Smell It, Taste it: Mmmmm, Chocolate

I read a report today that Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld loves chocolate but does not eat it. (This immediately brought to mind the story of Peter, AKA No Coffee Guy, whom I met during a weekend at Fire Island. Before going out one night, Peter’s housemate was brewing a pot of coffee and Peter commented about how good it smelled. But when I suggested he grab a cup, he replied that he didn’t drink it. He loved the smell, he said, but didn’t drink it. Then he added that he had never tried it. Loved the smell but had never tasted it? He could not provide a reason why and I was puzzled. Not trying crack? I get that. But coffee? That was the first sign that Peter was going to be a drip. Yes, pun definitely intended!) Back to Mr. Lagerfeld. He is quoted in W magazine as saying that the smell of chocolate is enough for him, that he can eat chocolate with his nose. Puzzled again. Barring a serious health issue, how bad can chocolate be when consumed in moderation? Mmmm, rich, dark chocolate. I consume some every day and savor every bite, even if it’s only one tiny piece. Lagerfeld finished by saying he would love a perfume based on chocolate. Someone should send him Cacao, the beautiful perfume already made by Aftelier Perfumes. As with all of her other amazing scents, Mandy Aftel uses only natural ingredients (no synthetics), and this one has a base of chocolate and vanilla with citrus and jasmine sambac top and middle notes—all to make it absolutely intoxicating and, well, delicious.

Better Beauty: Glowing, Golden and Good

It’s the time of year when you see magazine articles and blog posts on how to achieve glowing and golden skin, featuring products made with toxic chemicals I wouldn’t want on my face and absorbed in my body. There are so many better-for-you (and the environment) products available out there and I always consult the Skin Deep website for their ratings of products when looking to buy something new. My favorites right now:

For a subtle glow, I like Jane Iredale’s 24-Karat Gold Dust in Rose Gold. This mineral shimmer comes in powder form, but I blend it with shea butter to apply it across my cheekbones, down the bridge of my nose, and on my eyelids. I carry some of this mixture in my bag in a contact lens case. (Pictured above; the cute blue scarf it’s sitting on was a thrift store gift from my mom).

For a golden faux tan, I like RMS Beauty’s Lip 2 Cheek in Promise. It’s a creamy mineral stain in a pot and the smallest amount is needed to give cheekbones a hint of bronze. (To apply more liberally to my face, neck, and chest, I’ll blend some with shea butter or coconut oil.)

Kitchen Sources for Beauty: Olive Oil

I saw a post on a style blog yesterday about a new product available: an anti-frizz comb infused with olive oil. Infused with olive oil! To that, I say this: Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. There’s no need to buy a new comb or product—simply use olive oil. I keep olive oil in a vintage glass bottle in the bathroom. Usually I take a few drops and rub it between my palms and then gently run my hands through my hair, away from the scalp. When hair is very dry, I use olive oil as a deep conditioner, soaking the strands with the oil and twisting it into a ponytail knot for an hour before shampooing it out in the shower. Hair is softened and frizz-free—and I take great comfort in using a product that’s safe enough to eat (and already in the house). Photo note: I keep the olive oil away from the light to keep it fresh, but it’s photographed in the window here to catch the pretty morning light.

Beauty Treat: New Lipstick

I thought of my grandmother when I picked up a new lipstick recently. “You could use a little lipstick” was how she often greeted me during my young adult years. She also told me often that I was sweet and smart and talented and, yes, beautiful. Like countless grandparents before and after her time, she would occasionally express befuddlement about the fashions worn by “kids these days,” and she had a habit of pushing my bangs to the side while telling me that these were the only eyes God was going to give me. But I never had any doubt that she loved me just the way I was, so I never felt bad about the lipstick line.

