Category Archives: Ingredients

Secret Deodorant Gets Busted: pH-Balanced and Full of Toxins. (Sigh.)

I first met Jessica Assaf back in 2008, when she was a plucky high school student with Teens Turning Green and I was writing this book about greening your lifestyle. We interviewed Jessica about her group’s awesome projects, like when they all wore prom dresses and combat boots to encourage peers to choose toxin-free beauty products for prom season. Good times.

Anyway, Jessica is now an NYU student (that’s my other alma mater, btw) and continuing her eco-beauty activism as president of Teens Turning Green NYC and director of a forthcoming film called Body Burden. Her latest action, from the Department of “Sh*t I Wish I Thought Of:” Plastering toxic warning labels all over Secret Deodorant in Lower Manhattan drug stores. Um, hello, awesome!

Except if you’re one of Secret’s devoted fans, of course. Because here are the hard facts that Jessica sent my way:

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Report, ingredients in the deodorants are linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. Specifically, Secret Deodorant contains Butane, a chemical linked to allergies, immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity, and 18% Aluminum Chlorohydrate, which is linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity and neurotoxicity. The product also contains Dimethicone, a silicone emollient, which coats the skin not allowing toxins out. It may promote tumors and accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes.

Yikes. The good news is that there are some safer options out there that actually work. And no, they aren’t a hippie crystal rock. I test-drove a couple of decent natural options for Planet Green last summer, and my No More Dirty Looks girls review another great option over here. Full disclosure: I tend to swap off between my beloved Beacon Bird Bath and stealing Dan’s Old Spice, depending on the level of sweat protection I need. (Strong-Enough-For-Him Old Spice isn’t necessarily safer than Secret or any other regular antiperspirant, but I really like how it smells. All chemical-y fresh.)

Since I’ve been all about body image lately what with Never Say Diet, I realize I’ve been neglecting my eco-beauty activism roots. So I wanted to give Jessica a shout-out and also make sure y’all know about the new and awesomely redesigned Skin Deep, which is the Environmental Working Group’s database of cosmetic ingredients. Plug in any one of your favorite products and you’ll get a safety rating plus a ton of info on any potential hazards they contain.

For more on Jessica’s Secret Mission (ha! see what I did there?) check out coverage on Good and TreeHugger. And watch out. She could be headed to a CVS near you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Happenings, Ingredients, products

[Fun With Press Releases] Capitol Hill Cosmetics Party Was a Hoot.

Fun with Press Releases: Because sometimes the beauty industry just goes there.

So last Wednesday, the Society for Women’s Health Research hosted a Capitol Hill briefing called “The Make Up of Your Make Up” (see what they did there?) to discuss, “the science of cosmetics and its impact on women’s health.” They sent me a press release right after, so I could know what a great time they all had.

And my first response was: Color me excited! A great women’s health nonprofit getting Congress to pay attention to all the women’s health issues going on in the world of beauty? This is big stuff.

Linda Katz, MD, MPH, Director of the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the Food & Drug Administration kicked things off with an overview of the FDA’s responsibilities. Which I’m sure was good times. And then they got to the rest of their speakers:

With FDA oversight defined, John E. Bailey, PhD, Chief Scientist and Executive Vice President for Science of the Personal Care Products Council, shared more information on the cosmetic regulatory system including hazard vs. risk and how products are developed. Bailey said the steps for product development are, “to decide on type of product, who is intended to use it, what do you want the product to do, what regulatory body does it fall under (over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics), and finally, selection of ingredients by formulator.”

Halyna Breslawec, PhD, Deputy Director of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), explained the approval process for cosmetics and how ingredients are deemed safe. The mission of CIR is to “thoroughly review and access the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in an open, unbiased, and expert manner, and publish the results in open, peer-reviewed literature.” The most frequently used ingredients and ingredients of concern are given high priority from CIR for review. They found 1124 ingredients to be safe, 875 safe with qualifications, 9 unsafe and 51 with insufficient data. In total, 2109 ingredients have been reviewed by CIR to date.

Rounding out the panel, Tina Alster MD, Director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, offered insight into the top dermatological concerns with cosmetics. Even though cosmetics are deemed safe, some women face adverse reactions, including irritant, allergic, photoallergic and other reactions. Dermatitis from topical prescriptions is common so women should be diligent in observing how their skin reacts to different products. Alster’s main take-home messages for consumers are “sun protection is crucial, know your ABCDE’s (have any and all suspicious lesions checked by a dermatologist), and topicals have great therapeutic efficacy but also potential for side effects.”

Following the presentations, guests were treated to a reception to learn more about cosmetics from various companies and to ask further questions of the panel.

Ground Control to Major Tom! Because, yeah, there’s something wrong. Apparently SWHR decided to discuss the impact of cosmetics on women’s health with… the scientists that the beauty industry pays to tell everyone that cosmetics are good for women’s health. Let’s review:

1. John Bailey is the “chief scientist” of the industry’s main trade association.

2. Halyna Breslawec works for the CIR, which is the industry-funded panel that reviews cosmetic safety (and shares office space with the main trade association).

