Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pink Stink

OK, before I embark on this rant I have a disclaimer to make about something I haven’t discussed much yet: perfume.  Perfume and fragrance are absolutely terrible for us. When you see fragrance listed as an ingredient, no matter how clean the rest of the ingredients are, you should probably put that product back on the shelf and run. Because of trade secret laws, fragrance can literally contain hundreds of different chemicals. Because there are effectively no laws protecting consumers against harmful chemicals in personal care products, these chemicals can be anything. Phthalates are huge in fragrance, and that’s just one category of known carcinogens. AND, there can be dozens of phthalates in dozens of combinations causing who-knows-what chemical reactions….it’s a mess. Perfume itself? Oh, man. An undiluted chem-fest.

So now here’s the disclaimer: I wear perfume. I know, I know! Hypocrite, right? Right. But I don’t wear it very often, and I don’t put it on my skin, I put it on my clothes. I know, that only mitigates how much exposure my skin receives, not my lungs. And, I am automatically exposing other people to these chemicals when I wear it. Stop lecturing me, I get it!  (Nag much?) But here’s the thing. I’m a girly girl. I like perfume, it makes me feel good. This life is hard enough, and I am POSITIVE that I have worse habits than the occasional spritz of perfume. (Seriously, I know this for sure.)

But October is nearly upon us like a pink pillow to the face. Some of us see those ribbons and just groan. (Last night we got pizza and it came in a pink box. Really, Hungry Howie’s? Do you not have a calendar?) That damn ribbon has become not just a symbol, but a logo. A logo for all things marketing based, but worse than that, it’s disguised as charity. Literally billions of dollars in profit are made from products just because a pink ribbon is on the packaging or the product, and a fraction of proceeds raised goes to breast cancer-type organizations. Some orgs are really worthwhile and do a lot of good (like the Pink Daisy Project, see my link!) and some, well…..aren’t.

My concern here is the companies who slap a pink ribbon on a personal care product and then market the living hell out of it to women, knowing full well that these products contain harmful chemicals. It’s called “pinkwashing.” It’s the practice of marketing products under the banner of breast cancer awareness (and/or fundraising) while engaging in practices that promote cancer. Some of these companies are the “leaders” in women’s issues, or at least they claim to be. And I am not denying that they donate a lot of money to breast cancer organizations. (I do have an issue with some of those organizations, but that’s another topic.)  I wonder at what cost.

Companies like Avon, Revlon, and Estee Lauder claim that they are dedicated to “breast cancer awareness” which is a term with no real meaning outside of marketing.  Think about it. What does “breast cancer awareness” mean? Everyone is aware it exists, and that the pink ribbon is its symbol. Most people know that it strikes one woman in eight, and most people know someone who has had breast cancer. That’s it. That’s the extent of the awareness. People aren’t really aware of the real facts of breast cancer, and it’s not Avon’s or Estee’s goal to really educate them. It’s their goal to sell products, and the pink ribbon does that really well. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, except I have a problem when deceptive measures are used, and I think the pink ribbon tends to indicate that deceptive measures are being used. (I think of it more as a red flag than a pink ribbon. But that’s just me.) The whole concept is called “cause marketing.” I think that the main thing to remember is that while there is a cause, the primary goal is marketing. When we buy pink, we think we’re doing something charitable, but we’re primarily doing something profitable. We need to always remember that.

Before I go any further, let me take a minute to thank all of the consumers who are trying to do something good by participating in these marketing campaigns. I get that consumers have good intentions, and if the companies’ intentions were as good, then I would have no problem with cause marketing. But the contract is one-sided. If you look at the fine print, the for-profits are making out pretty damn well. The nonprofits are doing just fine, too, because remember that they have financial goals too. You know who doesn’t seem to be faring so well in this whole campaign? The fight against breast cancer. We are no closer to a cure than we were ten years ago, or even better screening, or treatment options for most breast cancers, especially metastatic breast cancer. What we do have is a lot of hype and misinformation; a lot of false beliefs and a lot of denial. We like to think we have hope, but that really depends on one’s perspective.

There are a lot of products with which I take issue, but today I mainly want to discuss a perfume. As I said before, perfume is packed with chemicals that do bad things to our bodies, including causing cancer, screwing with our endocrine and reproductive systems, and respiratory systems, among other things. It practically assaults the whole female setup. Now get this:

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has commissioned a perfume. I swear, I am not making this up. It’s called “Promise Me” and the proceeds will go to the Komen Foundation. (Don’t even get me started on that. Seriously.)

Really, Komen? Really? Do you know how many breast cancer patients are going to get a bottle of Promise Me this October? Because we get it all. Somebody eventually finds every pink ribbon item and buys it for us, no matter how ridiculous or inappropriate. (Pink ribbon bras. Seriously. I’ve seen it.) Not to mention the fact that smell is particularly sensitive for women in chemo. This product takes insensitivity to a brand-new low. (The first person to buy me a bottle of Promise Me is going to drink it. I Promise You.) But mostly, I am so disappointed in the lack of responsibility. Are we willing to sell anything in order to make a dollar? (Um…duh. YES.) It’s sad and infuriating that we are selling carcinogens to fight cancer. There should have been someone, in some meeting, who raised their hands and said “Uh…this may not be such a good idea. Let’s slow down for a minute here and think this through.”