She was from a different era and believed that ladies ought to wear lipstick. I recall her pulling out her own tube of lipstick from her handbag and applying it—either a pinkish coral or red color—every time she left the house. She might be wearing a shapeless house dress or no-nonsense slacks with an elastic waistband and a button-down shirt, but she always finished the look with her diamonds and lipstick. My grandmother’s words sunk in and I credit her with making me the lipstick lover I am today. I don’t leave the house without a little something on my lips—tinted balm, gloss, or lipstick.

Over the years, I’ve used a lot of colors from more cosmetic lines than I can recall, but I became a wiser consumer and limited my choices upon learning about the damaging chemicals hiding inside most of those lipstick tubes. (If she were still alive, I would replace my grandmother’s lipstick with a safer version. If you’re not aware of what’s in your personal care products, please visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EWG’s Skin Deep database, which evaluates products and ranks them for safety.) When I felt I could use a little pick-me-up a few weeks ago, treating myself to a new lipstick sounded like a good idea. I went with a shiny gold tube of Brett lip colour by Jane Iredale (pictured), one of the cosmetic lines I count on for making high-quality makeup without the harmful chemicals found in so many other brands. It’s creamy and the color works on me as an everyday shade. It feels like the perfect “you could use a little lipstick” choice.

Kid Rocks: Wild & Crazy Hair

My goddaughter Mary, 9, is a girl who likes to have fun with fashion, often putting together outfits that are unexpected and bold (and not just when she’s playing dress-up). For this look, her equally stylish mom braided her hair before bedtime to give her soft, natural waves and then added a few braids to her ponytail, using hairbands I sent her that have pieces of recycled fabric scraps tied to the band (leopard, grey fleece, camouflage).

Nature’s Inspiration: Pink Jasmine

The jasmine is blooming on the porch and I get to breathe in the rich and sweet blossoms before leaving for work in the morning and when coming home at the end of the day. I love the deep pink buds that hold the delicate white flowers. It’s like the pink of my don’t-leave-home-without-it lip gloss, Jane Iredale’s Cosmo PureGloss. So when I find myself having to refrain from gobbling up the flowers because they smell so good, I put on a little gloss and dab on some of Aftelier’s jasmine solid perfume, another makeup bag staple that comes with me wherever I go.

Breaking the Bottle: The Dangers of Perfume

Originally published on the Care2 website.

I’ve been a lover of perfume since I was a small child. I loved to examine my mom’s collection of pretty perfume bottles, neatly arranged on top of her dresser. Like the scarves in her closet, they were lovely and mysterious. When I was old enough, my mother would spritz my wrist with whatever scent she was wearing at the time. Then, like many girls of my generation, I got my very own perfume: Love’s Baby Soft. Oh, how I loved to spray myself with that sweet scent.

That was then. Today, I wouldn’t dare use any of those commercially made perfumes. You pick your poison and I’ve decided that perfume ain’t the one for me. One of the tougher lessons I’ve learned since becoming aware of the dangers of personal care products is that most perfumes contain chemical toxins I don’t want on or anywhere near my body. Worst of all: you don’t really know what those toxins are because of old laws protecting perfume-makers from revealing their trade secrets. And this applies to all products, not only perfumes. When you see the word “fragrance” on a label, you’re being hoodwinked. “Fragrance” can include numerous chemicals that are not good for you (or the environment).

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics just released a report on a study of the health risks of fragrance: “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.” Put simply: the news stinks. Perfume lovers who are unaware of what’s in their bottles will have a hard time with the findings–just as I was shocked and more than a little saddened when I consulted the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website a few years ago to learn about what’s found in personal care products. How bad can a little perfume be, right? Wrong–unless you’re okay with using chemicals classified as hormone disruptors that can increase your risk of cancer, or harm a developing fetus, or contribute to thyroid and other problems. It’s even worse when you consider how many other products we use regularly and how many other environmental toxins we’re exposed to. It’s black and white for me: if I know it could be bad for me, I’m not gonna use it.

