Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Picking the Right Products

Today marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you’ll find all kinds of products on shelves with a pink ribbon to indicate that the company is donating a portion of proceeds to groups that support the cause by helping victims of the disease and/or researchers working for a cure. Here’s my buyer-beware, buzz-kill plea: be mindful of beauty products with the pink ribbon because many of them actually contain carcinogens. Seriously. Of course it’s good to give credit where it’s due and to be grateful for companies with big bucks that are donating money to the cause, but it’s a shame that some of these companies are aware of dangers (or possible dangers) of chemicals in their products and continue to use them, putting the public at risk. Luckily, there are pink-ribboned products made with safer ingredients, like the lip gloss pictured, from one of my favorite beauty lines. Jane Iredale has been in the mineral makeup market for years and formulates products without harsh and hazardous chemicals. You can investigate the safety of other personal are products at the Skin Deep database and, as always, find more no the subject at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Roll the Tape

My love of makeup dates back to my childhood, when I found out that the mother of my best friend from the neighborhood was an Avon lady and kept her stash of cosmetics in their guest room. All those lipsticks and eye shadows and nail polishes! Such pretty colors! Sadly, I won’t use those beauty products today — or ones from so many other commercial brands — because they contain chemicals known or believed to cause harm. Happily, so many other companies are making makeup and other beauty products without toxic ingredients. I’ve learned a lot from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group dedicated to informing consumers of dangers in their medicine cabinets and makeup bags and advocating for change in the beauty industry. Their latest effort comes in video form:

Splurge: Lather Up

My new favorite soap comes from Soaptopia, a shop in Mar Vista (they also sell their products online and in select stores). How perfect is this one for a post-surf shower? Ocean’s 12 contains seaweed, palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, and lemongrass essential oil, among the all-natural ingredients. Very refreshing.

Here Comes the Sunscreen

My loved ones in NY are promised some sunshine after nearly a month’s worth of rainy and grey days. Here in LA, June gloom appears to be lifting. Yep, here comes the sun!

That means lathering up. I won’t leave the house without protection from the sun: SPF in my lotion for my face, a hat and sunglasses in my bag, and a tube of sunscreen for use if the rest of me might be exposed to sun’s rays. Concern for health is certainly a factor but it’s also vanity–keeping those wrinkles and sunspots away.

The sunscreen I use is not from Coppertone or Banana Boat and it’s not from those other companies that claim to be “natural” when they pack their products with the same harmful ingredients. Products from so many well-known brands are made with chemicals linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, endocrine disruption, and more. Even worse: the products don’t prove to be as effective as the company claims. Potentially harmful and not very useful? Not what I’m looking for in a sunscreen (or any skincare product).

I’m happy paying a bit more on alternative options that provide safe protection from the sun’s rays and give me peace of mind–and finding one that fits this bill is easy by consulting the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” site, which ranks products that have been independently tested for safety. The best ranked product happens to be my favorite: the SPF30 tube from Soleo Organics, which contains zinc oxide (the same white stuff found on the noses of lifeguards everywhere).

Nailing It: Picking the Right Polish

Nailing ItOriginally published on the Care2 website.

I skimmed the L.A. Times story in Sunday’s paper with interest: a new nail salon was opened that sounded like my kinda place. The structure was described as “eco-friendly,” “a completely green structure” and a “safe environment.” Fantastic, I thought. Finally.

But I noted that it was an OPI nail salon and I had long ago stopped using nail products by OPI. When I learned about the dangers of nail polish a few years ago, I began to bring my own toxic-free products with me to nail salons. Then I began to go to salons less frequently because of the fumes I had to inhale while inside those walls (wondering every time I sat in the chair about how the health of the nail technician could be compromised). OPI is a nail salon favorite but I read that the company was reportedly reluctant to remove the big, bad three chemicals found in nail products: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). For several years, experts have identified these three chemicals, commonly used in nail polish, as harmful; formaldehyde is a known carcinogen as well as a skin and respiratory irritant, while toluene and DBP are known or suspected reproductive developmental toxins.

The European Union (EU) has banned the use of these three ingredients in nail (and other) products and I had heard that OPI complied with the EU rules for the products they made for overseas sales—but they continued to use the chemicals in U.S. products. Hold on. Now OPI was getting attention for its new eco-friendly salon? This felt like a case of “green-washing” to me, with OPI riding the environmental wave. Fitting a building with solar panels or stocking your bathroom with Seventh Generation toilet paper does not make a company green. What about the nail polish with the toxic chemicals?