"But Cassie," you say, "what's your problem? You wear perfume. Why can't they market a perfume with a ribbon on it? If it makes money that goes toward ending breast cancer, isn't it a fair price to pay? It's not meth, here. We're talking about perfume!" And that's a reasonable point. However, here's my problem: It's pinkwashing. Simple as that. I wear perfume knowing the risks, and that the risks are mine to take and manage. Komen claims to be an advocate for women's health, and this product goes against women's health. I represent only myself. My goals are personal goals. When I wear perfume, I don't give the impression that I'm trying to change the world. When someone purchases a bottle of Promise Me, they are doing so under the impression that they are having a positive effect in the fight against breast cancer. They aren't. In fact, many of the ingredients in the pretty bottle of pink perfume are known carcinogens. And that's deceptive. And that's my problem.
Not all products (personal or otherwise) with the ribbon are bad. Cause marketing is not all bad; there is, after all, usually a cause involved. But read the fine print. Often, a company will pledge a flat amount to one of the breast cancer orgs whether they sell any of their pink ribbon stuff or not. It’s a gamble for them, but not really much of one. The pink ribbon sells, so if they pump product into the market with a ribbon, it’s going to sell. But frankly, that means your purchase really doesn’t make a difference. You know what does make a difference? A donation. Find an organization you support (breast cancer or otherwise) and donate the money instead. If you want to do it to support an individual person, donate in their name and send them a card. (I would rather get a notice of donation than a pink-ribbon snuggie any day of the week.) That way you know that 100% of your donation goes directly to the organization you support. And if you're worried about personally putting an end to the pink ribbon madness, and thereby being the cause of the collapse of the pink empire, please don't. Not that many people read my blog.
Some interesting reading:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I've already seen three myths on the internet. And I’ve only been up for an hour! One was petty small mindedness, but the other two were actually dangerous.

The first is that Matt Lauer said that “most” blogs are inaccurate, denigrating, and belittling. I find this offensive, not so much because I’m a blogger, but because he’s in a position to spread this crap. And really. How does he know? Has he read ALL blogs? Can he really determine that MOST of them are inaccurate? No. (No, Matt Lauer, you haven’t. I know because your name is not among my followers, so I know you’re not reading mine.) How many people are going to parrot what he said, assuming it’s true? Thousands? (Sixteen or so?)

I personally feel that generally, bloggers are the new bastion of freedom fighters. They are the unpaid journalists who are researching the truth, sifting through the myths, lies, and campaigns, and reporting what they find. I'm talking about the ones that are not owned by any major news source, and while they may have an agenda, at least it’s probably an honest agenda. If there’s an agenda, it’s probably borne out of passion. (Except for the blogs I read, which are usually nail-polish related. These may not actually qualify as “freedom fighters,” strictly speaking….)

The second wasn’t so much mythinformation, but an article about mythinformation. It was about a South Carolina man who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, uninsured, and who did not qualify for Medicaid. (Story here:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44065422/ns/health-mens_health/ ) There’s an alternative care plan for women with breast and cervical cancer, but he doesn’t qualify because he’s a man. So, yeah. He’s screwed because he’s a man and he got a disease that he wasn’t supposed to get because his penis was supposed to provide him some magical protection, apparently.Even he said that he didn't know he could get breast cancer.

I call shenanigans. Loudly. It's completely insane that with all of the pinkness and "awareness" surrounding breast cancer, we are so dreadfully uninformed about breast cancer. Think of how obnoxiously pink October is, and then swallow the fact that this man might die (or go bankrupt) because he had the balls (pun intended) to get breast cancer as a man! Not only is he uninsured while in chemo, but he won’t be covered in case he wants the BRCA testing, which I would bet he needs. (His penile safety shield failed to protect him from developing breast cancer, so I’m guessing it won’t help to prevent him from passing on the gene(s) in the event he has the mutation.) It’s ridiculous. And here’s the thing that really pisses me off: breast cancer isn’t that uncommon in men! The last time I checked the statistic on that, it was about one in 25 men get breast cancer. (I blame lavender and other hormone disruptors in personal care products. Or perhaps they’re huffing nail polish. *snort*)

The third piece of ridiculousness I read this morning was on one of my nail polish (-yes! Leave me alone already! Everyone has their addictions…) sites. Someone asked about whether a particular nail polish really causes birth defects. (Which: its risk probably depends on exposure. It contains chemicals which are known to cause cancer and birth defects, but is probably a much greater risk if she were, say, a nail tech using this product all day every day.) She got some good information (shout to Anna @ loodieloodieloodie.com!) and some bad information, but the most distressing thing to me was that someone told her that if it caused birth defects, the FDA would pull it. I nearly freaking choked.

You see? People actually believe that the FDA is out there standing between us and harm from beauty products. And why shouldn’t they? Is it so unreasonable that they think this? It’s not as if beauty products are packaged with an FDA disclaimer. It’s not like the beauty industry or the FDA have campaigned for people to know the truth here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it’s the government’s job to step into the ugly world of the beauty industry. Is it? Because that will take resources, and that translates into tax dollars. Is that what we want? In a world where people don’t have insurance to see them through whatever medical treatment they need, do I want for tax dollars to be spent brokering peace between us and the beauty industry? I don’t know. I think I’d rather have the money spent on people's wellbeing. On the other hand, there are PLENTY of stupid ways our government spends money. How about eliminating some of that dumbassery, (hello wall between us and Mexico… hello IRS audits for the poor… hello to the HUNDREDS of orange construction barrels on the roads where NOBODY IS WORKING!!! And hello to a million other expenditures that I can’t think of, but most certainly exist to waste our money,) and using the money to protect people? Yes, I think it is important for us to know the risks with the products we use, but in a real-world application kind of way. Should that woman be afraid of applying a particular nail polish once in a while? I don't think so. But she should be aware that there is a risk associated with a certain chemical at whatever her exposure rate is, both because she should know that there is a risk, and that a low exposure is probably safe for her. My point is that she should be informed, and should be able to decide if she wants to take the chance on that product. Ideally, the beauty industry would see the benefits of eliminating harmful chemicals from their products, but in a capitalist society, that’s an unreasonable expectation. I would love it if that were the kind of world we live in, but it’s not. Lead and cadmium are in lipsticks, hormone disruptors are in baby shampoos, and the labels all have a little green leaf on them to show us how safe and gentle they are. So, yeah, maybe it’s time for the government to step in.
If you go to the safe cosmetics website you probably already know this, but there is a bill before Congress now  called the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011. Here are some of the highlights about it (taken directly from the safe cosmetics website, the link is below.)