After my enlightenment a few years ago–feeling like I was a graduate of the beauty school of hard knocks–I was faced with my own dresser of pretty perfume bottles I had collected over the years. They had to go. But what I discovered was more delightful than I could have imagined: there are pure and safe and stunningly beautiful perfumes being made that are far superior to the ones I had used. Now, I am a lover of perfumes made from pure essential oils–nothing artificial, nothing toxic. My dresser is now filled with small bottles of non-toxic oils and perfume blends I’ve found to satisfy my love of scent without sacrificing my well-being. You can begin your own search by finding a list of safe makers of perfume and other personal care products on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics site and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

Makeup Tip: Saving Crumbled Eye Shadow

I caught a few minutes of a lifestyle magazine show on a local channel not too long ago and the host was interviewing someone who claimed to be an expert in green living on the topic of eco-friendly beauty tips. One of her tips: if your powder eye shadow crumbles, you don’t have to toss it. Preventing waste–so, far so good. But her suggestion for how to save it was to blend the crumbled powder remains with Vaseline to make a creamy eye shadow. That’s where my jaw dropped; using a petroleum-based product like Vaseline is not green or eco or environmentally friendly by any stretch of the imagination. Good idea, but terrible ingredient for the task.

So here’s my tip: when a powder eye shadow crumbles or breaks, simply blend the remains with some shea butter to create a creamy eye shadow. I tried it with eye shadow that broke apart after a recent trip and it works. Voila.

Ugly Truth: The Story of Cosmetics

Quick: count how many personal care products you used this morning, from shampoo in the shower to lip gloss applied when you were stopped at the red light. Do you know what’s in the products? Do you know if they’re made with safe ingredients? I pull out the bullhorn any chance I get to encourage my loved ones to choose safer beauty and personal care products and point them to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for info and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website to look up safety ratings of products. Now I can point to this video to help get the message across. Cheers to Annie Leonard, behind “The Story of Stuff,” for taking on the story of cosmetics.

Beauty for Beach Days

I consulted the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide and was happy to find my favorite SPF 30 sunscreens by Badger and California Baby ranked highest for safety and effectiveness. The Badger SPF 30 sunscreen stick is also good to apply pre-surf for nose, ears, hands, and cheeks, and their SPF 15 lip balm stays put during surf or swim sessions and beach yoga classes.

I’ve got a collection of hats and make a point to wear one when spending more than a few minutes outdoors. Baseball caps (Yankees AND Dodgers, showing my East and West coast support!); straw cowboy hats; cotton floppy hats. When in the water, I wear a beat-up baseball cap and tie the string on my wetsuit zipper to the hat (so it doesn’t get lost at sea when I wipe out).

Even when I’m wearing only sunscreen on my face, I like to put a little color on my lips. My current favorite is Jane Iredale’s PureMoist Lip Colour SPF18. There are no harsh chemicals or artificial colors and it’s got SPF protection. My favorite is a soft and pretty red color named Nicole, which I dab on lightly for a bit of color during the day; at night, I wear it loud and proud. I have become a devotee of many of Iredale’s products and also like to use some of the 24-Karat Gold Dust powder (mineral, nothing toxic) for a subtle shimmer on eyelids and cheeks or to blend it with some moisturizer or sunscreen for a pretty glow. You can find more safe-for-you cosmetics (and see how the products you already use rank) at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database from the Environmental Working Group; for even more information on the safety of makeup and personal care products, visit the site for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Beach Hair Spray:
I make my own beach hair spray. In a spray bottle, I mix 1 cup of filtered water, 1 tablespoons of sea salt, 1 teaspoon shea butter, 2-3 drops of essential oil of choice (I like jasmine and orange). Shake and spray. (Twist and braid a few pieces of hair for some waves.)

Hair bands:
Self-promotional plug! I make hair bands, from basic black elastic bands embellished them with recycled scraps of fabric (denim, hankie, chino, linen, tulle, silk tie…) and sell them on my Etsy shop, which features upcycled and vintage clothing and accessories.

Shea butter, from head to toe.

