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The Ugly Truth about the Beauty Industry

As I work through the #detoxification program, I've been updating my readings on all things environmental health, which is all a bit familiar as these are basic teachings that I provided in my maternity program, as well as the thyroid and infertility programs. This gave me opportunity to read a book I had purchased, but hadn't found time to prioritize just yet, Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan.

This book reads a lot like Sandra Steinbarger's book, Having Faith, which is a journey through the author's pregnancy, which as an environmental biologist, gave quite the perspective. Although I read her book more than a decade ago, it remains one of my favorite's and is an excellent example of why understanding our history is so important; we so quickly forget. Malkan offers the same regarding the #beauty industry and her impact is profound.

*My detoxification program addresses environmental toxins that specifically impact people of color.

The tenth chapter of Malkan's book addresses the natural beauty industry which was a little less familiar to me. I had done my research on the horrendous manufacturing and marketing of beauty products, and understood how the laws in the US differed from those in Europe. I am fairly well versed on the plethora of #toxins in our culture and how those impact our health, but I had not dove into educating myself on the many new natural, or more green options for cosmetics beyond Skin Deep.

Who Can We Trust?

Right around the beginning of my fourth decade, I stopped wearing all cosmetics. I hadn't been a huge fan anyway, but generally did wear some sort of mascara, and might have started the day with lip gloss. The more I learned though, the less I felt this effort justified the risk to my health, or that of my daughter who was either gestating or nursing during this period. Rumors about these so-called green companies did circle though, particularly about Aveda which I suppose was always at the forefront of the more natural-minded practitioners recommendations. The founder of this company is reported to have said that cosmetics should be safe to eat, but of course, rumor has it that this product line was like a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is among the most toxic product lines available. Horst Rechelbacher sold his company to Estee Lauder in 1997 for $300 million dollars so clearly, the company lost tract of its founding principles.

Horst is no longer bound by a non-compete clause, so he is back in the beauty industry but this time selling food-grade cosmetic products certified under the organic food standards. Originally, Horst was an organic farmer from Wisconsin turned award winning hair stylist. His mother was an herbalist and one day during a visit with him, she shared that his place smelled terrible, toxic even, and that's when things clicked for him. He and his mother began experimenting together, even studying #Ayurvedic medicine together. Aveda is actually a Sanskrit term for "all knowledge." His vision was to sell products to salons which were free of toxins and petrochemicals.

Today he admits to not trusting chemists because what they originally created for him was not what he asked for, so he now works with food scientists. He states today that if it isn't available in #nature and in food, than it should not be used in product ingredients. He says the only caveats are hair dye, hair straighteners, hair permanents, and sunscreen. This just can't be done and so he does not offer these particular product.

Horst shares that the beauty industry as a whole has had very few innovations since when he first opened Aveda. His competitors are still using the same old recipes and toxins, but Horst's argument is that consumers are demanding better and raw material providers hold the key to innovation in cosmetics. Advocacy groups for improving beauty products are growing faster than the beauty manufacturing companies. The industry has to embrace change and be willing to rise to the challenge. The one customer no one is paying any attention to though, is Mother Earth.

Healing Mother Nature is about Healing Ourselves

While Horst received a standing ovation for his speech to industry experts, he says the next day several speakers at the convention rolled their eyes at "old Horst ideals" and claimed everything they do is safe and FDA approved. Horst knows though, the best way to create change is to show them a better way. He has set out to create the model with his new company is, Intelligent Nutrients.

Organic foods represents just 2 percent of the total food and beverage sales in the US, but the market is growing 20 percent each year. Sales of natural cosmetic products are increasing faster than conventional product sales. Corporate America is paying attention. When I was first teaching about #organic foods and the dirty dozen a decade ago, I had to drive to several stores to get a my complete list of groceries and organic grapes were never to be found. Now every grocery store I enter has these options. Levi's even has organic cotton jeans and Pottery Barn offers organic quilts and bedsheets.