Provisions of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 include:
  • Phase-out of ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm;
  • Creation of a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers and other vulnerable populations;
  • Elimination of labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure on product labels and company websites, including salon products and the constituent ingredients of fragrance;
  • Worker access to information about unsafe chemicals in personal care products;
  • Required data-sharing to avoid duplicative testing and encourage the development of alternatives to animal testing; and
  • Adequate funding to the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors so it has the resources it needs to provide effective oversight of the cosmetics industry.
For what you can do if you agree with this: 

What You Can Do
Ask your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor the Safe Cosmetics Act. Congress needs to know that this issue is important to constituents
Learn more about this issue and get your friends and family involved: Watch the short film, The Story of Cosmetics, and share it with people in your life.

In related news, safecosmetics.org is not going to continue the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Yes, gasp. But it goes back to the tangled web of self-regulation, and resources. They don’t have the resources to govern the signers of the compact, so they have to count on industry/self policing. And as we’ve seen, that doesn’t really work; or at least in theory it can’t work. There are too many ways to slip through the cracks. If I don’t like self-policing within the beauty industry (and I don’t,) then I can’t like it in the body that claims to protect me from the self-policing beauty industry. Fair is fair.

However, I still think that the Compact is a good tool for us to use when choosing our personal care products. Companies can still sign the Compact (which is a pledge to use safe ingredients, and to phase out scary ones,) through the end of this summer. The companies who have signed it have typically been dedicated to providing cleaner products, and tend to be on the cutting edge of the clean products movement. I think that the point of discontinuing the Compact was to cap the list before corruption became inevitable. (More info here:  http://www.ecoplum.com/greenliving/v/280-Skin-Deep-Continues-Despite-Compacts-Close )

OK. So everyone send Matt Lauer a link to your blog, and ask him to read and fact-check it:
Have questions or comments? 
E-mail TODAY at: TODAY@nbcuni.com


Friday, July 1, 2011

Thoughts and Observations of a Total Product Junkie

I’m beginning to realize that this blog is less about empirical facts related to beauty care products, and more about my own attempts to live in a more body-friendly, eco-friendly way, and to document these attempts. And the failures.

But dang, peeps, this is HARD! I am, by nature, a big ol’ product whore. What can I say? I like girly stuff. I’m a big sucker for all of it. I am exactly who they’re all marketing to. In fact, here is a true story that happened last week:  I told my daughter that I was going to Sephora, because I had received a card in the mail for something free, so I was going to pick it up. She questioned why they would be giving out something for free. (Yeah. You read that right. She questioned it. I, on the other hand….) I told her it must be from my bonus points. (Sucker.) So I go to Sephora, and just before I get to the door, I decide to read the card. Guess what? This item is free with a $25 purchase, which is not free. But that doesn’t slow me down. I need mascara anyway, so whatever. 

So, I get the mascara (they were out of my color, so I figured what the hell! I can try a new color! Lesser junkies would have held out,) and still have to spend some money (like, six bucks,) to get to $25. So what do I find? Josie Maran blush for $22. Yeah. I’m sure you’re doing the math on that. (The BEST part is that part of the “free” gift is the exact same mascara I just purchased.) So, I get to the register, make my purchase, and find that I have 446 points. I look to my left, and see that the 500 bonus point gift is….prepare yourself…a Phyto hair care set!! It included a hair masque, (that’s right! It’s French!) spray conditioner, (OMG!!) and shampoo! But alas, I did not have 500 points, I only had 446. Well, you know what I had to do.
The moral of the story is that I spent $70 on free shit at Sephora. However, it is all (well…mostly) very clean (ok, somewhat clean,) and I plan to do product reviews here. So it’s research, right? Right? It’s my responsibility. Right? I OWE it to you.

The main thing I’ve learned, especially about hair products of every type, is that the packaging and sales clerk will tell you that a particular company is super-squeaky clean, but the ingredients list is the ONLY thing you can believe.  It’s not that I think these clerks are lying, it’s that I don’t think they’ve done the research to understand that for a product to be “clean” it means more than just being free of parabens. I think the companies’ sales reps come and tell them how clean their products are and why, and the clerks believe them. (This is true of pretty much any type of product. You have to read the label, always.)

As I mentioned before, my hair is a train wreck since I’ve started this quest. Right now I’m using Phyto Inergy shampoo and Phyto Nectaress conditioner, and it’s pretty good. My hair feels clean again, and I can make some styling attempts if I’m not too damn lazy, which I am. But let’s face facts; it’s summer. I’m not working that hard at it. The good news is that it works pretty well, and it is free of SLS. The bad news is that it has parabens and fragrance. (Actually, my daughter and I both hate how it smells.) The bad ingredients are way down the line on the list of ingredients, but there are a lot of them. Having waved the white flag on “clean” hair products, I’m just reasonably happy to have clean hair again. The spray conditioner from Phyto is nice. It works well, and I like it for days when my hair has been heavy from too much conditioner and I want to skip that step. I haven’t used the rest of it yet, but I will and I’ll let you know.