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics targeted the company, along with many others, imploring them to make changes to their products and I went online to find that OPI finally decided to reformulate its products to eliminate these ingredients. The L.A. Times story quoted someone from OPI as saying that because they’re a chemical company, they felt they should give back. I’d never want to fault someone for doing the right thing and I like to give credit to those who see the light, but I’d much rather give my business to companies that don’t make me think twice. Luckily, there are better choices out there—and more every day. Find some of them here.

Made It Myself: Beach Hair Spray

I have friends who “cleanse” on occasion—and when asked about why they do it they say it’s to lose weight, to rid the body of toxins, or to practice self-discipline. To this I say, good for you! But I ain’t gonna stop eating for nuthin’. I like my food! That said, I have embarked on a one month cleanse of my own kind, one that does not involve food. It’s actually more than a month because I’m doing this for the duration of Lent. The idea came to me when I spoke to a loved one who is giving up sweets for Lent and I felt inspired to give something up as well. Not sweets—no way I’d do that. But I decided I wanted to practice the self-discipline of restraint. And I chose to give up shopping. I will, of course, purchase necessities like food and toilet paper and fuel for my car. But anything that I want and do not need will have to wait. Maybe the recession helped me with the choice, but it feels like a good one. Fashion and beauty are my biggest categories of consumption so this basically means I won’t be buying clothing or cosmetics. Fashion-wise, this comes at a good time for me, as I’ve recently cleaned out my closet and have a new-found appreciation for what I chose to keep (sort of like when you get a good haircut and feel clean and refreshed). But I’ve run out of my favorite hair product, one that gives me beach hair (above, one of my favorite beaches). My only choice was to make one from pantry items—so it’s all natural and didn’t require me to shop for anything. I searched for DIY beach hair online and found numerous recipes and mixed and matched to come up with this one.

½ cup water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coconut oil (melted)
1 drop of jasmine essential oil

Spray on, twist some tendrils, scrunch, go.

Pretty in Pink Lips

This week, I went on a quest for a good pink lipstick and found two. Dr. Hauschka’s Transparent Pink is a bold pink and Josie Maran’s Precocious is the barely-there, wish-my-lips-were-like-this naturally pink. Neither contains ingredients that frighten me—which says a lot, now that I am aware of what goes into the making of most conventional cosmetics. I tell anyone who will listen that we should all be mindful of what we’re putting on and in our bodies—and lipstick is something that goes on AND in (yes, ingesting it is pretty much unavoidable). When I decided to “green” my makeup bag by choosing non-toxic products in favor of those I’d been using for years, lip products were the first ones I swapped. I was especially excited this week to find out that Josie Maran, who launched her line this year, is a “compact signer” for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which means the company is committed to avoiding toxic ingredients and reporting what goes into the making of each product without hiding behind smokescreens. Phew.

New Year Blooms

Just in time for the new year: the jasmine is starting to bloom! If I were a person to make New Year’s Resolutions, I would resolve to take more time to smell the jasmine (roses are fine, but jasmine is divine). But I do not need to make a resolution like that; our jasmine is strategically planted so it can be smelled while we’re sitting on the porch and it blooms around L.A. throughout the year. When I’m away from the blooms, I wear perfumes scented with jasmine and only truly natural jasmine. (Quick green living rant: synthetic fragrances are made of nasty and toxic chemicals. Also, synthetic means fake and why on earth would you want to wear something fake?) One of my favorite splurges of recent years was the jasmine solid perfume by Aftelier, which is packaged in a silver compact and fits in my makeup bag so I never have to leave home without it and I can dab a little behind my ears for a whiff of the most beautiful scent anytime I want a little lift.

Getty Visit Part 3: Perfume Bottles

The “Herculean Woman” exhibit at the Getty Villa featured a case of ancient and beautiful vessels for cosmetics and perfumed oils (and the painting above showing cherubs making perfume!). I have a collection of a few dozen old perfume bottles and a handful of cosmetic compacts, but mine come from flea markets, thrift stores and eBay. None are from B.C. but I’m fond of them all, especially the old bottle of Evening in Paris—the one that started my collection. The story behind it: My father was invited to my mother’s sixteenth birthday party and asked my grandmother for a ride; when he told her where he was going, she insisted on first bringing him into town to pick up a last-minute gift and she helped him select a bottle of Evening in Paris perfume. (Is it any wonder I am a romantic?) Most of the bottles in my collection are empty or contain perfumes that are no longer wearable (or ones I wouldn’t wear anyway), but I love them for their sizes and shapes and designs. I can only imagine the scents once placed in some of the bottles on display at the Getty and love to think they are timeless and made of scents revered through the ages, like the ones I like to wear today: naturally made (without nasty chemicals) and intoxicating. I’d expect nothing less for a goddess.