Summer Beauty: Lipstick with SPF

I’m fine going without makeup, but I always like something on my lips. It can be straight-up shea butter for a bit of moisture, but I generally go for something with a little color (or a lot–sometimes an occasion calls for smokin’ hot red). This serves me well during summer or long stretches outdoors any time of the year, as lips need sun protection just like the rest of our exposed parts.

Before choosing any personal care product, I first consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, which rates products for safety and lists their ingredients. (Don’t know the site? Get to it. You know you end up ingesting most of your lipstick, so it’s really in your best interest to know what’s inside the tube.)

The group puts out an annual report on the safety of sun protection products, including a listing of sun balms with SPF. The best-rated lipstick (3 out of 10, on a scale that deems 0 harmless and 10 hazardous) is from Jane Iredale, a line that produces makeup without the nasty chemicals found in so many other brands. The company is also a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, having pledged to meet the guidelines set by the non-profit group.

I try to choose only products with 0-2 scores but can live with a 3 for some pretty lip color. My new spring/summer color is Jane Iredale’s PureMoist Lipcolour SPF18 in C.J. Like most lipsticks, it looks darker in the tube than it does on your lips. This one is pink with a hint of coral and reminds me of that pinkish, sherbert-like color you see in a sunset, like the clouds behind the palm trees in this photo.

Hitting the Right Bottle: Perfume

I’ve loved perfume since I was a little kid. In chronological order, I wore Love’s Baby Soft, L’Air du Temps, Eternity, Flowers—then, well, then I went wild and crazy and divided my devotion among a collection of dozens of fragrances. I visited perfume blogs and ordered samples, always searching for magic in a bottle. I never left the house without a spritz or dab of something.

So when I learned a few years ago about the dangers that lurked in those bottles—to find out that something that smelled so good could be so, well, bad—it was disheartening. I’m sure a lot of others are feeling as dismayed after reading a report released this week from the fine folks at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.” In short: the news stinks. Testing shows that popular perfumes are filled with chemicals that can hurt you and/or the environment. Oh, and some of those toxins aren’t even listed on the ingredients labels. (I’ve published a blog post on the topic at the Care2 site.)

So here’s the thing. No one likes to hear that something they enjoy is dangerous. I don’t like to be a Debbie-Downer, but I believe it’s important to be informed and pay attention to this report—and to try to lobby for change in the industry. Loopholes in the law to let companies hide ingredients from labels? Come on—there’s nothing acceptable about that.

But if there’s nothing enjoyable about telling someone that the perfume they love contains hidden toxins, there’s something delightful about talking up the alternatives out there. When I was faced with giving up my own beloved perfumes (ouch, it really hurt), I went on a mission to find scents I could wear without sacrificing my health. I had low expectations and resigned myself to settle for safe but second-best.

Boy, was I wrong. I started with pure essential oils, followed by blends. Then, when I worked at a website about green living, I had the pleasure of writing a story about Mandy Aftel, a perfumer who makes fragrances out of pure essential oils for her Aftelier line; she wrote a book on the subject that I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in perfume: Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. Her passion for the art of perfumery is impressive and she is committed to creating only scents from pure sources—nothing artificial, nothing toxic. Spending time with her in her Berkeley studio (pictured, photos of her studio) was an absolute treat. I recall speaking to her about a recent hike and describing the smell of the wet fir when she pulled “Fig” off the shelf for me. Bingo. (It has become my go-to scent.)

I am now devoted to Aftel’s scents, along with others from perfume makers who don’t use nasty chemicals or hide what they use in their creations—so I can smell pretty without worrying about what my skin is absorbing. (Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website for results of personal care products they test, including perfumes.) Best of all, I don’t miss anything I gave up.

Get Out: Safe Sunscreens

A friend asked me last week about what sunscreen I use–she knows I won’t use any personal care products that contain ingredients that are harmful (to me or the environment) and I never leave the house without sunscreen (and a hat for long periods of time outdoors). Sure, I can honestly say I protect myself from the sun because it’s the healthy thing to do, but I’m equally as concerned about my vanity (why bring on wrinkles earlier than necessary?).