As far as empirical research goes, I’ve recently come across an interesting article about nail polish, and how it has replaced lipstick as an economic indicator: 

I’m just gonna go ahead and disclaim now that I’m a complete nail polish junkie, despite the fact that it’s filthy with chemicals. I mean, think it through. All you have to do is crack open a bottle and breathe, and you have to know there’s a bunch of shit in there that’s bad for you, but I don’t care. I love the colors. (And now my friend Anna is going to correct me, or inform me, because she knows a lot more about this than I do.)
And my lovely friend Angie forwarded this article to me about how lip gloss is the most dangerous cosmetic because of the levels of heavy metals they may contain. I had known about lead in lip products, but I hadn’t known about how high the levels of cadmium can be!

I have some product reviews on some of the products that most people ask about, and I’ll make them quick. These are products that I have personally tried. Some I liked, some I loved, some I hated or was indifferent about. Again, before you buy anything, read the labels. My line in the sand keeps moving (mostly toward the more conservative end of the spectrum) and these are products I’ve tried over a long period of time. Plus, my line is different from yours. You may be more reasonable than me.

  • ·         Yes To Carrots Smoothing Daily Cleanser:  I didn’t really like it. I barely touched the bottle
  • ·         Yes To Carrots Daily Repairing Moisturizer: Didn’t like it. It’s heavy and it smells like Vaseline Intensive Care.
  • ·         Burt’s Bees facial cleanser and moisturizer: Again, heavy and smelly. The Radiance Day Lotion SPF 15 is really heavy and almost sticky. And it smells funny.
  • ·         Weleda Rose Facial Cleanser: Could not get past the strong rose smell, but it worked ok. If you are ok with the rose fragrance, it’s a good cleanser and you can get it at Target.
  • ·         Amazon Organics Daily Facial cleanser: I love this product. Face feels clean and a little bit tight.
  • ·         EvanHealy Rose Cleansing Milk: I like it, but I hate the smell. It is heavy and creamy; most of the time I don’t need a moisturizer afterward, which is a bonus, but it has a lemony-rose smell that really smells like Pledge.
  • ·         Avalon Organics Ultimate Moisture Cream: Love it. Love it. Love it. Light, but long lasting.
  • ·         EvanHealy Rosehip Treatment Facial Serum (Blue): It’s not blue, I have no idea why it says blue. I like this product, but it’s pretty oily. I haven’t used it in the summer because it’s so heavy; it’s really a winter treatment for me. Someone with very dry skin could probably really benefit from daily use.
  • ·         EvanHealy Blemish Treatment Roll-on: Love this. I’ve had it kill a zit within 24 hours.

Now here are some items that I’ve used, but aren’t asked about regularly. Still, they’re part of my routine, so here goes:

  • ·         Be Fine Exfoliating Cleanser: I like this for an exfoliator, but I don’t exfoliate often. When I do, this is a good product, but it’s pretty scratchy. I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone whose skin is easily irritated or who breaks out easily.
  • ·         Botanics Conditioning Clay Mask: Love it, but it turns my face blotchy & red for a little while afterwards. It feels really good, though. Until someone asks if I got punched.
  • ·         Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Full Strength mask:  Now, this one I love. My face feels super clean after I use it, and tight. Must use moisturizer afterwards, but it’s a great weekly treatment.
  • ·         Burt’s Bees hand lotions: Love ‘em. I even love the ones that come in the jar, for the nighttime, although they’re extremely heavy and greasy. I put them on just before I go to sleep and then put gloves on. (Obviously, this is a winter ritual, when hands are cold and dry at night.)
  • ·         Yes To Carrots Nourishing Intense Hand Repair cream: Meh. I’m using it up. I don’t love it because it’s heavy and waxy, a lighter cream does about the same job.
  • ·         Yes To Carrots lip balm: LOVE IT!!! I use it every night.
  • ·         Pangea Organics lip balm: LOVE IT!! It’s about $12, but I think it’s worth it just to have one in my purse. I love it even more than the Yes To balm. It moisturizes like silk, and revives lip color nicely.

As always, if you have any questions about products, or need recommendations, ask me and if I know anything about it I can tell you, or I can point you in the right direction. Or I can do a little research. I’m beginning to make a lot of really informed friends, and I love the topic. (Again, this is like crack to me.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ramblings, sunscreen, and other stuff...

Several of my friends who follow either this blog, or my obsessive-compulsive interest in this topic, have asked me about skin care practices, so I thought I'd share my general advice on the topic here.

First, I don't think we all necessarily need to be using a plethora of products. And I don't think we need to use a cleanser on our face every day, unless we wear makeup every day. On days when I don't wear makeup, I just use a hot, very damp washcloth to wash the day off of my face. When I do use a cleanser, I am using Amazon Organics Facial Cleanser which I love, it's very gentle, but removes eye makeup efficiently. I never use a toner, and I use either a light moisturizer (I'm using Avalon Organics Daily Moisturizer... yes, it's lavender and no, I don't love that, but it's better than synthetic fragrance,) or EvanHealy's Rosehip Serum. Although, I find that as the summer begins to finally freaking show up, I'm using that one less, as it's a heavier moisturizer. Too much of that makes me break out so I use it sparingly. For spot breakouts, I use EvanHealy's Blemish Treatment roll-on. That thing is a freaking miracle. I woke up with a big, nasty zit the other day, and used it (which really belongs to Maddie....shhhh! don't tell her!) and it was gone within 24 hours.

I've been trying to figure out the right combination of ingredients for a Vitamin C serum for myself, but haven't yet. It's still too sticky, but I'm working on it. More on that later, in a separate page.

