Conscious Cosmetics

~ This blog is now historical. Please see BCAM site for new blog! ~ Demystifying the fog around your cosmetics! And yes, you use cosmetics - they include makeup, deodorant, sunscreen, hair products, talc, baby products, perfumes, toothpaste etc. What aren't your cosmetics manufacturers and the government telling you about the ingredients?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A fond wrap-up - inspiration for the future

Just letting you know that this blog has become historical, and the BCAM website is the place to visit for new blog posts. I've enjoyed helping while I could and I'll be leaving this here for a while as a reflection of what has been. It is clear to me that in the last year a blossoming of awareness has finally sprung forth, at least in North America, as to the importance of conscious beauty and personal care product choices. May this consciousness deepen, broaden, and become the norm! A big thanks to BCAM for the part of the journey I had a wonderful chance to share with you! Everyone - be inspired and make changes that you can make, to show others what is possible. Together we not only can, but are, making a huge difference.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Facing Up To Clean Faces: Young Girls and Cosmetics

 Photo courtesy of: Sidewalk Flying

As a child my mother made a rule very early on. She told me "You are not wearing makeup until you are 16." At the age of 5 or so, I thought that was a very weird thing to tell me because I'd never shown an interest in makeup since it "stank". Being a child highly sensitive to everything that smelled bad (from car exhaust to perfume), I wasn't exactly upset. However, as I grew older, it naturally turned to resentment for just being told that it was something I was "not allowed" to do when I could see my peers starting to do it. I didn't want to wear makeup and there are some hilarious episodes from my teens in trying it and finding out it wasn't for me, like the time my mother insisted I learn grooming from a modeling school. I left one afternoon with bright green witchy eyes after being told to lose a quarter stone despite already being underweight - needless to say, modeling wasn't for me, and nor was the makeup after my Nana took over a half hour with brutal toweling cloths to remove it. But what I didn't like most was being told what to do! The real issue for me was having things explained to me properly, not just being ordered about.

My experience as a bewildered teen is why I think it's really important that we talk openly and realistically to our young daughters, sisters, girlfriends, nieces, etc., about why makeup for girls when they're still growing up is not only strange in many respects but also potentially dangerous. It's strange because suggesting that it's OK to wear makeup to try and look older before girls even have a clue what that's all about, is just plain thoughtless. It's strange because healthy young bodies should be exploring painting on canvas, on sidewalks, on walls, on objets d'art, before they paint their eyelids and nails purposefully. While not averse to the occasional face-painted butterfly (provided I can verify the contents of that paint), regular use of nail polish, rouge, lipstick, even lip gloss at an early age are a window into a world of high pressured consuming, objectification and the beginning of conforming to styles that marketing moguls use to convince teen girls and adult women that we're somehow defective or deficient without these products. And it's dangerous because we just don't know what's in these products. The average perfume contains over 4000 ingredients. Somehow I don't think they make labels large enough to accommodate all those unknown ingredients in our cosmetics...

