Monday, April 18, 2011


This is a story about biological espionage, corporate tyranny, government indifference, and finally, untold chaos on a cellular level!  (Damn, give me a soundtrack, and that’s a movie trailer!!) OK, I may have built expectations a little high there. But it is interesting. I hope you’re the documentary crowd.
The FDA got its start in 1906, when the Food and Drug Act was passed. (This was during the whole “miracle elixir” phase of our history, when people would squeeze the contents of a lemon and a ‘possum into a bottle, shake it up, and sell it as a cure for cancer and baldness. Things had gotten a little crazy.) Mostly it required companies to label their products honestly. (You know, in case you’re allergic to lemons.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah.  The problem here is that cosmetics were excluded. So, your Lemon-‘Possum Curative Elixir now became a Lemon-Possum Cold Cream, marketed to preserve your youth and cure your rosacea. (And if you think I’m exaggerating all that much about Lemon-‘Possum, keep reading.) Because here’s the thing: Nobody was all that interested in curing your cancer or your baldness. They had some lemons, a ‘possum problem, and a recipe, and they found a way to combine those three to make some cash. Can’t sell it as a medicine? No biggie. I’ll sell it as “youth serum,” for topical use. But then, some people got careless, and then other people got disfigured or dead, and they ruined it for the rest of the class.  So, in 1938, The Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act passed, and cosmetics came into the FDA’s jurisdiction for the first time, however, their authority was very limited. It basically said that you can use ‘possum as an ingredient as long as the possum isn’t actually decaying, or poisonous or harmful. Also, you can use whatever you want in soap and hair dye, because those are excluded. That’s pretty much still how it works.

In 1973 (and again in 1988,) a bill was proposed which would require the FDA to perform pre-market testing to ensure that products were safe before they hit the market. This is when the beauty industry came up with the Fox-As-Henhouse-Bouncer idea. Shockingly, that’s the team that won.

So, here’s what we have: Excluding soap and hair coloring, the FDA has a figure-head type of authority over cosmetics and personal care items. Think of them like the British Royalty. They don’t really do anything except show up for parades & throw big weddings (ahem,) but everyone still has to at least pretend to kiss their ass. And in the meantime, the industry keeps adhering to the rules of the game by dictating them. Below is a transcript from a meeting between the FDA and the Beauty Industry:

Ø FDA: You have to say what you’re putting in that stuff, right there on the label.
Ø BI: What? Why?
Ø FDA: Because I’m the boss of you! Because you can’t put harmful BS in there, lest people start dying again, that would make us look really bad!
Ø BI: Well, that’s a good point. OK. We’ll label our products with the stuff that’s in them…..
Ø FDA: You look sneaky. Why do you have that sneaky look on your face?
Ø BI: (nervously,) What? What are you talking about? I just said I’d list (coughsomeofcough) the ingredients on the label! Suspicious much?
Ø FDA: Seriously? No. No. You have to list ALL of the ingredients. You’re gonna make me look like a bitch. Screw you. All of them.
Ø BI: WHAT? I…. I can’t! I can’t do that!
Ø FDA: Why not?
Ø BI: Because, for one thing, there’s Trade Secret Laws! I buy fragrances from suppliers all over the freakin’ globe, and they don’t have to tell me jack! I have no clue what’s in that crap! That’s why it’s just called “fragrance.” There’s NO WAY I can list what’s in there!
Ø FDA: Well. Ok. I’ll let you slide on fragrance. That’s a mulligan. But that’s it! You have to disclose everything else!
Ø BI: ….Um…. ok. OK, I will…
Ø FDA: BI??? What aren’t you telling me?
Ø BI: No it’s …. it’s nothing….
Ø FDA: Spill it. I don’t want to have to read about this in the legal filings.
Ø BI: Well, it’s just that sometimes, when two ingredients love each other very much, they can combine, and… make a baby... of sorts.
Ø BI: Yeah, it’s kinda gross, and we can’t always know what the outcome is gonna be. Just like making real babies, I guess.
Ø FDA: Alright, I don’t want to hear it. Is it toxic?
Ø BI: Well……
Ø FDA: Oh, frack. Just go.
Ø BI: Ok. But there’s one other thing…
Ø FDA: I’ve got a migraine now. I’m so sorry I brought it up.
Ø BI: But since we’re on the topic, you really should hear it now.
Ø FDA: *squeezes eyes shut, pinches bridge of nose* Just say it.
Ø BI: Well, some of the ingredients are sort of… how to put this…. Unpalateable to the consumer.
Ø FDA: Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Beauty Industry?
Ø BI: You know how in your other departments, which you run with such grace and finesse, you acknowledge that there are unavoidable… particulates… and such? Like, I don’t know, six grasshopper legs per bag of salad? We have a similar situation with a certain insect.
Ø FDA: What? Like there’s a certain amount of bug-particles that ends up in one of your ingredients?
Ø BI: Yes.
Ø FDA: How much?
Ø FDA: How much?
Ø BI: Roughly one hundred percent.
Ø FDA: Get out of here. Just go. I’ll cover my ass on the other end with the lawyers. I don’t feel well. Fortunately, I’m leaving in an hour for a cruise with some Big Pharma reps, I bet they can get rid of this migraine… and my impotence….