Now, I have very cooperative skin. I don't know how much of that is genetics, how much of it is that I take care of my skin like it is my only hope, or how much is just luck. But I do think that in terms of keeping your skin healthy and happy, less is probably more. I think we do a lot of damage to our skin, without realizing it, when we use many of the widely available products, because they tend to have phthalates, harsh cleansers, fragrances, and other nastiness in them. (And don't even get me started on baby wipes! But for SURE, keep them off of your face! And your babies, in a perfect world.) So, my theory is that even if you have problem skin, if you stop using harsh cleansers and start letting your skin repair itself, it's a good start.

If you're adventurous, you could try this method:  http://www.theoilcleansingmethod.com/  I haven't tried it yet.

And if you have acne, here is a website that seems to be helpful:  http://www.acne.org/  I have NO idea what's in their products, though. But acne, especially cystic acne, is a medical condition that may not really have anything to do with my crazy theories. Same with rosacea,  ( http://www.rosacea.org/patients/faq.php ) and some discoloration. (I have some melasma on my face which drives me crazy, but I'm not willing to use lighteners with hydroquinone. If I find anything else that works, I'll let you know. I may try lemon juice or baking soda....)  SO: I am by no means trying to replace medical advice here. (Remember? Art degree?) My obsession is with products and ingredients, it has had very little crossover into biology. What little crossover there has been seems to indicate that for most people, in MY opinion, less is more.

As far as sunscreens go, I have heard that a brand called Burnout is the holy grail. It's rated very low on the risk scale by SkinDeep's database, but it's expensive. I just bought two tubes of it and it was $35. Plus, I had to get it online, and it comes only in a cream. I love the spray sunscreens, but they aren't great for the lungs, airborne particulates; not good. For my face, I'm using Bare Minerals which I don't love either because it's a powder and the airborne particulates issue. But as far as risk and effectiveness goes, it rates well, and I just make sure not to breathe in while I'm applying it to my face. Plus, it seems to be a fairly heavy powder, so it doesn't really fly around much. I'm going to Florida with my fam in a couple of weeks, I'll let you know how well the Burnout works. I've heard great things about it from fair-skinned people.

The thing you want to see in a sunscreen is Titanium Dioxide, or Zinc Oxide.However, you should check with SkinDeep's database, because a lot of sunscreens have these good ingredients, but use them in nano form, which is bad, IMHO. See this report:  http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=671  Here is safecosmetcs' 2011 guide for sunscreens:  http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/  (I haven't read this yet.)

I am finding that answering Jojo's questions about how "clean" I am in this house is an ongoing thing. For example, I have waved the white flag on hair products. Despite several weeks of trying, I have not found a product whose ingredients meet my standards and work well. Frankly, I just want decent hair back. Some of you may not know this, but once you've been bald, your hair takes on a whole new level of importance. It becomes a symbol of a lot of things: your survival, your battle, your journey back to the "new normal", etc. So, I'm going to roll the dice, but carefully. I'm using Phyto Organics shampoo and conditioner, and they don't have SLS, but they have parabens. (I know. I chose the lesser of two evils. If that makes me a sellout, so be it, but I'm a sellout with clean hair.) As far as styling products goes, they're filthy, but since they mostly sit on the hair shaft, and there's no blood supply there, I think they're probably not particularly harmful. I just wash my hands after application.

I have switched to using vinegar for spraying down countertops and other kitchen cleaning, and maybe will try to clean my bathroom with it today to see if it gets the tub clean. I'll let you know. As soon as we run out of laundry detergent, I'm trying a new laundry soap from Mrs. Meyer (I think?) that's a lot cleaner in terms of ingredients, and water pollution. Again, I'll let you know how it works. I'm also going to start using vinegar as a fabric softener. I have misgivings about it, but I've heard good things.I have noticed that since I've been using only products (as much as possible) that don't contain synthetic fragrances, I can almost smell the phthalates! When I use a product that has harsher chemicals or fragrance in it, it smells very chemical to me. Even products that I used to use a lot and never noticed the smell before.

Something else I learned about products from my friend Randall at Jane Iredale (name drop!) is that about 70% of the contents of any product is listed in the first four ingredients. The rest comprises about 30%. So, the lower down on the label you see a nasty, the lower the percentage of content. (Ingredients are always listed in the order of greatest concentration to lowest concentration.)

I've added a page (see sidebar) about companies that have excellent standards for the ingredients they use in their products, I hope it's helpful. If you know of a company I've missed, please email me and tell me a little bit about them, and I'll look them up & add them to the list!

Next time maybe I'll tackle baby wipes...


Monday, May 16, 2011

Names and other miscellany on a rainy day...

Organic, by definition, means this:

 or·gan·ic  (ôr-gnk)
1. Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.
a. Having properties associated with living organisms.
I edited the hell out of this definition, the rest of the entries had to do with fertilizers, pesticides, and food for the most part. These two statements pretty much sum it up well for my purposes.
As a descriptor, the word organic doesn't have a lot of meaning in the personal care industry, and given the definition above, when the word is accurately used, we have some decisions to make. Do we want personal care products that have been alive, or were (or are) conducive to sustaining life? Carmine beetles are organic matter that make a fabulous red, but you know... they're bugs. Some people may have a problem with putting dead-bug matter on their lips. (Not me, of course. I don't give a rat's.) Also, organic matter is a potentially fertile ground for bacterial growth. 

On the other hand, at least you know what you're getting. Phthalates are not organic matter. Petroleum is not organic. And we all know that I'm cautious about certain plant based estrogens, but I'd take tea-tree over methylparaben any day of the week.

My point here is that using the word "organic" as your yardstick puts you on a slippery slope. Even the labeling requirements for the use of the word organic are difficult to find. (Notice I'm not citing them.) There are some companies that I have a lot of respect for (such as 100% Pure) that are entirely organic; they use food-derived pigments and are made entirely without synthetic chemicals. On the other hand, other companies I respect (such as Jane Iredale) grow all of their minerals in a sterile lab, and do a LOT of testing to make sure their products remain as inorganic as possible. (Benefits of that are a shelf-life of forever, and inability for the products to sustain any kind of living organism.) 