I’ve done my research on the topic of sun protection and will happily reveal my top sources: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website. The Skin Deep site turns the spotlight on personal care products by revealing their ingredients and ranking them in terms of safety. A product with harmless ingredients will get a 0 rating and one with a cocktail of toxic chemicals will get a 10; I make it a rule to use only products in the 0-2 range. The EWG’s Sunscreen report has everything you need to know and reveals both the safety and effectiveness of the sunscreen products tested. My go-to products are by California Baby and Badger and they’re top-ranked.

Other sunscreen products you might be more familiar with contain ingredients linked to any or all of the following: cancer; developmental/reproductive toxicity; allergies/immunotoxicity; neurotoxicity; endocrine disruption; persistence and bioaccumulation; organ system toxicity (non-reproductive); irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs); enhanced skin absorption; contamination concerns, biochemical or cellular level changes. If you don’t know what any of this means, you really don’t want to. (Did you really have to read anything after cancer?) Gloomy and doomy, I know. But of course you should be informed about what you’re putting on your body and will want to check this out. And there’s good news for users of Coppertone, Banana Boat, and other popular products I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole: you can find something safer and better.

Musical aside: The song in my head while writing this is “California Sun,” performed by The Ramones.

Note: post was updated after original publish date with the link to 2010’s Skin Deep report.

Lip Pots: Soft and Pretty

My latest soft and pretty lips plan is simple. Step 1: moisturize lips. Step 2: give lips subtle color. On the left: Lip softener from Farmaesthetics. On the right: Lip2Cheek by RMS Beauty in a color called Illusive, which looks like brick in the pot but goes on lighter and stains my pucker with a sweet pinky-plum (bonus: it also works as a blush). Both products are made without artificial colors, preservatives, or other nasty chemicals found in many other lip products so I don’t have to worry about ingesting toxins in the name of beauty. (Illusive rates a low hazard score of 1 on the Skin Deep Database.) Step 3: Smile.

Rethinking Pink: Petitioning Estee Lauder

I’ve made a rule about keeping toxins out of my makeup bag and use every opportunity I get to encourage others to choose beauty products made without toxic chemicals. “That’s bad for you” is never a message I like to deliver, but I delight in the fact that I can suggest better-for-you products and I usually end my sermon with the recommendation to visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website for more info and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website for ratings of products. We’re deep in October and I find myself wanting to grab a megaphone, as I spot cosmetics and personal care products that contain carcinogens–on the shelves being marketed for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Slapping a pink ribbon on a product is not enough. Estee Lauder has a big campaign each year to raise money and awareness for the cause and I cheer those efforts, but it’s time they started making safer products. Lauder owns Origins and Aveda, two companies that make products with less-toxic ingredients, but the their other lines (MAC, Clinique…) don’t deserve to be pink-ribboned. What you can do: sign a petition asking them to do the right thing.

Lip-Smacking Good: Non-Toxic Tints

I feel naked without anything on my lips and use shea butter when I’m feeling no-nonsense and glosses when I feel glam. For in-between, a tinted balm is just right and my new favorite comes from Hemp Organics, a company that makes products without the nasty chemicals you find in most brands. The Skin Deep database, which lists ingredients in personal care products and tests them for safety, gives this product the Low Hazard label (0 is safest and this gets a 2) so I can feel comfortable wearing it.

Breast Cancer Awareness: Beauty-Buying Tips

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and you’re sure to see the pink ribbon on many products. Maybe you’ll think, Oh, great, I’ll buy that and help support the fight against breast cancer. The pictured pink gloss from Jane Iredale would be a good grab because it does not contain carcinogens like so many other beauty products (yes, a lot of beauty products really do contain chemicals linked to cancer — but it’s easy for you to educate yourself with help from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics).