Because you’re [NOT] worth it: The dirty little secret cosmetics companies are hiding

It all started with watching the documentary America the Beautiful. Expecting to see a true, though predictable portrait of America as the land of unrealistic body images and eating disorders, I found myself instead struck by the utter insanity that is the American cosmetics industry. In a nutshell: The European Union has banned 450 commonly used cosmetics ingredients because of health risks. The US has only banned six. There has GOT to be something wrong here, I thought, with a discrepancy that enormous.

   American women are not only the most body-conscious in the world, but we are also the most at-risk from harmful ingredients in cosmetics, 60% of which are directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.

   I did my own investigation of the contents of my own collection of cosmetics. I had never looked at the ingredients in my makeup before, and was surprised that I actually had to look the ingredients up online for some of the items. The type was nearly invisible on some of the containers, and some descriptions were downright misleading. It should not have to take a five to ten minute internet search to find the ingredients of something I absorb into my body. 
   Looking at the ingredients, I knew, was an incomplete resource, because cosmetic companies don’t have to list ingredients considered “trade secrets,”–which leaves a gaping loophole for cosmetic companies to use cheap, harmful ingredients in their products. Nevertheless, I did very basic research, and here are some of the things I found:
   Eyeshadow: Every one of my eyeshadows (brands like Maybelline, Too Faced, and Clinique) listed Talc as the main ingredient. If Talc is inhaled or ingested at all, it is a highly harmful carcinogen, and has been directly linked to ovarian cancer.
   Foundation: My foundation, Too Faced “Magic Wand” Illuminating Foundation/Cashmere Finish (“achieve complexion perfection from one wave of a wand!”) is filled with parabens. Parabens are artificial preservatives that I found in almost every skincare product I own. They have been proven to enter the bloodstream through skin absorption, and they have been consistently linked to breast cancer. Parabens are also toxic for the reproductive system. Keep in mind, the skin absorbs 60% of what is applied to it.
   Powder: My powder (directions: smooth all over face…starting from center and blending outwards) Neutrogena Mineral Sheers in Classic Ivory also has parabens in it. Fortunately no talc, though. Mica, the main ingredient, is not absorbed onto the skin and is therefore not a carcinogen. Overall my Neutrogena minerally makeup was beginning to look less shady than others, until I found that the third ingredient, zinc stearate, was not only a carcinogen, but a carcinogen that had appeared on several citizen-filed petitions for causing medical problems as a carcinogen.
   Blush: Whoa mama! My Nars blush (shade: “Deep Throat”) had several carcinogens, such as talc, zinc stearate, manganese, a boatload of parabens, and lanolin. Lanolin is fine on its own, but cosmetic-grade lanolin is often contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin, and lindane, in addition to other neurotoxic pesticides.
   Lipstick/Balm: Clinique is the best lipstick brand, since they are unscented, and therefore contain no phthalates (carcinogens used in perfume and nail polish, among other things). However, Clinique still uses aluminum in some shades, as well as petrochemicals and sunscreens containing zinc oxide. Unfortunately, every other lipstick and lip balm I own contained parabens upon parabens upon parabens.  And we EAT lipstick and lip balm.
   Not only are most lip products chock full of parabens and harmful sunscreens, there are also copious amounts of lead in many top lipstick brands. “Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities,” said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek in September. “FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in lipsticks to be a safety concern.” The FDA blatantly ignored the simple fact that women ingest lipstick through absorption and eating. Unless it is wiped off, lipstick is ingested into the body. And yet, dangerous levels of lead are “not a concern.”
   According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the average level of lead found in the lipsticks — 1.7 parts per million — is more than 10 times higher than the standard imposed on candy.
   These carcinogens and chemicals are like ticking time bombs. They don’t necessarily have an immediate effect, but constant intake of small doses builds up in the body. I will never believe that the chemical build up from cosmetics doesn’t have a detrimental effect.
   The crazy thing is, in Europe, cosmetic ingredients are tested BEFORE consumers can get to them. Here, however, the FDA only tests cosmetic ingredients AFTER they have harmed someone. In other words, the big cosmetic companies’ ability to earn a profit is prioritized above the safety of the women they manipulate. Cosmetics are the least regulated product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  Motivated by a media-catalyzed sense of inadequacy, American women pay to have their bodies contaminated by harmful chemicals and carcinogens. The worst part is, they don’t even know it, and as far as the US government is concerned, it doesn’t matter.
   As I looked at my cosmetics strewn on the floor, I felt tricked. I also felt like my government had failed me…which it has.
   To the girls out there: Check your cosmetics for harmful ingredients, such as parabens, talc, zinc stearate, etc. In the meantime, there are plenty of options for paraben-free makeup. Don’t be fooled by brands like The Body Shop that claim to be “all-natural” or high-end brands like Chanel. Their products are just as filled with the bad stuff as cheaper drugstore  brands, like Revlon.
Some tips:
1. Wear less makeup. We need to stop the perfection obsession, anyway.
2. Use perfume oil instead of phthalate-loaded perfume, or spray perfume on clothing and not directly on the skin.
3. Go out right now and buy Burt’s Bee’s or Alba lip balms, so you can stop eating carcinogens.
Brands that are safe-ish: Urban Decay, Clinique (for unscented products free of phthalates)
Brands that are safe: Alba, Burt’s Bee’s, Zuzu, Dr. Hauschka
If anyone has any suggestions for safe cosmetic brands, I’d love to receive them and update this post!
For more information: (updates about cosmetic safety) (for lists of harmful ingredients, as well as an index of safe cosmetic brands)

Active involvement vs. cynical spectatorship

The good thing about this Democratic primary is that more people are starting to give a damn about what happens in politics. The downside is that a lot of people still don’t give enough of a damn to really research the candidates. In a Knowledge Networks recent poll of 1,844 adults, 15% think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. I googled “barack obama muslim” out of curiosity. Every single website on the first page (that’s the only one I looked at) disproved the rumor. In effect, it would only take a quick google search to learn that he is, in fact, not a Muslim. One would have to actually try to search for a website that says that he is a Muslim.

This brings me to my point, and that is that I’m tired of people telling me that they don’t really care about politics. People need to get informed! They need to do so by watching political news. Lots of political news. Why? Because the more you watch it, the less you’re at the mercy of the bias of reporters. If you watch the news enough to know the biases of the individual reporters, then you can mix all the information together, put it through a strainer, and be left with the truth. It’s the people who don’t watch/listen to/read political news who are at the mercy of the biases of the reporters. This is because they don’t know enough about their reporting style to be able to distinguish truth from elaboration or understatement.

In conclusion, people need to give even more of a damn about this election because it’s the one time in four years where the people have a say in politics. It’s not difficult to be informed. Political news is on in the morning, on CNN and MSNBC. It is on during the day. It is on at night. Articles can be easily accessed through use of Google and voters can look at campaign websites. You can read my blog and benefit from my (probably overly extensive) research. There is simply no excuse to be uninformed. Anyone who says that they “don’t have the time” is lying, because information can be learned in a matter of seconds. This election should matter enough that people spend some time each day making sure that they know what’s going on. It’s time for active involvement and an end to the cynical spectatorship that has long characterized the American people’s involvement in politics.

But you’re already reading this blog so as to be more informed, so give yourself a pat on the back. I’m ranting about all the Not-You’s in the world!

Published in: on April 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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