I think it's best for each of us to become as knowledgable as we feel comfortable with, figure out what ingredients we want to eliminate, and learn which companies make products without them. There are brands all along the spectrum, so everyone can find products they feel secure with. (Or, secure enough. You know.) That's where I hope to be helpful. I hope to find out about the ingredients within products we use, and pass the information along to you in a way that is not boring or infuriating, and doesn't make you commit an act of violence.
Other words that have almost no meaning in the personal care industry are "gentle," "hypoallergenic," and "sensitive." Any descriptor that appears on the label of a product is there for marketing purposes. It's job is to sell you a product, because there are precious little actual restrictions for labeling. (Please see one of my favorite blogs: The Beauty And The Bullshit for more on marketing.) For example, yesterday I saw a product that claimed a 424% increase in volume for lashes, or some other crap like that. Really? 424%? What a bullshit flag.

Since the Beauty/Personal Care industry is not required to do any testing, any time you see a claim (whether it's a word or a number,) you should know that it's BS. Any claims are constructed by marketers, not scientists. They determine the result they need, and construct the "experiment" necessary to produce it. Then they hand select the participant subjects. So, if they're testing a lipstick... better yet, a lip plumper, they choose 26(ish)women with fabulous Angelina Jolie lips, and one or two women with thin, tiny little lips. These two are there to make the test results more believable. Then, they apply the product, and record any results. Results include any change, such as "pinker," "glossier," or "moister," or any other BS descriptor. (Even "OH MY GOD!!! IT BUUUURRRNSSSS!" is a result.) Given that two of the women hate their lips, and report no change at all, the test can now boast something to the tune of "89% of women saw instant results!" And that's how they do that. (Again, shout to Rowena at B & The BS! Love you!)

OK. So, I've been trying my tail off to find a shampoo and conditioner that is free of the more offensive ingredients, and actually works. So far, no luck. I haven't been able to find anything I don't hate. For me, I think I'm going to have to trade something off in the name of clean hair. (Standards, perhaps? Morals? Ethics? We'll see. I miss having clean hair.) Certainly not money, going back to top-notch salon brands will save me a freaking fortune! Who knew? Of course, I could go with the "no poo" method, which is simply baking soda and water, with vinegar and water for a conditioner, but it's very stripping for colored hair, so that's not really an option. There's also the "co-washing" method, but that means eliminating shampoo, and using conditioner  only. My hair is too fine and limp for that, it works best for women with curly and/or thick hair. You may as well comb me down with lard. So that's out. At the moment, I'm working my way through my obsessively-collected bottles of hotel shampoo (only the ones I liked! Whaat?) from years of travel. The situation is beginning to reach critical mass, though.

Several friends have recently asked me about skin care issues, specifically asking for product suggestions for their skin, regarding their type of skin and their skin problems. The rule of thumb is that less is more. My disclaimer is that I have skin that generally does what I ask it to. (I have two body parts that have, so far, not rebelled too drastically: my skin and my teeth. I appreciate their efforts and wish to acknowledge it here. Thank you both.) So I don't have a lot of experience with problem skin, which means that most of my knowledge is based upon what I've read, and my experience with my kids' skin. (And some of my own issues, I mean, I was a kid once.) 

My general, non-specific advice is that unless you're wearing makeup or sunscreen on your face, you don't necessarily need a cleanser every day. Personally, I do not use a product on my face every day. If I'm not wearing makeup, I just use a hot, very damp washcloth, if anything at all. (I figure my skin knows what it's doing, why get in the way?) I don't even use a moisturizer every day, but when I do, I'm currently alternating between EvanHealy's Rosehip Serum, and Avalon Organics' Daily Moisturizer. The EvanHealy serum is HIGHLY moisturizing, as it's an oil mixture, so I only put it on the parts of my face that feel tight after cleansing, and never on the parts that are prone to acne. I tend to use it after using a cleansing product, and use the Avalon Organics after just using a washcloth. 

I know what you're thinking. (You're thinking: Does she ever shut up? and the answer is NO! I never do!) You're thinking: Are you insane? Under no circumstances am I going to put oil on my face. That may be the problem, though. The philosophy behind the two-or-three step cleansing/toning/moisturizing process is that the cleanser 1: strips away the oils & residue, the toner 2: restores the skin's pH balance, and the moisturizer 3: restores moisture after the cleaning process. 

But the skin knows its job better than we do. What we're doing when we "cleanse" our skin with an often harsh cleanser is disrupting the skin's outer-most layer, called the acid mantle. The acid mantle has a purpose, which is to act as a barrier against bacteria, pollutants, and other debris. When we strip that away, we're actually removing a layer of our skin, and then we do it again the next day! This, as you may imagine, can seriously piss the skin off, leaving it irritable, and susceptible to infection. (Oh, hi there, acne. Who let you in?) Then, since we've removed the acid mantle, we have to artificially restore the pH balance with toner, so we apply a mixture of some pH level, without knowing exactly how it'll react to our own chemistry. (I have NEVER used a toner that didn't burn my skin.) THEN, we re-deposit emollients and oils in order to soothe our dry, tight, and disrupted skin. It's an expensive three step process that we've become convinced we need, when our bodies have already provided for healthy skin. (New disclaimer: I'm not talking about unhealthy skin. If you have rosacea, skin cancers, or other disorders that require medical attention, I'm probably not talking to you.) 