Girls need to grow strong, independent in their thinking, capable, and free. They don't need to be molded to conform to certain standards, well before they can make up their own minds. I see early usage of makeup as being a source of making up not only the face and body but also the mind. That isn't healthy. Yet, 9 out of 10 girls are regular wearers of makeup by the ages of 11-14 according to the Environmental Working Group. So what do we - as mothers, aunts, grandmothers, guardians, teachers, fathers, etc. - do? Do we ban this stuff outright and leave a wake of bewildered, resentful, angry girls in our wake? No, I think there is a much gentler and more sensible path:
  1. For girls from birth: For starters, just don't introduce makeup into a young girl's world under any circumstances. If she is given a toy makeup kit, toss it away quietly. You can always explain it was "one-off use" like food and give her something else in place. Be very selective about the use of cosmetic products until your daughter has stopped developing. Often it is as simple as not having the items in the house, period.
  2. For girls aged about 4 onward: Spend time talking to young girls about the impact of advertising. I have found that it's never too early to talk conscious consumption with children. You can find the words to explain that "ads are things some people earn a living from; they're not something to live our lives by though". You can ask young girls to think through advertising and to guess at what they're being asked to do and why. Make it into a game while they're young, and as they grow older, they'll be thinking consciously about marketing ploys.
  3. For girls aged about 8 onward: Show by example that you are a conscious consumer too. Take curious young girls shopping with you when you buy your cosmetics and openly discuss the merits and bad points of the choices before you. Go to a pharmacy and a health food store for comparison. Show the girls the long list of ingredients with unpronounceable names on the back of them and tell them why you don't use that makeup, using the old adage that "if you can't pronounce it, you can't wear it". In the health food store, choose organic, known-ingredient products, again showing the girls why. Showing what you do right will have much more impact than anything else.
  4. For girls aged about 8 onward: Explain why cosmetics are not needed for young people. Don't make it a preach-from-the-pulpit and avoid saying "because I say so". Both those approaches are guaranteed to cause rebellion. Instead, take the time to borrow books from the library that show industrial cosmetic making processes, that show the origins of makeup items in their natural form and the additions of chemicals to transform them, or search online. Read to them about the known problems of some chemicals. You can do this very effectively if you take the time to reduce the language and concepts to their level.
  5. For girls aged 8 onward: Have girls research online and in the library about the realities of cosmetics for themselves. If they discover things for themselves, they are far more likely to respond positively to avoiding the use of makeup while young and they are far more likely to proactively seek out healthy products when they grow old enough to try cosmetics. Make it into a project - a poster, a blog, a letter-writing campaign, a leaflet, a class talk, whatever works best.
One final word: Don't forget that the word "cosmetic" is very broad. It's not just makeup - it's sunscreen, shampoo, deodorant, even toothpaste. Being vigilant about what the young girls in your life are putting on their skin, an organ that easily absorbs creams, fats, oils, etc., is vital. And explaining why is just part of the age-old tradition of passing on wisdom from those of us who have learned, to those who need to know.

Further resources:

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The funny side of something very serious

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mineral Make Up - Is It a Good Alternative or Just Another Cover Up?

We were curious about mineral makeup at a BCAM conscious cosmetics meeting some years back when discussing cosmetic alternatives. Not much was known about this "new wave" of cosmetics that were supposedly benign and did so many "amazing" things with "just minerals". The jury was out and we were left with very little information to go on. The hype around this makeup seemed so good. Was it too good to be true? Today I stumbled across a great blog post by Mindful Momma that has helped to sort some of the wheat from the chaff. While I still the think the jury is in need of some thorough discussion on this topic, it does seem that there are some clear problems arising out of seeing mineral makeup as a "safe alternative" to existing cosmetics.

Mindful Momma points out that the problems include nanoparticles (small enough to penetrate the skin barrier, and therefore enter our bloodstream), parabens, bismuth oxychloride, dimethicone, and talc. Each of these has carcinogenic potential and other possible health side effects. So, if these are in the big name mineral makeup compositions (and there is little to go on to suggest that large cosmetics companies wouldn't shove in these things if they're already doing so for their other cosmetics), then we cannot trust that mineral makeup is a healthy alternative at this stage, unless the labelling is so clear and so truthful as to rule out the addition of these problematic chemicals and techniques.

Check out Mindful Momma's alternatives for now. We're not vouching for these as we haven't tested them or examined them ourselves, but at least she's offering a possible solution to the dilemma at the moment and you're free to make up your own mind about makeup. And yeah, we think that's a fairly catchy phrase to be keeping in mind! I do like, however, that she suggests supporting smaller businesses is a good thing because that comes full circle to the idea that we keep our lives local, sustainable and as informed as possible.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

There's Going To Be a Little Less Cancer in Your Shampoo

Clairol's Herbal Essences line is making it nice and easy to avoid 1,4-dioxane.

By Virginia Sole-Smith, New Hamburg, NY, USA, Tue Mar 16, 2010

If you track toxins in personal care products like baseball fans track box scores, then you'll remember the hubbub last year when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics announced results from lab tests finding a pesky little contaminant called 1,4-dioxane in a whole host of children's bath products.

Just in case you're saying "one, four, what?" let's review. 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant produced when manufacturers mix up batches of sodium laureth sulfate and other chemicals that give soaps and shampoos their foamy suds. The EPA considers it a "probably human carcinogen" and California includes it on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects. This isn't to say that lathering up with your favorite bubble bath or shower gel is going to cause cancer. But using these products does add a teensy dose of potential carcinogens to your average bath, which is already something of a toxic soup.

