Thursday, April 8, 2010

Green Beauty&Inconvenient Truth

Oh... I was supposed to post this yesterday on 7th of April World Health Day, but oh well... :)

Have you ever heard of parabens, phthalates, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, petrochemical derivatives, allergens, etc? Have you ever paid attention to the list of ingredients on your skin care products? Have you ever understood what all those long and unpronounceable words really mean?

I must admit, my reply would be a huge NO to all these questions till the autumn 2009, when I found my way into the kingdom of the mineral makeup. :) This is the time when I started to notice all those "funny sounded" names. And still, sometimes I would just skip the "screen for all these nasty things" step, because I was very NAIVE and trusted the companies and governmental institutions I thought are here to protect us.

Around a month ago, I was browsing one famous online bookstore for more books about makeup (I already had Bobbi Brown's Makeup Manual, which I loved), when suddenly one book caught my attention. It was The Green Beauty guide by Julie Gabriel. And it wasn't the book cover (honestly, I think it could be better) what caught my attention, it was the combination of two words "Green Beauty". I quickly took a look into the description and immediately got intrigued. For 12 EUR with a free shipping I couldn't go wrong.

One week later I was a happy owner of this 400-pages book. I read it in 3 evenings only. And, oh my, I'm IMPRESSED! This book is one of the most interesting and "mind-blowing" readings I have ever read in my life. Well, may be it's just my taste, as I also enjoy reading Shape magazine from cover to cover (at least Lithuanian and Russian editions). :)

This week I became a happy owner of two more books: Not Just A Pretty Face. The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan (I'm almost done reading it) and Toxic Beauty. How hidden chemicals in cosmetics harm you by Dawn Mellowship (just read a couple of pages randomly).

Julie Gabriel said in her 12th (out of 12) lesson: SPREAD THE WORD. I won't tell you everything what is discussed in this book (you can read it for yourself if you're interested), I will just quickly summarise what did I learn. I really hope I can open eyes of some of you. Even one person counts!

Now before we start, tell me:
  • How many of you bought an overhyped product from a "conventional brand"? *raises hand* 
  • How many of you bought a product just because it said "organic", "natural" on the package? *raises hand*
  • How many of you bought a product which promised you "all the treasures in the world"? *raises hand*
  • How many of you ever thought skin care products can be dangerous for you?.. and your future generations?
What I learnt:
  • Harmful toxic chemicals: paraben (methyl/butyl/ethyl/isobutyl/propylparabens) and formaldehyde-based preservatives, sulfate-based detergents (lauryl and laureth), synthetic penetration enhancers, petrochemicals (including mineral oil), propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, PEGs, cocamide DEA/MEA, disodium EDTA, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances.
  • All this nasty stuff can be replaced by much healthier alternatives.
  • There is no such a thing as skin type, because everyone's skin is very different, it is unique. Choose cosmetics based solely on your skin's needs. You know how strange it can be: dry skin with acne (but isn't it "supposed to be" oily?)... Skin type is a generalisation, one of the marketing tricks.
  • Less is indeed more! The less products you use - the better. And I was wondering why my mom's skin looks so fresh (and she doesn't even use a foundation!). The answer is she just "neglected" all those cleansers, toners, creams most of the time. Soap and cream (once in two days) - that's what she uses. Why am I not this lucky, huh? :/

