Practicing safe skincare is a big part of mind body soul style.
Our skin is the largest and fastest growing organ in the body. So just like the food you eat and beverages you drink, the stuff you put on your skin – lotions, sunscreens, eye shadows, etc.. — will absorb into the bloodstream. Would you guzzle down a glass of petrol? Ingest a carton of carcinogens? So why rub those kinds of things onto your skin? The harsh reality is that many of your skincare products include ingredients you would never, ever consume. Known carcinogens, allergy inducing and downright disgusting chemicals are being placed in products without any regulation.
Unlike the food industry that requires FDA approval, the cosmetics industry has none. Which means Dior can put butane in their foundation just because. And mosts of this goes unnoticed by consumers who assume their products are safe. Top that with ingredient lists that seem to require a PHD to translate — it’s gotten so complicated to buy the right thing.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Margie Kelly who runs the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. She is a wealth of information on the topic that can be tough to tackle. By breaking down some of the basics, she explained the situation, and provided even more encouragement to continue on my path towards a greener complexion.
EL: What is one of the reasons you got involved with the campaign for safe cosmetics?
MK: It’s a great gateway issue for people who may not be aware of toxic chemicals in our world, or who have the wrong information about them. For example, they think that products are tested for safety before they’re put on the market which is an incorrect assumption. Cosmetics really brings it home for people—when they’re putting lotions, creams, shampoos on their own bodies, and on the skin of their families – babies and young children— you start paying attention to what is inside those products. And what we’re finding is, at least when the campaign started, there are really terrible levels of chemicals that are harmful. And even now carcinogens are legally allowed to be used in cosmetic products. So there’s a lot of work to be done. But it’s a great opening to awareness for a lot of people.
EL: What was the biggest eye opener since starting your job two years ago?
MK: One thing is that it’s an industry that is self regulated. There’s really noone watching over them to make sure that what they’re doing is safe. And that is really problematic when the FDA doesn’t have the authority to pull a cosmetic product off the shelf even if it’s dangerous. We say it’s the wild west, there is no law. Whatever the industry wants to do, they can do without impunity. And the most appalling example of that is the case with the Brazilian blowout which is used to straighten hair. It is highly toxic. And the only thing the FDA can do is write a letter asking the company to take the product off the market. And they refused.
EL: How can The Campaign help with this situation?
MK: What we do with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is work directly with the retailer and manufacturers to convince them to change and reformulate their products because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s what people want and expect. It is market pressure that is making companies like Johnson & Johnson, retailers at Walmart and Target, to actually take a look at what is on their shelves, and decide that they want to sell safer products.
EL: What kind of progress have you seen?
MK: There has been a massive amount of progress where formaldehyde releasing chemicals that were once very common are now on their way out. And that was in part sparked by Johnson & Johnson’s decision to reformulate their baby line. Then they went on, and said they’re going to reformulate their entire product line to eliminate some of these dangerous chemicals. So it can be done, and it is being done. Also what’s exciting is the smaller start ups are finding their niche. The cosmetics is a 71 billion dollar industry, the natural and safer part of that is growing —so it’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs.
EL: As a parent of teenagers how do you broach the subject for your children?
MK: It’s one thing when they are small, you’re in charge of what you buy, and what you put on their skin, and they don’t really care. But now it’s a whole other thing. My daughter is buying make up and my son wants to use AXE spray. When you’re a teenager and you go down to your local CVS with your girlfriends and you buy a mascara–there’s something to that, kind of a rite of passage. How many of us haven’t owned one of those Maybelline Great Lash pink and green mascara wands? Everyone in America has at some point. But Maybelline is owned by L’oreal and we’re about to go after L’oreal for having carcinogens in their products including that Great Lash Mascara which has a formaldehyde releasing chemical in it.
So it’s a balance. I buy them safe stuff, and I refuse to buy them other stuff — like there’s no fragrance that I’ll buy at this point because they’re not safe and there are other ways to smell good without needing a fragrance. Also, I have asked both of them to put (the app) Think Dirty on their phones. So there’s a real balance between a mom telling a 14 year old what to do, and what to wear versus having them be aware — at least — that there’s an issue. My daughter actually chose to write a paper on safe cosmetics last year for school. So I know it’s getting through to her. The practice isn’t perfect, but awareness is the first step.
EL: Which chemicals are the worst?
MK: I do avoid, whenever I can, the formaldehyde releasing chemicals—it doesn’t say formaldehyde so you have to know the names of the chemicals. (Click here for a list) Also fragrance is a big black hole. We just do not know what is in fragrance; as many as 3500 different chemicals can be used in different concoctions, and there is no way to know if any of those are carcinogens or toxicants or not. So that is an area to stay away from as much as possible. Another chemical to be aware of is phthalates. It is used in so many products — nail polish, lotion and fragrances to vinyl products – it’s everywhere! So looking for phthalate free products is a good idea. It’s a developmental and reproductive toxicant and an endocrine disrupting chemical which interferes with normal hormone functioning. It’s not something you want to be surrounded by all day. We are seeing a lot of paraben free products now because a lot of companies are moving away from using parabens. So they are finding safer ways to preserve shampoos.
EL: How would you advise someone starting out on the path of safe cosmetics?
MK: You’ve got to think about your approach to cosmetics in a couple different ways. One is can you use less? And the stuff you do use, know it’s safe. So instead of having four different kinds of lotions – can you pick one that you feel real good about? Also, some stores are developing guidelines so any product sold has to meet a rigorous standard. Whole Foods does this. So when people are just beginning – go take a look at the cosmetic areas in their stores because all of the products on their shelves meet a standard that eliminate carcinogens. Last year Walmart and Target announced they were developing standards as well. And that comes from years of consumer pressure and not letting retailers off the hook. For example triclosan is a chemical that is on the FDA’s watchlist which means it’s really bad. It’s an antimicrobial that’s in soaps that promises it’s going to take away all the germs in the world, and what they’ve found is that it is a toxic product, and it is an endocrine disrupting chemical. It has antibacterial properties, and that has become problematic in our society. It’s sort of a low hanging fruit – just don’t buy antibacterial soap. Really, there’s nothing better than soap and water. You don’t need the triclosan in there. It’s bad for the environment and on your body. So Proctor And Gamble announced last year they were taking triclosan out of their products. And that was in response to Walmart asking companies to ban certain chemicals.
EL: The natural look is starting to sound much more appealing, to avoid all the gross stuff.
MK: The campaign is not saying don’t wear make up. We’re saying if you want to wear make up, you should wear make up. It should be safe — you shouldn’t be taking your life in your hand by choosing a shampoo or a foundation. Do the research. It is a quest. Once you find what you like, you can be on a path that’s safer for you, and your family and I think it’s worth teaching your kids that they’ll have to do some research. It’s not as simple as going to the store and pulling something off the shelf. You really do have to know what you’re putting on your skin. So that awareness is good for all of us.