But how green is green when it becomes more mainstream? While many mom-and-pop type small businesses lead this quest, more and more are selling out to big box companies. The Body Shop sold to L'Oreal and Aveda to Estee Lauder. Seeds of Change sold to M&M Bars and Tom's of Main even sold to Colgate. If ever there was a company who wore its values on its sleeve though, it would be Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. They support orphanages in China and Haiti, have freshwater wells in Ghana, and assist the Chiapas Indian with schools. They fight for the legalization of industrial hemp and organic standards as a mission for helping the earth. After some restructuring, their products are now made entirely of organic food-grade ingredients, and the company gives 40 to 70 percent of its profits to social and political causes.

There are no industry standards however, and no regulations. Anyone can use the labels natural, pure, and gentle. Some argue that this is a free country so we really shouldn't have regulations, but we can certainly do better. There really isn't any excuse for phthalates; however, is food-grade really necessary? Do consumers require certain synthetic chemicals such as surfactants and emulsifiers so products have the same characteristics they've come to expect? Preservatives are made to kill bacterias though, so they are often toxic in themselves. If the beauty industry eliminated these, cosmetics would need to be shipped cold and consumers willing to treat them as perishables. Parabens are cheap and effective, but they are also mimic estrogen. If the industry really did change its practices, consumers would really have to change their expectations. Safer, high-quality products cost more to make and have shorter shelf-lives.

Avalon invested more than a million dollars to redefine their own standards for safety, purity, and efficacy. They eliminated phthalates, formaldehyde donors, and some petroleum-based ingredients. They added new organic ingredients and a new baby skin care line stating that when you known what is in the baby products currently on the market, you wonder how the hell they this is tolerated. Avalon also removed #parabens preservatives. Interestingly, at a large Natural Products Expo the company was targeted by the audience because they marketed their product was "paraben free." How could they? Why wouldn't they share their formula? After an onslaught of questions, the CEO for Avalon stood up in the audience and said they made this move because they felt it was the right thing to do and they would be happy to share their information with anyone interested in getting toxins out of their products. He further stated, "To the allegation or the claim that we did that as a marketing device to differentiate ourselves from the competition, the answer is, yes we did." Well, hell yes they did and in doing so, they created a new standard for their industry.

In 2007, more than 500 companies signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, agreeing to replace ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other negative health effects with safer alternatives (Malkan, 2007). Big names such as Burt's Bees, Kiss My Face, and Aubrey Organics were among those pledging to be part of this change. Among those who were absent, were L'Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder (and Aveda), Avon, Mary Kay, and Procter & Gamble.

Extreme Makeover

I have become familiar with a number of newer product lines in the recent years, each with claims for reducing the toxic burden. Beauty Counter is one I have trialed myself. Others include 100% Pure, which is a natural and organic line that also uses recycled packaging. This beauty product is also vegan, and has wide variety of products. Juice Beauty is one I've heard more recently, but have not had the opportunity to trial. It is also organic and locally sourced with recycled packaging. Their tinted moisturizer receives high reviews. Alima Pure, W3LL People, RMS Beauty (food-grade), Au Naturale, Ilia, Kosas, Vapour, and P/Y/T Beauty are other options.

If you are interested in taking action or being kept up to date on this movement, check out or Companies are paying attention to phone calls, letters, and consumer demands. Ask companies directly what they are doing to ensure its products aren't contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, lead or other toxins not on the label. Ask what chemicals are in their fragrances. Ask about phthalates not listed on the label. Do they have a substitution plan to identify hazardous ingredients and replace them with safer alternatives? Did they sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics pledge? Why not? Are they investing in green chemistry research and development?

The more I study environmental toxins and environmental health the more I remember my heart-break as we tossed tons of material in the trash within the hospitals and clinics I've been employed. We poured pharmaceuticals down the drain. Hospitals are among the worst at contributing to our earth's toxic burden, but again, we can create change here. Malkan reports that when Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the US, decided to purchase PVC-free materials for new construction, a carpet manufacturer agreed to develop a new PVC-free product made with non-toxic, recycled plastic at no extra cost. Large companies can essentially force these creations by offering exclusive contracts to those companies investing in green manufacturing. Check out,,,,, and The real reality is though, that even if we buy the cleanest products and are mindful of our toxic exposure, we won't make a significant difference for ourselves until we demand our government invest in change in public policy.

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