What shocked me:
  •  "Organic", "green", "natural", "hypoallergenic" (or "dermatologist-tested), "cruelty-free"... these words don't guarantee you get a good product. "According to the FDA, there are currently no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term 'hyppoallergenic'. In fact, beauty product manufacturers are not required to provide evidence if their products produce fewer allergic reactions. <...> it is quite common for manufacturers who bear "cruelty-free" (no animal testing) labels to commission outside laboratories to conduct test on animals to prove that they themselves do not conduct animal tests."  SHOCK?
  • Products marked as natural often contain just a couple of natural ingredients in a catastrophically smaller proportion relatively to all those toxic ingredients. "Nothing in the definition of "natural" prohibits a company from combining the natural ingredient with the most toxic chemicals". "One organic ingredient DOES NOT make the beauty product safe and pure".
  • Even "Certified organics" sometimes can't guarantee your products are safe! Ecocert seems to be a little bit more suspicious than BDIH. :/ Check this source for more information Peeling Back the Label: A Who's Who of Organic Certification
  • No GM (genetically modified) labels are required on cosmetics. And the risks are still unknown in a long-term, because it's a relatively new "practice".
  • Greenwashing technique - "using a drop of organic essential oil to justify the word 'organic' on the label".
  • Semigreen: Caudalie and Avena. Seminatural: REN, Boscia and Korres (oh my!!!). Many brands that publicly support green movements (cruelty-free and fair trade) are not really green! The Body Shop is among them! Surprised? I would also add LUSH, as I've just checked my shampoo bottle, and all those sulfates, parabens are there! And L'Occitane! I've just checked my hand cream! Oh my! Didn't we all think these are the perfect examples of healthy cosmetics? I guess Avon could also be included. In her book Stacy Malkan opened my eyes on "pinkwashing" (breast cancer awareness) for products that contain ... guess what?.. carcinogens!
  • Chemical sunscreens can be even more dangerous than no sunscreen at all! Some of the ingredients when exposed to the sun can cause a serious damage. Paradox? Here is an interesting article about this issue. Click here.
  • There were no studies that confirmed the safety of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) - one of the most popular ingredient in self-tanners. Hence, self-tanning can be even more dangerous than spending safe 15-30 minutes under the sun. Shock!
  • Talc may be contaminated with asbestos. Better keep away from it!
  • If the company was reputable and indeed green, it still is in business to be profitable, so it may change (without even disclosing) some quality ingredients with cheaper alternatives, that might not be very user-friendly. On Julie's website she mentioned that this has recently happened to Jurlique.
  • Hair dyes, hair styling products, nail polishes and fragrances are the most toxic products in the whole industry!
  • Package material can also harm us. Chemicals from plastic bottles can leach into the product. Have you ever noticed a weird plastic smell from your water bottle in a hot, sunny day? And where do you keep your products? Bathroom? Bad idea!
  • Bismuth oxychloride, nanoparticle sized minerals used in mineral makeup and "rock" (mineral) deodorants are still under the fire. 
Some things that shocked me from Not Just a Pretty Face:
  • Research results showed that newborn babies had a huge amount of toxins in their blood. The further investigation showed that there might be a clear link with chemicals used in cosmetics. OMG!
  • Cosmetics and chemicals industry are closely connected to each other. These two are among the most powerful industries in the world. No wonder, manufacturers don't want to loose huge amounts of money because of us, naive customers.
  • Did you know that the concern about possible harm of certain ingredients (starting with phthalates) was raised by the group of activists only in 2000? And the first actions were taken in 2006-2007 only! Do you recall the story with tobacco producers? Everyone now knows that smoking is dangerous, but still there are millions of people who smoke and don't pay attention to people they harm with second-hand smoke. It seems the fragrance story might be quite the same. Ever wondered why some fragrances make you feel dizzy?
  • Studies showed that many companies have some unlabeled ingredients in their products, often toxic ingredients... Surprised?
  • Some chemicals are relatively new and there is not much research (because it's not funded!) on how safe they are.
  • "Only 11% of 10 500 chemicals in your cosmetics have been screened for safety". How freaking scary is this?
  • "In reality, cosmetics are the least regulated products at the FDA. <...> The agency does not require manufacturers to demonstrate cosmetic products are safe." It should be a company's good will. And we should trust them. Are they kidding?
  • "There is a huge loophole exempting fragrance ingredient". Because it's considered as a trade secret. You might never know if these are natural essential oils, or toxic chemicals. :/
  • Sunscreen can cause Vitamin D deficiency if used all the time. Shock!
  • I was very surprised to see some well-known brands among the ones against 'the consumers right to know what's inside all these products' campaigns that are asking to mark/label the warning signs on dangerous products. :/
  • Here is an excerpt (this would be a short summary of everything said above) from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: "Every day, we use as many as 25 personal care products on our bodies. Some of the chemicals in these products are linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects - and most have never been evaluated for their health effects." Wanna take the risk and see what will happen in 10-20 years?
  • We, as consumers, are guinea pigs for the majority of those big companies.
Overall, I'm really glad I found this book (and those other two I'll end up reading in a couple of days)! It opened my eyes on lots of things. Julie perfectly managed to explain all the scientific stuff in an understandable way. She has plenty of useful information and tips on how to make our lives healthier. Plus, she definitely has a sense of humor! Kohl liner and Jack Sparrow made me laugh! :)

