Monthly Archives: November 2010

Beauty Schooled and No More Dirty Looks on Lemondrop!

Oh, hey, check it out. It’s a fun Q&A that I did with Alexandra and Siobhan, live now over on Lemondrop. You should read it. And then hurry, go turn on your TV because it’s almost time for the 8 AM hour of the Today Show, when Alexandra and Siobhan will be on with phthalates researcher Shanna Swann, PhD. That’s my girls!

PS. While I’m pimping out my friends’ media appearances, you should totally also listen to one Amy Palanjian, ReadyMade‘s deputy editor and Things We Make blogger, tell you what to do with all those leaves in your yard on NPR’s Marketplace. OK, it’s not beauty, but we can have layers, right? Like, ahem, this lovely story I wrote for their latest issue?

I suppose that’s enough shameless promotion for one Tuesday. Off you go!

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[Spa Stories] Gina’s Hair is Perfectly Warm

If you think back way before your turkey coma set in, you’ll recall that two weeks ago, I kicked off a brand new series round these parts called Spa Stories, where we’re going to share various close encounters of the beauty salon kind. Now I’m back with the next installment, courtesy of reader Gina in Boston, MA. But first, a little clarification, so you can get your submission all ready for me.

What this series will NOT be: A place to rant about the hair stylist who cut three inches when you totally said one. Or the manicurist who filed you square when you clearly indicated oval. Or insert similar tales-of-customer-service-woe here.

What this series WILL be: A place to share how your relationship with beauty (your own or other people’s) evolves when you spend time in a salon or spa. And by “you,” I mean consumers, sure — as you’ll see from Gina in a second. But I’m also talking to you, salon workers. If you read the comments on my Slate story, you’ll see a lot of folks feeling highly anxious about what to tip and why it took me two hours to do all that waxing. It’s one thing for me to keep regaling y’all with Beauty U tip stories, but clearly, I cannot speak for the whole industry! So hair stylists, estheticians, nail techs — I want your stories here.

And when I say “stories,” this can be an epic saga spanning years (like Gina), a quick life-observed moment from a comment made by a client last Tuesday, the tale of your first brush with waxing and other extreme beauty sports, or… You get it. Email it to me at beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Now here’s Gina:

The year is 1998. I find a quaint little beauty shop close by my college campus.  I love it immediately because the stylist/owner B. has a great Italian accent and she quickly wraps me into her web of products and techniques.  I get an introductory hair cut for a steal of a price, but all the while the  B. insists that my hair is an “ugly color.” At first, this doesn’t sound so bad with her magical Italian lilt. I giggle at her, and admit that it is a kind of boring brown, but assert that, “at least it isn’t grey.”
Her negative talk continues through the haircut: “Gina, your ‘air it needs-a-wurmth!”  She continues with the cut as she is tsk-ing and sighing over my mousy brown locks.  She pressures me to dye it a “rich chocolate brown.”
I cave in, and let her dye my hair.
This is the first time — of sadly, many — a beauty worker persuades me into getting a service I didn’t think I needed. I feel embarrassed for not realizing that my hair is unforgivably ugly and of course, needs to be dyed pronto!
I walk out of the salon feeling like a million dollars but the effects of freshly dyed hair only last so long… And there it is, I am hooked. I quickly become addicted to the salon routine, going every six weeks and spending at least $100 dollars plus tip every time.
Until, one day my friend who also frequented the salon reported that the hairdresser had told her the exact same thing. The only problem was that her hair was not mousy brown at all, but a luxurious auburn that I honestly coveted. B insisted, of course, that my friend’s hair also needed “wurmth”and had done the same routine of shaming her into a color she didn’t want. We laughed about it, at length, often impersonating B.’s accent and playfully insulting ourselves over again.
I never returned to her salon after my friend and I talked about it that day. But I did dye my hair. I didn’t really ever get over the idea that my hair color was ugly, because even in my own  non-magical New England accent, it sounded like the truth.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that my hair is “boring,” or “mousy brown,”  to other salon workers to have them expertly color it away.
Flash forward to the present day for story #2. It is the eve of my 30th birthday and I treat myself to a blowout and makeup application before going out with friends and family. I am so excited to indulge even though I have a hair cut coming up in a couple of weeks. There is something wonderful about someone else blow drying your long hair!  I go to my regular salon.  I drop in, as they allow, and get an unfamiliar  stylist.
New stylist is, decidely, a non-smiler. She is very abrupt, as she escorts me back to the shampoo area. Grimaces, and rolls her eyes as she complains about how slow business is while shampooing my hair.  In fact, the entire time she is working on my hair, she switches between complaining about her job, to informing me how limp and unhealthy my hair is. She also shares that she is “dying to cut it off,” but relents when I tell her that H. is my regular stylist and that I already have an appointment with her in a few weeks. I politely commiserate with how fine my hair is. I reassure her that I am looking for sleekness, not a lot of volume from my blowout.
She blows my hair out without using clips to section it off. This may not sound like a big deal, but may hair is really, really, long. So she’s flopping my wet mop of very long hair back and forth, over my face, over my ear, over my other ear, back to my face for about 20 minutes. She shouts over the blow dryer, “This would go quicker if you cut your hair shorter!”
I stick it out, and for what it is worth, it looks much better than what I come up with at home on my own. Really.  I got compliments all night. I pay, tip her well, and move on to my makeup application (which was wonderful and I was treated exactly as I hoped to be treated).
How many more times I am going to allow a salon worker to continue a service that is not going well without saying something? Is 30 old enough to advocate for myself in the salon chair? Apparently not. I think I would self-advocate over correct sandwich making more than over what someone is doing to my hair/me.
Both these stories make me feel a little disappointed in myself as a feminist and as a consumer. I still love my local salon and H., my stylist. I will go on tipping because it is the fair thing to do, and hopefully next time I will speak up when made to feel uncomfortable. Let’s see what happens for my next birthday. Maybe I’ll ask for the clips.
VA again: I read this and had myself a little ah-ha moment. Because why IS it so much harder to speak up if you aren’t happy with the way a salon service is going than if someone forgets the pickles on your sandwich? Are we just afraid to hurt people’s feelings? Or is it weirder because it’s so up close and personal? Anyone else experience this? Discuss.