3. Tina Alster sounds all impartial in the write-up above — Georgetown, ooh fancy! — but is also “the consulting dermatologist to Lancôme” according to her official bio over here. I’m guessing she doesn’t do that pro bono.

Now, I don’t mind giving the industry a place at the table when we’re talking about what’s going on with their products. They make ’em, they get to talk about ’em. And they’re super convinced that their safety review process is awesome. (Even though they’ve only reviewed about 20 percent of the over 10,000 chemicals used in cosmetics today. What? They’re being thorough, don’t rush them.)

Fair enough.

But where were the impartial scientists and doctors, you know, the ones who don’t get paid to say beauty products are safe? Where were the activists like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics who have spent years researching why they might not all be so safe? Where were the salon workers, who are experiencing health issues from breathing this stuff in all the time? And where were the consumers who’d like get some actual straight answers for a change?

And most of all: Why is a reputable women’s health nonprofit throwing a singles mixer for a $330 billion industry* that seems to need no help finding its way into the government’s snuggly warm embrace?

“The safety of cosmetics is an important issue for women’s health,” said Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, President and CEO of SWHR. Oh… nope, still confused.

*Estimate of industry value per Harvard business historian Geoffrey Jones.


Filed under Fun with Press Releases, Government Watch, Happenings, Ingredients

Breast Implants are Bad For You. But Here’s What’s Worse.

Fiona Project silicone breast implants

We should probably talk about this news that the Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether silicone breast implants are linked to a specific, rare type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

So far they’ve only identified 60 cases of ALCL among the 5 to 10 million women who have these breast implants worldwide. (Including, as Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner pointed out in the comments on last week’s Price Check, just 9,000 British women to over 350,000 Americans. Ponder that.)

Still, ALCL is diagnosed in just 1 in 100 million women without breast implants. So the ratios are concerning. Especially because these are the same silicone breast implants that were just brought back to the market in 2006, after they were originally banned for displaying this pesky tendency to rupture. And even though the manufacturers reformulated and did tons of safety studies, the FDA still requires you to get an MRI every other year post-breast implant, to check for something called “silent rupture,” where your implant implodes, but you and your doctor can’t tell just by feeling you up.

So. Here’s why I remain supportive of women who choose to get breast implants. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards, Government Watch, Ingredients, products

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Happenings, Ingredients

[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


Filed under Ingredients

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

[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

1 Comment

Filed under Government Watch, Ingredients

You Can Stop Showering! (Pretty People Say It’s Totally Cool)

Shower Time by Jiuck

Did anyone else wish that Catherine Saint Louis’ Sunday Styles story came with a scratch and sniff test this week?

It’s filled with all these really pretty people, like the super cute organic skin care maker, the built L.A. actor guy, and also this completely hot eyeglass salesman who don’t bathe or wear deodorant with any regularity and thus, must battle against the unwashed stigma every single day like so:

The few times Mr. Felix has mentioned on a date that he goes without deodorant, he said, things have quickly turned, well, sour. “It’s weird, but I don’t smell,” Mr. Felix will announce. Then, he said, “the comment is always, ‘You think you don’t smell.’ ” (Mr. Felix admitted that he lives in horror of having the rare fetid day.)

Time for an over-share: I take at least one no-shower day per week, more out of laziness than any higher environmental health calling. And by the end of the day, I can smell myself. Um, a lot. So I’m puzzling over this one. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards, Ingredients

[Muddling Through Milady’s] Chapter 3: Sanitation & Disinfection — and Formaldehyde, Too.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to subject you to Milady’s somewhat mind-numbing explanations of the three tiers of decontamination that should be used in a salon or spa. (But in case you’re wondering, they are sterilization, disinfection, and sanitation, and I have them down cold.)

Instead, I’m going to be all timely and share this little tidbit, from Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians, page 44 (in a red box marked with a big exclamation point, so you know it’s important). Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Hair, Ingredients, Nails, products

So Puberty is Starting Younger. A Lot Younger.

Photo of The Queen via Flickr

Now I know why I’ve been watching “Veronica Mars” reruns instead of reading the newspaper in the morning: Creepy stories like “First Signs of Puberty Seen in Younger Girls,” from Monday’s New York Times, which reports on a new Pediatrics study showing that girls are more likely to start developing breasts by age 7 or 8 than they were in the past.

The researchers looked at 1,239 girls aged 6 to 8 recruited in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati. The findings:

At 7 years, 10.4 percent of white, 23.4 percent of black and 14.9 percent of Hispanic girls had enough breast development to be considered at the onset of puberty.

At age 8, the figures were 18.3 percent in whites, 42.9 percent in blacks and 30.9 percent in Hispanics.

Yeah. Awesome.

Standard caveat about how nobody seems to have a real clue about why this is happening (and by “this” I mean, an average of 30 percent of 8 year olds growing boobs). Obesity may or may not be a factor. Race and related differences in socioeconomic experiences may or may not be a factor. A historic misreporting in medical textbooks about the onset of puberty may or may not be a factor.

And guess what else may or may not be a factor? Environmental chemicals. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Government Watch, In Class, Ingredients, Makeup, products, week 37