredient. To spot silicones in an ingredient list, look for words that end in "ithicone" and "icate." More and more brands are using substitutes like proteins, naturally-derived conditioners and emollients to achieve the same result without the man-made material. For a list of some of beauty's newest silicone-free products, check out our feature.

Make pretty with plants. From intensely moisturizing shea butter that comes from the nuts of the Karite tree to the cocoa bean's legendary salve that is known to stave off stretch marks and wrinkles, nature contains some of the most nutrient-dense treats for the face and body. And when it comes to soothing burned or sensitive skin, there's nothing quite like cracking open the leaf of an aloe plant to reveal the cooling gel-like bounty within. You can buy a potted aloe plant in a greenhouse, plant nursery or home improvement store like Home Depot or Walmart.

Support brands that use fair trade practices. When a product is "fair trade," it means the brand pays local artisans a living wage to produce ingredients, which translates to a community in an often distant and impoverished part of the world thriving as a result of your purchase. Companies that utilize fair trade methods are also more likely to farm and produce their products in ecologically sustainable ways. Global Exchange offers a selection of hand-crafted items that are fully fair trade sourced; brands like Kiehl's, PeaceKeeper Cause-Metics and Sibu Beauty are other standout examples.

Check out this roundup of 85 eco-friendly beauty buys!