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Natural beauty

Stella McCartney isn't the first designer to roll out a signature cosmetics line. But in a nod to her vegetarian upbringing, the daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney opted to create a luxury skin-care brand free of animal-derived ingredients and animal testing . CARE has no genetically modified ingredients, endangered plant species, or chemical preservatives.

With last month's launch, the British designer is the latest to ride the wave of ecology-conscious beauty products.

"I have so much respect for Stella McCartney," says Helena Cohen , owner of Arden Spa in Wellesley. "She really gets it. She really does her home work." When Cohen reopened her spa in 2005, she brought in Organic Elements , a luxury Italian line for which she says she is the exclusive US retailer .

"I saw this organic thing coming. Everyone's using glycolics and retinols, and skin is so stressed now," she says. "With pharmaceuticals, it's fast-fast fast, and the body rejects it." Organic Elements uses ingredients from its own organic farm in Parma and does not test its products on animals. "It's about respect for our skin and for the treatment of every living creature," Cohen says.

Cohen says her s ales of the products, which include an entire de-stressing line ($42 to $69), are robust. "People love it. You pat this on; it goes right in and . . . your skin wants it.

"People are realizing that if you absorb nicotine and birth control formulas via skin patches, then petrochemicals and toxic elements are also entering the body," she continues. "That's why, just like switching to organically produced food, they also want cosmetics made with organics."

More and more, cosmetics companies are switching to organically produced plant derivatives. Aveda, which pioneered botanical-based, non-animal-tested cosmetics, is one such company. Laura Sullivan, general manager of Pyara Spa and Salon ( ) in Harvard Square, says the comp any's goal is for 100 percent organic ingredients, but the level is currently around 75 percent, because hair and make up lines need more chemical s to work effectively.

Some of Aveda's organic products include the rose attar Pure-Fume Absolute , Outer Peace acne relief products (with citrus, rose geranium, and tea tree oils, and organically derived salicylic acid), and the Earth Month soy candle (organically produced with Bulgarian lavender). Proceeds from candle sales are slated to go to the Global Greengrants Fund to create clean drinking water worldwide.

Sullivan says she is often struck by the fact that people will spend $125 on a natural salon treatment, and then opt to use cheaper chemical-based cosmetics at home .

As more companies like CARE offer alternatives, she adds, people will realize there are better options for themselves and their environment. "The devastation we've had environmentally in the past few years has opened people's eyes. Hopefully they'll now make better decisions. Small changes make a big difference."