Burt's Bees

Burt's Bees At-A-Glance

Strengths: Budget-priced (it's always a letdown when you pay too much for lackluster to ineffective products); good lip gloss; complete ingredient lists for every product are available on the company's Web site; one of the few lines that actually adheres to its all-natural marketing (though the results aren't always best for skin).

Weaknesses: Pervasive use of irritating ingredients, all of which have documentation proving their problematic nature for skin (and lips); average to poor sunscreens; no effective anti-blemish products; poor selection of cleansers; antioxidants sullied by reliance on jar packaging.

Almost all the skin-care lines in the world prefer to identify themselves as originating from companies established to create elegant, scientific formulations conceived with an in-depth understanding of the skin’s functions and needs. We say almost, because Burt's Bees makes no such claim. Quite the contrary; this line is about as unglamorous and as unscientific as it gets (the picture of Burt on the label made me think we were buying fishing gear, and press materials for the brand mention he used to live in a turkey coop). Talk about being an iconoclast!

This is how the company's founder Roxanne Quimby describes its history on its Web site: "I guess you could say it all started because there weren't many jobs up there north of Bangor. Though we found, grew, or traded for most of what we needed, I figure a person's got to have at least 3000 dollars a year in actual greenbacks to survive in this old world, especially if you've got kids. I'd been let go from my last three part-time waitressing jobs and had been buying low and selling high at yard sales and flea markets, which brought in about $150 a week during good weather. How we got started making lip balm and ended up in North Carolina is another story, and a long one at that, so I’ll save it for some other time." This is a skin-care line?

Aside from its humble, amorphous beginning, Burt's Bees is about natural, earth-friendly skin-care products, as well as overly fragranced products. Its philosophy in this respect is sincere: "To us, the word 'natural' means only one thing. It means, 'harvested from nature.' And we adhere to that definition like the strictest of school teachers."

For those seeking a line of skin-care products with truly natural ingredients, this is one of the few that steadfastly adheres to its commitment: there is no hypocrisy here. If the ingredient lists are accurate, and there is no reason to assume otherwise, then you will not find preservatives or synthetically derived ingredients of any kind. Just from the all-natural point of view, there will definitely be people who will be excited about these products, but I'm not one of them. Many of the plant extracts and oils used in these products, including orange oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil, lemon oil, eucalyptus oil, pine tar, alcohol, lime oil, and balsam peru, are problematic for skin and present a significant risk of irritation or a sensitizing reaction. Both the intriguing philosophy and inexpensive products are attractive, but it takes more than that to establish reliable products that are good for skin.

We know that most people are attracted by fragrance, and in this regard these products excel. They are also notable for the lack of preservatives, which can be beneficial for those who can’t tolerate preservatives. (That lack may be an issue for product stability, although we did not have these products tested for contamination.) But for any other skin-care need, we suggest you use your wisdom and recognize that while Mother Nature is assuredly wise about the Earth, She does not have everything the skin needs. In fact, Mother Nature offers up many problematic things for skin, including the sun and poison ivy.

For more information about Burt's Bees, call 1-800-849-7112 or visit www.burtsbees.com.

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