Strengths: Almost none for the skin-care products, save for a couple of average eye-makeup removers; makeup fares better, with several great options, including liquid concealer, powder foundation, loose and pressed powders, liquid blush, bronzing options, brow enhancer, and automatic lip and eye pencils; very good makeup brushes composed of synthetic hair.
Weaknesses: Almost every skin-care product contains potent irritating ingredients that have no established benefit for skin; no products to address needs of those with acne or skin discolorations; no AHA or BHA products; although sunscreens provide the right UVA-protecting ingredients, they also contain irritating ingredients, some of which are phototoxic; the foundations contain irritating ingredients, as do most of the lip color products; average specialty products.
Started in 1990, Origins was Estee Lauder's contribution to the (still going strong) demand for natural products. Their approach and claims all hinge on the wonder of plants and the allegedly miraculous properties they offer for skin, whether it be dry, sensitive, oily, or simply showing the effects of time. Here's the issue: Just as there are good and bad synthetic ingredients, there are good and bad natural ones. Ironically, Origins isn't all that "natural" because it uses its share of synthetic ingredients, and the plant extracts they do use include some that are bad for skin.
We have never been opposed to using natural ingredients. However, it lacks integrity when a company throws in any plant ingredient with no proven benefit for skin beyond anecdotal information, and then boasts about all sorts of improbable results. It becomes a far more serious issue when the natural ingredients in question have published research showing that they are in fact irritating or damaging to skin. That's the predicament of reviewing Origins' skin care products: almost every product they sell contains several volatile oils (another term for essential oils), all of which have their share of negative qualities when used on skin. In their attempt to appear more natural, Origins uses quite a bit of these offending ingredients, and they're often listed before the much more beneficial additives, such as antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical ingredients.
You might be wondering why, if Origins has had such continued success, their products can be such a problem for skin? Can't women just use what they like? The answer is two-fold: yes women can use what they like, but often women like what isn't good for them. For example, smoking is bad for skin (and for your lungs), but lots of people smoke; getting a tan from the sun is bad for your skin, but lots of people spend time outdoors getting a tan; and using products that contain irritating ingredients is bad for your skin, and lots of products come to the table with these inconsistencies.
As we have explained in the introduction to the book, there is a litany of problems that take place when skin is irritated or inflamed, but fundamentally this results in the skin's immune system becoming impaired, collagenase (the breakdown of collagen) occurs, and the skin is stripped of its outer protective barrier. What is perhaps most shocking is that all of these damaging responses can be taking place underneath the skin and you won't even notice it on the surface. The clearest example of this is the significant and carcinogenic effect of the sun's "silent" UVA rays. You don't feel the penetration of these mutagenic rays, but they are taking a toll on your skin nonetheless (Sources: Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2006, pages 30–38; International Journal of Toxicology, May-June 2006, pages 183–193;Skin Research and Technology; November 2001, pages 227–237; Dermatologic Therapy, January 2004, pages 16–25; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, May 2004, pages 327–337; Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, November 2003, pages 663–669; Drugs, 2003 volume 63, issue 15, pages 1579–1596; Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, March 2002, pages 138–146; Cosmetics & Toiletries, November 2003, page 63; Global Cosmetics, February 2000, pages 46–49; and Contact Dermatitis, February 1995, pages 83–87).
Most of the Lauder companies really have their acts together when it comes to formulating state-of-the-art moisturizers, serums, and sunscreens that leave out the problematic plant extracts (and that represents a lot of products given the almost two dozen cosmetics companies under the Lauder corporate banner). Origins is the exception, and we encourage my readers who prefer to shop for skin care at the department store to explore the truly far better options from Clinique, Estee Lauder, Prescriptives, M.A.C., Bobbi Brown, or even La Mer. Even salon-styled Aveda, also owned by Lauder, with a natural theme similar to Origins, has less problematic formulas.
For more information about Origins, owned by Estee Lauder, call (800) 674-4467 or visit www.origins.com.
Compared to the makeup offered by almost all of the other Estee Lauder–owned lines, Origins falls short by virtue of including ingredients that align with its marketing image of offering natural ingredients that have the blessing of Mother Nature regardless of the risks they pose for skin. As omnipotent as Mom may be, this force of nature is a disaster waiting to happen. A secondary reason Origins isn't competing as well with its sister companies is that for many products (particularly the lipsticks, blush, and cleverly named but non-essential specialty products) the technology isn't as advanced. That lack of technological creativity combined with significant amounts of hostile essential oils will help you understand why we recommend exploring similar, but superior (and irritant-free), options from any of the other Lauder companies from Clinique to M.A.C.
If you're prone to being swayed by the promises of natural products (though Origins is not any more natural than many other lines, it just uses the most problematic plant extracts possible), there are a few outstanding gems to unearth here, and at prices that aren't unrealistic. Additionally, Origins' latest tester units, especially in their freestanding stores, are accessible and user-friendly. They include pull-out counters for added space and feature large mirrors. Combine this with a low-key yet helpful sales staff and knowing what to zero in on and you'll find shopping the best of Origins is a pleasure.