Here's the rub: since sudsy product makers didn't intend to put 1,4-dioxane into their formulas, they've been having a heck of a time trying to get it out. Which is why it's such exciting news that Proctor & Gamble has said it's reformulating its entire Clairol Herbal Essences line to be lower levels of 1,4 to less than 10 parts per million by the end of 2010 in response to pressure from environmentalists. Herbal Essences has long been the scourge of the eco-beauty movement, since it sounds so green (remember those coy commercials about having a "totally organic" shower experience?) but actually wasn't. Even a little bit.

So, kudos P&G and let's not stop there. "We're glad Proctor & Gamble is reducing the levels of 1,4 dioxane in its Herbal Essences line, but the company clearly has a much bigger problem," says Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics from the Breast Cancer Fund. "Proctor & Gamble needs to show it cares about all its customers by eliminating this carcinogen from all its brands." In fact, when environmentalists announced the P&G news at a press conference on Friday, they also released new testing that found several P&G brands of laundry detergent (Tide, Tide Free and Ivory Snow) still contain pretty high levels of 1,4-dioxane. Oops.

Meanwhile, if you want a truly green shower experience, check out our top green shampoo picks and learn how to make your own shampoo and conditioner at home.


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Cancer is a Disease, Not a Marketing Opportunity

We loved this piece, so we're passing it on in its entirety, both French and English versions:

By Elsie Hambrook

The breast is not, in this society, just another part of the body. So we should have expected that breast disease such as cancer would be subject to different treatment than other diseases.

Still, some of the breast cancer related campaigns are surprising. Most are inspiring and rallying—but some are exploitative.

A few weeks ago, messages were flying around Facebook in-boxes, chain-mail style, urging women to post the color of their bra on their profiles to raise breast cancer awareness—and to confuse men who would get updates with just a name of a colour. No information, no explanation—just the bra colour. Many immediately criticized this “awareness raising” technique. Newsweek blogger Mary Carmichael pointed out that “At this point, there can't be a person in the world who isn't aware of breast cancer... This isn’t awareness or education; it’s titillation… It’s harmless, but also pointless.” A feminist blog at was even more incisive: “This bra color movement seems a similarly desperate attempt to get guys to simply give a crap about breast cancer by making it sexy and flirtatious, which I find not only embarrassing to women but insulting to men.”

Last September, Canadian charity Rethink Breast Cancer released an ad to promote a “Boobyball” fundraiser that featured a buxom woman entering a pool party while being ogled by attendees. The camera cuts between close ups of her bouncing breasts and snippets of text that string together to say: “You know you like them. Now it’s time to save the boobs.”

Sexualized breast cancer awareness campaigns are a new thing, but more common is cause-related marketing - placing a pink ribbon on products and promising a portion of proceeds will go to research or awareness raising. Companies attract buyers to their products because of the charitable nature, but only pass on their customer’s money while they enjoy greater profits. Some companies will pledge to match the donation their customers’ purchases generate though many don’t advertise that they also cap their donations. One American consultancy firm found that 79% of consumers would switch to a product or brand that is identified with a cause, all other things being equal.

“Breast cancer is a disease. Not a marketing opportunity. This is wrong,” says breast cancer patient Jeanne Sather, author of the blog The Assertive Cancer Patient.

Companies may also be guilty of “pink washing.” American watchdog group Breast Cancer Action defines pinkwashing as a company manufacturing products that may cause breast cancer while simultaneously promoting breast cancer fundraising. These pinkwashing companies greatly benefit from the fact that much of the effort in combating breast cancer is focused on diagnosis and cure—not on prevention or inquiries into environmental causes of the disease.

The fact that prevention is not a main focus is part of why breast cancer appeals to companies looking to engage in cause-related marketing. If prevention were a focus, breast cancer campaigns would be partly about pollutants, additives and growth hormones in our food, inadequate research and inadequate labeling and consumer information, etc – not issues that attract sponsors.

Companies are also drawn to breast cancer related marketing because it is a disease in which there is no presumption that the sufferer somehow brought it on themselves, as there can be with some other diseases. The cause is not political—it allows for companies to communicate that they are women-friendly, without being labeled activist. And of course, breasts have an image linked to sex as well as motherhood.