And that’s the last time the FDA had a real conversation with Beauty Industry. I mean, it was so awkward after that. They emailed, they tried to do lunch, but neither one of them really felt like they could look each other in the eye, and now the relationship is pretty much for show.  They lead their own lives.
But that loveless relationship has produced probably millions of products with no structure in the home. Are we surprised they’re acting out?


I’ve already mentioned that Trade Secret laws protect the recipes of anything called fragrance. I’m not just talking about perfume and cologne, I’m talking about any time you see the word “fragrance” on an ingredient list. That one word could literally represent hundreds of ingredients, and you can’t have any idea what they are or what they do. Also, phthalates are very common ingredients in fragrance. Worse than that, they often occur in combinations. There may be no phthalates, or there may be four. You don’t know. Further, combining phthalates tends to multiply the effects of each. So, if there are four different phthalates in one fragrance, it may be like having twenty. Fragrance can be used as an ingredient to mask the odor hundreds of chemicals. Sometimes fragrance is used (ironically, I may add) to strip odors away. In other words, sometimes a product is too stinky, so they squirt it with Febreeze.
Fragrance is among the top five allergens. (Until recently, I didn’t know that, but I do know that I sneeze every single time I put on perfume.) An interesting quandary about fragrance is that there is a moral and philosophical angle from which to examine it. Like smoking, it’s a behavior that has physical effects on other people. (That’s actually the point of perfume.) Just like other people inhale cigarette smoke from someone who is smoking near them, others inhale our fragrances (perfume or product-based.) So, like the point I made in an earlier post about animal testing, this is something we each should examine to determine exactly where we choose to stand on this one. Obviously, animal torture and poisoning other people are wrong. But safety testing and wearing fragrance, at least on the surface, are morally ambiguous behaviors. How far are we each willing to go to accommodate the safety and comfort of another living being? And where do we draw the line? Can we even make a difference? What if I’m willing to never buy shampoo from a company that does animal testing, but the shampoo I buy instead has fragrance, and makes someone sick as a result of contact with me? (OK. I hear you. Yes, it WAS the shampoo, smartasses.)

One final, ominous note (haha! Get it? Note?) about fragrance:  It is one of six categories of neurotoxins. There are only six categories of neurotoxins and fragrance has its very own. Neuro. Toxin. In case I’m being too subtle, that means toxic to brains.


Petroleum. I know, you’re shocked, I was, too. On the surface, it looked so innocent. Vaseline has been in the medicine chest of every grandmother any of us has ever had. We’ve put it on our lips, on our chests, it’s cured our cold sores and our dry skin… what could go wrong? (*What? Oh, are you saying that it’s petroleum, like as in gasoline petroleum? No, it’s different, isn’t it? You’re saying that the beauty industry’s use of petroleum is just another branch of the American consumerist Tree of Dependency on fossil fuel? No, that can’t be right. Check your facts, Cassie, you liberal whackjob.*)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/ Sodium Laureth Sulfate. (Let me answer that before you ask:  Sodium Laureth Sulfate is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that’s been ethoxylated. All clear now? Well, too bad. I have an art degree.) These are very harsh cleansers, used in commercial application to do things like clean oils out of cement floors. People who work with these chemicals have to wear hazmat suits. (No shit, I’m totally serious.) It’s primarily used in personal products to create lather so that we feel like we’re getting (usually our hair) clean. The thing is, lather is not necessary to the cleaning process. (Also, there are other ways of achieving lather.) (Get your minds out of the gutter.)

