Beauty product review: the buzz on Burt’s Bees

Since the time I first saw them for sale in my college bookstore, I’ve admired Burt’s Bees products. Not because the products are better than others (they’re not), but because they have a “homey” feel that just makes me smile when I see them.

Burt’s buzz

Burt’s Bees follows in the footsteps of numerous companies by telling us a “natural, eco-friendly” story. As they say on their website

“Our ingredients and packaging choices reflect our careful consideration of the impact our activities will have on our environment and the overall health and well-being of all living things on Earth.”

But unlike a lot of these natural companies, Burt’s Bees does a pretty good job of “walking the walk”. A quick review of their formulas show that these things really are different. They don’t just tell you that they are natural then sprinkle in a few natural sounding ingredients in their regular formulas. No, they really try to give the consumer something different. Look at this Herbal shampoo for example.

The ingredients are

Vegetable Glycerin, Lemon Fruit Water, Sucrose Cocoate (Sugar and Coconut Cleanser), Decyl Polyglucose (Sugar and Corn Cleanser), Willowbark Extract, Organic Peppermint Leaf Extract, Willow Leaf Extract, Organic Burdock Root Extract, Organic Nettles Leaf Extract, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Cedar Leaf Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Lemon Oil, Rosemary Oil, Juniper Oil, Peppermint Oil, Xanthan Gum, Glucose & Glucose Oxidase & Lactoperoxidase (Sugar and Natural Enzyymes)

We’ll excuse them for not strictly following the labeling conventions in this country (vegetable glycerin, lemon fruit water and the word “organic” are not supposed to be used).

Natural formula

This formula is really unique. No sulfate detergents or other standard substitutes. Sucrose Cocate and Decyl Polyglucose are detergents but they aren’t very good. No conventional preservatives or fragrances. The oils listed will have an odor and some of them have a natural preservative effect. And having glycerin as the first ingredient means there must be a lot of it in there.

Interestingly, they claim it is only 90.1% natural. I wonder what the other 9.9% is because all of those ingredients look natural. Probably the detergents and maybe even the glycerin.

Not having tried the product comments on the performance are dubious however, based on the ingredients, this formula will certainly not perform like standard shampoos. It will not give lots of foam or clean as well (that’s why they tell you to use it twice) and it may spoil overtime. Formulas with no good preservatives are a bit scary. For safety reasons, you should throw away any of these products if they are more than 6 months old.

While this formula is different than standard ones, that doesn’t mean it is worse. Standard shampoo formulas probably clean too well anyway and foaming is overrated. Manufacturers make shampoos that give lots of foam but it is only done because consumers think more foam = better. This isn’t true since you can make a terrible shampoo that foams great.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

All the other Burt’s Bees formulas have a similar theme. They definitely make formulas that are unconventional using non-standard ingredients. In most cases, they are not going to perform as well as the more “high tech” products you can buy in your local drugstore, but they might just be good enough. And if the idea of “natural” products is more appealing to you than “the best functioning” products, then try them for yourself and you decide.