Surely, it's not about the skin care products only, it's also about food and pollution in general. But still why not trying to make your life a tiny bit better? Remember, every speck of sand counts! And, didn't you know that our skin is our biggest (and probably most vulnerable) organ?

Sometimes even completely natural products can cause allergies, so use everything with caution! Stay healthy and safe! I am not encouraging any of you to toss away all your products, I encourage you to decide everything for yourself! 

As for me, I am currently searching for healthier products. I've already tossed away all mineral oil containing lip products, I also switched from sulfate+fluoride toothpaste and sulfate+parabens shower gel and shampoo. And I also stopped using my face cream for acne-prone skin with guess what?... parabens, PEG and parfum! And you know what? I see an improvement after only one week! :)

Here is a good (it's not perfect yet, because lots of info is still missing) source about safety of ingredients:
Skin Deep cosmetic safety database

Let me know what you think!

PS An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better safe than sorry. :)

Here is a great Russian proverb (direct translation): A spoon(ful) of tar spoils a barrel of honey. English version: A fly in the ointment; The rotten apple spoils the barrel. Can you guess, why I chose these proverbs? :)


  1. Hey!
    I have something for you in my blog. Enjoy!

  2. Hi, thanks for the article, was waiting for it ;) I agree with most of it, but have a few addings; parabens are also naturally produced in some plants so technically they can also be a natural ingredient and among other preservatives they are the most gentle for sensitive skin.

    have a great day

  3. Serafia, thank you! I really appreciate it! :)

    SummerBabe, thank you, hon! :) hmmm... could you please give me some reliable sources on parabens "in some plants"? From what I read in these books, I understood that ALL widely (i.e. commercially) used parabens are chemicalally/synthetically produced preservatives, and that ALL parabens can cause allergies (especially methylparaben). Hence, they're not sensitive skin friendly. :/ There are plenty of sources of natural preservatives in essential oil for example.

  4. wow - this was a great post, I hope alot of people visit your blog to read it. I will be looking into the books you mentioned, too.

  5. Deez Nails, thank you for your kind words! Even one person means a lot to me! These books are must haves! Sadly, everything about those dirty secrets is true. I'll start reading the 3rd book tomorrow. I guess it'll shock me even more - it's about dangerous effects of chemicals (used in cosmetics) on our health, in more details. And, I'm planning at least one more post regarding this topic. So stay tuned, if you're interested. :)

  6. Wow, what an informative post. I do remember researching into sunscreens and learning that the chemicals in some could be more harmful than the sun itself! So I only use non-chemical sunscreens, ie zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Does the book give suggestions on how to find products free of all these? I seriously had to look around the drugstore for half an hour to find a moisturizer free of silicones.

  7. Tally7, thank you! I really appreciate it that you took your time to read this. :)

    Yep, Julie Gabriel gives suggestions on certain brands and products. Stacy Malkan reveals which brands ignore our right to know the truth. It might help in determining which brands to avoid.