Another tip that I think is fabulous and makes sense is to change your pillowcases every few days to avoid excessive buildup of oil, bacteria, and sloughed off skin, and their prolonged direct contact with your face. If you follow my skin care advice, please be aware that your skin will take some time to repair itself, and in that time, it may appear to be more irritated or broken out, as it restores the acid mantle. (Give it a couple of weeks or so before you make any decisions about going back to your old routine. Remember that your old routine wasn't working, and that's why you asked me in the first place.) In any case, if you have a harsh cleanser, find a gentle one, and a gentle, simple moisturizer. You don't need to wash your face with a (metaphoric) brillo pad, that will hurt you.

OK. Until next time....

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I have mentioned before that parabens really aren’t the most toxic ingredient (or family of ingredients,) that ends up in our personal care products, or by extension, on us. (And by further extension, but more to the point: in us.) Here is the story of how parabens got their bad name. What follows are the meeting minutes from the 2005 Natural Products Expo, (I was able to acquire these by methods I shall not disclose, lest you blow my cover as an actual beauty blogger,) during which the topic of parabens came up:

Meeting called to order by Chair, 5:00 p.m.
Chair welcomes returning attendees, Board Of Beauty members
Attendance taken, 5:03 p.m.
Agenda Approved, 5:04 p.m.
Agenda Hijacked, 5:05 p.m.

Fictitious Beauty Company Member, named Bob (BOB): Hey, have you guys noticed that Avalon Organics says they aren’t using parabens anymore?

Other Fictitious Beauty Company Member, named Other Bob (OBOB) member: What?

BOB: Totally. Look at their labels, they say “Paraben-free.”

OBOB: Why? They’re already the good guys. We’ve all removed the pthalates, synthetic fragrances, petroleum products, and other worse-than-a-meat-dress crap from our stuff. Why are they crying about parabens?

BOB: They’re apparently estrogenic.


BOB: Apparently, Avalon thinks putting extra estrogen in people is bad, like it may cause cancer, or contribute to it or something.

                   *room erupts with laughter*
                   *gavel drops, Chair calls meeting back to order, 5:16 p.m.*

OBOB: Seriously though, what evidence do they have?

Meeting Chair: Seriously, though, I have an agenda to run…

BOB: Well, they’re citing rising breast cancer rates in younger women, and think maybe there’s a connection.

OBOB: Bullshit. It’s marketing. Everyone uses parabens, even us, and we’re the good guys! We all have “organic” in our names!

Meeting Chair: I give. Meeting adjourned.

Avalon CEO Gil Pritchard: Guys? I’m right here. I can hear everything you’re saying.


CEO GP: If you have anything you want to ask, then ask me. I’ll answer all your questions right here, right now. No need to act like fifth-graders here.

BOB: Are you using parabens?

CEO GP: Nope.

OBOB to BOB: Told you!

BOB to OBOB: Dick.

BOB to CEO GP: Are you exploiting this as a marketing opportunity?

CEO GP: Totally. But it’s still true. And don’t give me that wounded look. We ALL do marketing. Don’t hate the player.

OBOB: What are you using for preservatives, then? How are you keeping your products stable? How are you controlling the shelf life? Do they all have to be refrigerated?

CEO GP: I’ll tell you all everything you want to know. I have no problem sharing our data or our ideas, but I’m gonna need some brewskis, and you’re buying.

BOB: Oh…. We’re not already supposed to be drinking? *hides flask under table*

Bottom line, the “organic” movement was well underway by the time parabens catapulted to notoriety. Why did they? I’m not sure. I think it may be that since Avalon was prepared to share their philosophy and knowledge about parabens and how to replace them, many other companies jumped on the bandwagon, and the whole thing got so much momentum that many of the “traditional” companies had jump on, too. Or, maybe it’s because since consumers who were already interested in the “organic” movement started seeing “paraben-free” products all of a sudden, they started assuming that parabens must be really rancid. Maybe BOB was right, maybe it was a golden marketing egg, even if that’s not what Avalon intended. Or maybe all of these things, in some measure. But we do know that parabens tend to be the first thing on everyone’s list of ingredients to eliminate, even though phthalates, petroleum, and formaldehyde (oh my!) have a lot more documented nastiness about them.

Which is not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. Personally, when I am looking at a product’s ingredient list, I scan for any parabens first. If there’s a paraben (or worse, several parabens,) I put it back on the shelf. I don’t even have to really read the rest of the ingredients. (Sometimes I’m actually relieved, because it means I don’t have to really read for content.) I find it’s a great screening tool.

However, if a product passes the paraben test, that does not make it clean. At least we can be pretty sure what parabens are doing, and at least they have to show up on the label, as long as they’re part of the manufacturer’s formula. (Remember, fragrance is a total wild card.) Parabens are translated by the body as estrogen, and for those of us who have concern for over-estrogenation, it may be worth avoiding. (Here I will add that lavender, tea tree, and soy all do the same thing.) We also know that parabens have been found in breast tumors, and in cancerous nodes.  But we do NOT know that there’s a causative relationship there. We also know that sometimes tattoo ink can be found in these same tumors, but nobody theorizes that getting tattoos causes breast cancer. It could well be that parabens simply happen to get deposited in cancerous tissue in some people, for whatever reason. (Or not. Nobody knows for sure, that’s my point!)

I’ve mentioned before that we all have to choose where to draw our own personal line in the sand. I have come to believe that eliminating parabens is a good idea, partly because if a company has NOT eliminated parabens from your products, then for sure they don’t give crap ONE about petroleum, or worse. Like I said, they’re a good early-detection system. But ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves what is or is not tolerable in their products, and then learn how to recognize how those products are camouflaged. (Seriously, if a product/ingredient has a lot of Xs, Ys, and Zs, that tends to be a red flag, especially if there are a lot of ingredients that have lots of them. That’s not always true, but it’s a decent rule of thumb.)