In her book Pink Ribbons Inc., Samantha King points out that “it’s unlikely that the battle against breast cancer will be won so long as it is approached as a single-issue problem that is unrelated to other health conditions or to broader social issues. Large, corporate-funded, single-issue foundations have come to dominate health advocacy and, as a result, questions related to universal healthcare, discrimination, or the impact of the environment on disease have been pushed to the margins.”

Think Before You Pink says the Breast Cancer Action group, to make people aware of these goings on. It recommends that, before we buy a product with a pink ribbon on it, that we ask how much money actually goes toward breast cancer programs and what is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic. The campaign has succeeded in getting some companies to remove cancer-linked additives to some cosmetics and the cancer-linked synthetic growth hormone from some yogurts – including pink-lidded yogurt, which was being sold to raise money for breast cancer but was made with dairy stimulated with the carcinogenic hormone.

There are wonderful initiatives supporting the important work relating to breast cancer. But we need to examine how easily we buy into supporting the fight against breast cancer through consumer culture. We need to work to not only find a cure, but to work toward prevention and stop allowing companies to pinkwash their carcinogenic products. We need to include men who not only can develop the disease themselves – two men died of breast cancer in New Brunswick in 2007 - but who suffer with and support their mothers, partners, sisters who are battling it. We need to include men and not merely try to briefly capture their interest through condescending sexualized awareness.

To quote cancer survivor Barbara Ehrenreich, we can’t just “slap on a pink ribbon, call it a day.”

Elsie Hambrook is Chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She may be reached via e-mail at



Dans la société d’aujourd’hui, puisque les seins ne sont plus simplement une autre partie du corps, nous aurions dû nous attendre à ce que les maladies du sein, comme le cancer, soient traitées différemment des autres maladies.

Pourtant, certaines campagnes de sensibilisation au cancer du sein sont étonnantes. La plupart sont inspirantes et rassembleuses—mais quelques-unes sont exploitantes.

Il y a quelques semaines, une avalanche de messages circulait dans les corbeilles d’arrivée sur Facebook et sous la forme d’une lettre faisant partie d’une chaîne, exhortant les femmes à afficher la couleur de leur soutien-gorge dans leurs profils afin d’accroître la sensibilisation au cancer du sein—et pour confondre les hommes qui, en consultant leur profil, tombent sur une couleur, sans la moindre information ni la moindre explication—simplement la couleur du soutien-gorge. Bon nombre de gens ont immédiatement critiqué cette technique de « sensibilisation ». La blogueuse de Newsweek, Mary Carmichael, mentionnait : « À l’heure actuelle, il est inconcevable qu’une personne n’ait pas entendu parler du cancer du sein... Ce n’est pas de la sensibilisation ni de l’éducation; c’est de la titillation… C’est inoffensif, mais aussi absurde. » Un bloque féministe à était encore plus tranchant : « Ce mouvement d’affichage de la couleur des soutiens-gorge semble un autre effort désespéré visant à donner aux gars l’occasion de débiter des conneries sur le cancer du sein en le rendant accrocheur et séduisant, ce que je considère non seulement gênant pour les femmes mais aussi insultant pour les hommes. »

En septembre dernier, Rethink Breast Cancer, un organisme caritatif canadien, a publié une annonce visant à promouvoir l’activité de financement « Boobyball » qui montre une femme plantureuse qui arrive à un party au bord d’une piscine et qui est reluquée par les invités. La caméra va de plans serrés des seins bondissants de la jeune femme à des bribes de texte qui sont alignés pour dire : « Bien sûr que tu les aimes. Sauvons maintenant les nichons. »

Les campagnes de sensibilisation au cancer du sein à caractère sexuel sont une nouveauté, mais le marketing de la cause est plus courant – poser un ruban rose sur des produits dont une portion des ventes est destinée à la recherche ou à la sensibilisation. Les entreprises attirent l’attention des acheteurs sur leurs produits en raison de la nature caritative de la cause mais elles contribuent uniquement la portion des consommateurs pendant qu’elles font d’énormes profits. Certaines entreprises s’engagent à doubler le don généré par les achats des clients mais plusieurs d’entre elles n’indiquent pas qu’elles fixent aussi un plafond pour les dons. Une firme d’experts-conseils américaine a constaté que 79 % des consommateurs passeraient à un produit ou à une marque qui s’identifie à une cause, toutes autres choses étant égales.