PS. Oops, almost forgot a quick standard disclaimer on the Spa Stories: I choose what gets published (and probably won’t be able to publish everyone’s or in a super timely manner, so be patient!) and may edit you lightly for length, spelling/grammar, or clarity. ‘Kay, thanks.


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Pretty Price Check & Beauty Schooled is on Slate! (11.19.10)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday roundup of how much we paid for beauty this week.


Screen grab of Slate "My Year in Waxing School"

First of all, that is the most hilarious Cartoon Me at Beauty U (in the red glasses, worriedly holding wax sticks) ever.

Second of all, that’s a screen grab of my brand-spanking new essay, “My Year in Waxing School,” which just got published over at Slate. I would sincerely love you forever if you would hop over right now, read it, comment, and share it with your friends and neighbors.

(That’s a trick, I already sincerely love you, dear blog reader. So just do it because you’re so nice?)

And here’s some Price Checking for you, as my way of saying thanks.* Continue reading


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A Product Post That is Not Really a Product Post (But Yes, There are Products)

Remember the other week when I was over on No More Dirty Looks talking about how ten months at Beauty U made my hair and skin so crazy?

Let’s just say that I’m still in recovery. Last Friday’s haircut helped a lot (my lovely friend S. told me I look like a Breck Girl now, which I think is just great as long as you skip over that John Edwards thing). But I’m still fighting my way through some serious scalp irritation/build-up and no small amount of breakouts.

I thought about putting my beauty routine into a full-out detox right after school ended, where I’d go all green, natural, DIY for a few weeks, as a kind of antidote to the highly not-green routine I was following while I was there.

Then I didn’t bother, for several reasons:

A) I’m lazy and also cheap and I still had plenty of half-full and even full products, which I just couldn’t bear to throw out. Because how not green is it to chuck an unused bottle of body lotion straight into the trash? She said self-righteously.

B) The whole idea of the detox (like its kissing cousin, the crash diet) creeps me out. The pressure! What if you fail miserably? Then you have to hate yourself. And here I think I’m so awesome. It can never work.

C) There are a few chemical-y things I’m not so interested in giving up. Like my beloved prescription benzoyl peroxide and Retin-A. I actually did take a few weeks off from the BP, and hi, fourteen-year-old-boy skin, nice to have you back.

So I’ve been muddling on with a more piecemeal kind of approach. Continue reading


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Beauty Schooled and Safer Nail Salons on Lemondrop!

Screen grab of Lemondrop nail salons story

So, I told you guys a little bit about San Francisco’s new healthy nail salons ordinance last week, but now! I’ve got a brand spanking new piece about it up over at the lovely This story has some more dirt on the whole regulation situation, plus ideas on how consumers like you can help support safer salons and get your toes prettied up all at the same time. Which means everybody wins. So what are you still doing here? Go on and click right over!