The Organic Divas (http://www.organicdivas.com/index.html ) have a list called the Diva Dirty Dozen, which they believe are the 12 worst ingredients commonly used in personal care products. In their opinion, they should be avoided at all costs. Here’s the list:
1.     Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben. Linked to breast cancer.
o        Methyl Paraben: Allergies/immunotoxicity, non-reproductive organ system toxicity, irritation (skin, eyes or lungs), biochemical or cellular level changes.
o        Propyl Paraben: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies / immunotoxicity, and non-reproductive organ system toxicity.
o        Butyl Paraben: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, non-reproductive organ system toxicity, and biochemical or cellular level changes.
o        Ethyl Paraben: Allergies/immunotoxicity, non-reproductive organ system toxicity.
2.     Imidazolindyl Urea. Impurities linked to cancer.
3.     Diazolindyl Urea. Allergies/immunotoxicity. Contamination concerns.
4.     Petrolatum. Can cause highly allergic reactions. Contamination concerns.
5.     Propylene Glycol. Alters skin structure for enhanced skin absorption. A skin irritant that can cause allergic reactions. Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).*
6.     PVP/V Copolymer.
7.     Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Non-reproductive organ system toxicity, irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs). Alters skin structure which allows chemicals to penetrate more deeply into skin.
8.     Stearalkonium Chloride. Non-reproductive organ system toxicity, neurotoxicity, and irritation (skin, eyes or lungs).
9.     Synthetic colors. Developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and non-reproductive organ system toxicity. For example, synthetic colors may be listed as the following: FD&C Blue 1 Aluminum Lake or D&C Red 27 Lake.
10. Synthetic fragrances. Neurotoxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, and miscellaneous concerns.
11. Phthalates. Developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, hormone disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation, and non-reproductive organ system toxicity. Linked to reproductive birth defects in baby boys. May damage lungs, liver, kidneys.
12. Triethanolamine. May form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines in the body after absorbed - among the most potent cancer-causing agents found.
* My note: Propylene Glycol, Ethylene Glycol, Diethylene Glycol, Polyethylene Glycol, can be identified as (PG) or (PEG)
If you go to their website, you can download and print this list in the form of a little card you can laminate and carry in your wallet! (I actually have to do that again, because I keep giving my cards away…)
And though I am not a scientist, (or a real beauty blogger,) I would add to that list:
Hydroquinone. You’ll find this in skin-lightening products. It decreases production of melanin. And it’s a confirmed carcinogen, as well as being toxic to skin, brain, immune, and reproductive systems. Look for: hydroquinone, 1,4-benzene, dihydroxybenzene, hydroxyphenol
Lead & Mercury. These are no-brainers, I don’t have to tell you why you should avoid them. They can be hard to avoid, though, because they are often not labeled, as they occur as contaminants. However, sometimes Mercury is used in mascara and eye makeup, and lead acetate is sometimes used in hair dye. Here’s what to look for on a label: thimerosal, lead acetate.
Nanoparticles. Nanos don’t have to be listed on any label. All I can tell you is to stay with companies you trust, and stay FAR away from anything that does list nanoparticles or nanotechnology on the label. Nobody knows if these cause damage, what type, or to what extent. There is almost no data, and what there is does NOT look good.
Talc. Not everyone agrees on this. (Well. On anything, really…) Personally, talc falls on the other side of my line in the sand, because it doesn’t break down. It gets into your lungs and it just doesn’t go away. (That’s not always true. Sometimes it goes to your ovaries, and causes trouble there.)
Toluene. This has mostly been removed from nail polish (and some other nail care products,) but can still show up in perfumes/fragrances. In 2006, the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) decided it was unsafe so-get this- they recommend that it should be “kept as low as practicable.” (Lance A. Wallace, Identification of Polar Volatile Organic Compounds in Consumer Products and Common Microenvironments, U.S. E.P.A Report, March 1, 1991)
Finally, if you’ve made it this far, I have the answer to Jojo’s question about minerals. I spoke with my friend Randall, (Randalicious if you’re nasty,) who works for Jane Iredale (could a girl get luckier?) about why minerals are good for us in mineral makeup. His answer is fairly straightforward, but not without nuance. I’ll elaborate later, but for now I’ll give you the shorter version.
Not all minerals are created equally. Lab-grown minerals, while inorganic, are:
°        A known quantity: every batch is exactly the same as the last, so quality control is higher
°        Unable to support life, which means no bacterial, viral, or fungal contamination, EVER
°        Have known anti-inflammatory and sunscreening properties
Of course, not all minerals are the same. He and I had a great conversation about which minerals Jane Iredale uses and why, how their mineral makeup works, and other things. This will not turn into a Jane Iredale advertisement (not on purpose, anyway) but I found what he had to say interesting.
I also think it’s tres cool that I’ve contacted Jane Iredale herself once, and she responded to my email within 24 hours. Also, she followed up after that. Further, I called ‘Licious, and he and I talked for nearly an hour one night, and he answered every single one of my questions, even when I asked him questions that might be considered proprietary. He never pulled that card.
I also think it’s worth noting that I sent Leslie Blodgett (of Bare Minerals,) an email that basically asked the same questions I started out with while talking to Randall, and I got NO response. Nothing, not even from an intern, or a PR rep. Which surprised me a little, until I learned online that Bare Minerals was bought by Shiseido in 2010. (Leslie is probably big money now. Probably can’t talk to her unless you call QVC now.)
Next time, I’ll talk about terms like “organic”, and why, for practical purposes, it’s meaningless.