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.