And tweet it, tell your Facebook friends, good times like that. Word.


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[Ingredient Watch] Update on the Formaldehyde Front

Cosmetics Design is reporting that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review has plans to “take another look” at formaldehyde.

This is good because the Cosmetic Ingredient Review is “the expert panel – containing scientists and physicians nominated by consumer groups, government and the industry –  [that] reviews and assesses cosmetic ingredient safety data” for the beauty industry. They’re the wunderkind behind awkward gems like this one and also the rule that says formaldehyde is safe for use in cosmetics as long as we keep it to below 0.2 percent. That would be the memo that Brazilian Blowout lost when it put up to 12 percent formaldehyde in its products. Nope, we’re not over that yet. Continue reading


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[Spa Stories] The $47 Hair Cut

So. You may have noticed that I was a big slacker last week, and failed to Pretty Price Check you on Friday. Instead, I went gallivanting off to the city, drank copious amounts of Prosecco with the lovely Siobhan (who nevertheless got all her blog posts written, hmmph!), did some other things that were much more strictly work-related, sweartogod, and… got a hair cut!

And since it was my first time setting foot in a strange salon as a customer after ten months on the inside, I decided the whole thing was blog-worthy. In fact, I’ve decided that it will be the kick-off post of a brand new Beauty Schooled series (drum roll time) called Spa Stories, where we will report on various close encounters of the beauty salon kind. If you have such a story to share, email me on beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com. If you have already shared such a story and I have yet to post it, apologies… it will be coming soon!

Back to my hair. Continue reading


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Safer Nail Salons in San Francisco

Nail salon photo from Molly Surno's The Smallest Canvas series

I’m pleased as punch about Patricia Leigh Brown’s new New York Times piece, “At Some Nail Salons, Feeling Pretty and Green.” It reports on San Francisco’s new Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance, which gives props to nail salons who use products free of the Toxic Trio (dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and our friend formaldehyde). And it seems to be only the second piece of legislation in the country geared towards reducing occupational hazards in nail salons. (The first was a law passed by New York State in July requiring salon owners to make masks and gloves available to workers.)

This is a story that is super close to my heart, because way back in 2006, I spent a week traipsing around nail salons in San Francisco and Oakland with two amazing women: Lenh Tsan, a community advocate with the Asian Law Caucus’s Nail Salon Project and C. M. Nguyen, a salon worker who together do health and safety outreach to the Bay Area’s nail salons, where 80 percent of workers are Vietnamese immigrants often working against language barriers and other obstacles. Continue reading


Filed under Ingredients, Nails

The Truth About Beauty is That Amy Alkon is Still Searching For It.

Thanks to the Fark user who posted: “Yes, Virginia, there are generally accepted standards of beauty, no matter what the fatties and frumpies have told you,” kicking off the start of my personal holiday season (marked every year by the first person to tell me there’s a Santa Claus) and directing me over to “Advice Goddess” Amy Alkon’s travesty of an essay on Psychology Today.

In what mostly feels like a shameless ploy to top Marie Claire’s controversial fatties essay, Alkon explains that “The Truth About Beauty” is as follows:

…if you’re a woman who wants to land a man, there’s this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you’re “beautiful on the inside,” that’s all that should count. Right. And I should have a flying car and a mansion in Bel Air with servants and a moat. […] It just doesn’t seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages—whether it’s a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance. Maybe we need affirmative action for ugly people; make George Clooney rotate in some homely women between all his gorgeous girlfriends. While we wish things were different, we’d best accept the ugly reality: No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind.

Well. That’s helpful. Go make a bathroom run, refill your coffee and get comfy, folks… because BOY, do I have some things to say about this. Continue reading


Filed under beauty standards, Happenings

[Ingredient Watch] Makeup in Your Breast Milk

So, here’s something new and fun from our scientist friends: A new study analyzing the chemical body burden of 54 mom/baby pairs detected the presence of UV filters in over 85 percent of breast milk samples.The more moms reported using cosmetics and sunscreen, the higher their levels of detected chemicals.

What are UV filters? Chemicals like 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and octocrylene, which are added to a big range of — you guessed it — cosmetics and sunscreens. Oh and are potential endocrine disruptors, which can wreak havoc with babies’ developing bodies.

But that’s no big deal since babies don’t wear cosmetics or sunscreen or drink breast milk… wait, crap. Continue reading

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Filed under Government Watch, Ingredients