Compounding the problems that come with having petroleum & SLS(s) in our personal care products are that they can either be contaminated from the get-go, and/or when they combine with other ingredients, they can make new chemical compounds that are not listed as ingredients. That’s because they weren’t ingredients, they’re the byproduct of ingredients. (In both cases, this is like when you get someone else’s taco at the drive-through window: you didn’t order it, you didn’t pay for it, but you got it. Except that in this context, it sucks.) As you can probably imagine, the result of this cosmic arrangement isn’t good. It’s cancer, endocrine disruption, infertility, reproductive/fetal health, neurotoxicity, tissue damage, and nobody knows what-all else. Why? Let’s say it together this time: Because it’s never been tested for personal care use. We know what we do only because these chemicals have been tested for occupational use.


You know that great red, that super-saturated sexy red that makes red lipstick so sexy? And those deep russet blushes, that brush on and make you automatically look tan and like you’ve lost ten pounds? It’s made from crushed up beetles. Specifically, the carmine beetle. I’m sorry. I just figured I’d rip off the band-aid on that one. They haven’t figured out any way to make red as well as those godforsaken beetles do. So, even if a product is organic, it may contain crushed beetles, because beetles are organic. (Make sure it’s vegan-friendly to avoid beetles.) The label may say carmine, but it won’t say carmine beetle.


This category may be more appropriately titled “Ninjatechnology.” I’m actually a little bit scared of writing this, because so little is known about nanos, that what I know will look ridulously miniscule. (Which, when you consider how small nanos are, well, how stupid I have the potential to look is ironically immense.)

First, let me state the nauseatingly obvious: There are no labeling requirements in the US, and very little is known about them or their long-term effects, however, animal and fish studies are showing brain and biochemical damage. Some evidence is already emerging that links even low exposure to human liver toxicity.

They are little structures that contain ingredients. They’re tiny; they can be 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Their job is to carry ingredients deeper into our tissues, ostensibly to increase effectiveness.  What they actually have the potential to do, though, is get so deep into our bodies that they can penetrate DNA. (If that didn’t just send a chill down your spine, then you must work for BI.) I read one article that noted that nanoparticles from mascara were able to travel up the optic nerve and settle in the brain, potentially causing brain damage. (But I don’t remember the article, I wish I did.)

Their application is limitless. They can be in everything or anything. They are the evil love-child of Satan and that fucking “I Whip My Hair Back And Forth” song on YouTube. I have a stomachache just writing about them, no joke.
OK, this is a good stopping off point. Next post I’m going to start with parabens, how they got to be the poster child of the “clean” movement even though they aren’t even close to the worst offenders. Then I’ll move on to some of the worse offenders from there. I’m also going to compile some recipes I have for home-made products and post them. (That might not necessarily be a post, per se, but just a listing. We’ll see.)

Thanks for staying awake! And if you didn’t, then wake up! You’re drooling on your keypad!


  1. I learned about sodium lauryl sulfate from "The Oprah" back in the day, but damn it i still love the bubbles.

    Oh nano. The thing with nano is that these particles have been around for quite a while, but not until recently did it become the hot buzz word. I am however waiting to see "the effect" they have on us because I have handled a very large share of that shit in my science work *sigh

  2. I know. I hate the SLS, but can't quite get used to anything that doesn't get sudsy. But I'm trying! I found a shampoo at Whole Foods that has potential.... It certainly smells good.

    I remember a couple of years ago when "nano" was a hot marketing buzzword. Now it's "Particle Who Shall Not Be Named." I have to believe that anything designed to go deeper into our bodies is bound to make deeper messes. I would LOVE to be wrong on this, though. As far as handling it, well, you have to do what you have to do, right? And who knows? It's the difference between someone who smokes themselves silly, drinks nonstop while mainlining bacon, and gets to die in bed at 103, and some vegan triathlete (and trust me, I know her several times over,) who gets breast cancer in her 20s. What's the difference? Nobody knows.

    I'm so flattered you're reading! I hope I do you justice, I'm a little intimidated that the author of my favorite nail blog is a reader, nay, FOLLOWER of my humble blog!! *giddy*