    I found this webshop from links on Nea's blog. If you can't order from there, at least you might have some idea on what could you look for.

    Oh my, I still have some drafts about "greenwashing" and my haul from this website. Gotta find time to finish those posts! :)

  8. Thanks so much for taking the time to link me to that book place so i can read more on this. This is exactly the stuff i like to be kept aware of. Such a good post to read! You wrote it out so well!!

    I loathe the idea of companies selling themselves as 'natural' when in fact like you say (lust etc) they are not.. but then again every little helps and I like to think that in they small ways they do try to be healthier.. id still rather fall for the trap! Rather Lush Korres than something else.. better semi-green or 5% green than 0% green! (if you know what I mean..sorry im so rubbish at communicating today)

  9. Tali, thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate that you took your time to read it. You made my day! :)

    I agree - it's better a bit of natural than 100% "garbage". :) It's really frustrating to know that the vast majority of customers trust absolutely everything they see on the packages (and some still believe in advertisements). I'm not talking about list of ingredients here, because this vast majority skips it most of the time, I'm talking about those "pure essential oils", "from the nature" things that attract them.

    Still it would be nice to be able to make a choice if companies would clearly state on the packages which (even only potentially) harmful ingredients they have as opposed to what they don't have, and would state the percentages (5% natural vs 95% garbage). I still wonder why no one puts warning labels "not to be used by/on children", "not suitable for pregnant women". :/

    I don't like how Korres made it on 3 in 1 makeup removing emulsion. Surely ingredients are written somewhere on the box (and surely I completely forgot what happened to it), and on the bottle they mention only "fragrance free, mineral oil free, silicone free, propylene glycol free". Do I have to say hello to parabens and some unknown stuff then? lol It didn't ring a bell to me when I bought it several months ago. I like it when everything is written in one place (cosmetics, skin care, even clothes!) - so much less hassle!

    I took some pictures-examples of products that would be perfect illustrations for "greenwashing" phenomenon. I just have to find time to gather my thoughts together. :) I'm so behind in updating my blog. Gotta do something with it. :/

    I really hope you'll like those books. It'd be great to hear your opinion!

  10. omg i'm shocked. i already knew some of the things you wrote, but now i'm even more scared! i thought lush was a safe brand :( i really want to use only natural products but the real problem is: where can i find them!??! it's not so easy and fast to only buy things online, i'd prefer real shops, you know.. but it's so hard to find the right products! and what about nail polishes?? and sunscreen???? omg i don't know what to do!

  11. Dandy, thank you for stopping by! :)

    I highly recommend you reading all these mentioned books so that you could understand everything in more details. Fear not, there are plenty (surely not that many as "normal" brands) of companies selling organic/natural safe cosmetics and makeup.

    The availability (in real stores I mean) varies for different countries. Check your city's offerings, you might be quite surprised on how many stuff you might have there. At least this is what happened to me. I made a little research and found a couple of local shops. And I might say - I really love what I found! I've never thought "green beauty" (including food! :) ) can be so much fun!:) Gotta do posts about my recent hauls and finds, just have to find time. :)

    Unfortunately, the only product that can't be fully organic and safe (if it's not a water based paint) is the nail polish. :( But, if you are extremely careful, i.e. you don't inhale the "fumes", the nail polish doesn't get on your skin, you use certified nail polish remover, you don't paint your nails every day, and you're not pregnant - then it must be fine.

    Here is a list of producers of "Certified Natural Cosmetics" (certified by BDIH, honestly I trust this organisation much more than Ecocert):

    PS The majority of natural cosmetics companies offer sunscreens and even hair styling products. Hence, there's hope. :)

  12. Surely, there are also a lot of companies that are not yet certified but offer completely pure and safe products.

    And, remember, the whole situation probably cannot be that scary, just trust your feelings. :)

  13. ohhh it's great! thank you so much! i didn't know that list, it's fantastic, now i can see some hope again :)