« Le cancer du sein est une maladie, non pas une occasion de marketing. C’est répréhensible, » de dire Jeanne Sather, une patiente atteinte du cancer du sein et auteure du bloque The Assertive Cancer Patient.

Les entreprises peuvent aussi s’adonner au marketing de la « cause rose ». Le groupe de surveillance américain Breast Cancer Action définit la cause rose comme l’activité d’une entreprise qui fabrique des produits qui peuvent causer le cancer du sein tout en faisant la promotion d’activités de financement pour la lutte contre le cancer du sein. Ces entreprises profitent grandement du fait que les efforts visant à combattre le cancer du sein sont surtout axés sur le diagnostic et les traitements—non sur la prévention ou les études des causes exogènes de la maladie.

Le cancer du sein intéresse les entreprises qui veulent se lancer dans le marketing de la cause car l’accent n’est pas surtout mis sur la prévention. Si la prévention était un enjeu, les campagnes de lutte contre le cancer du sein porteraient en partie sur les polluants, les additifs et les hormones de croissance dans les aliments, la recherche insuffisante, l’étiquetage insuffisant et l’information insuffisante au consommateur, etc. – non sur des enjeux qui attirent les commanditaires.

Les entreprises sont aussi attirées par le marketing lié au cancer du sein car cette maladie ne comporte aucune présomption que la personne atteinte est en quelque sorte responsable de ce qui lui arrive, comme cela peut être le cas pour quelques autres maladies. La cause n’est pas d’ordre politique—elle permet aux entreprises de transmettre le message qu’elles sont soucieuses des femmes, sans être qualifiées d’activistes. Évidemment, l’image de seins est associée au sexe et à la maternité.

Dans son livre intitulé Pink Ribbons Inc., Samantha King souligne qu’il est peu probable que la lutte contre le cancer du sein sera gagnée tant qu’elle est perçue comme un problème à enjeu unique non lié à d’autres états de santé ou à des enjeux sociaux plus larges. Les grandes fondations à vocation unique qui sont financées par les sociétés jouent actuellement un rôle prépondérant dans la défense de la cause de la santé. Les questions ayant trait aux soins de santé, à la discrimination ou à l’impact de l’environnement sur la maladie ont été mises de côté.

Le groupe Breast Cancer Action demande de réfléchir avant d’utiliser le rose pour sensibiliser les gens. Il recommande de se renseigner sur la portion du montant qui sera versée aux programmes relatifs au cancer du sein et sur les efforts de l’entreprise pour s’assurer que ses produits ne contribuent pas à l’épidémie du cancer du sein, avant d’acheter un produit affichant un ruban rose. La campagne a incité des entreprises à retirer de certains produits cosmétiques les additifs associés au cancer et de certains yogourts, l’hormone de croissance synthétique liée au cancer – y compris un yogourt avec couvercle rose, qui était vendu pour recueillir des fonds pour la lutte contre le cancer du sein mais qui contenait du lait fortifié avec des hormones cancérogènes.

De merveilleuses initiatives appuient le travail important sur le cancer du sein. Nous devons toutefois examiner comment nous avons facilement recours à la culture de consommation pour appuyer la lutte contre le cancer du sein. Nous devons non seulement trouver une guérison mais aussi axer les efforts sur la prévention et empêcher les entreprises de promouvoir leurs produits cancérogènes en s’associant à la cause rose. Nous devons inclure les hommes qui, non seulement peuvent développer la maladie – deux hommes sont morts d’un cancer du sein au Nouveau-Brunswick en 2007 – mais qui appuient leur mère, leur partenaire ou leurs sœurs atteintes de la maladie et qui sont sensibles à leurs souffrances. Nous devons inclure les hommes et non simplement éveiller brièvement leur intérêt par une sensibilisation condescendante à caractère sexuel.

Pour reprendre les propos de Barbara Ehrenreich, une survivante du cancer, on ne peut pas simplement poser un ruban rose et s’arrêter là.

Elsie Hambrook est présidente du Conseil consultatif sur la condition de la femme du Nouveau-Brunswick. On peut la joindre par courrier électronique à l’adresse suivante :

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Low amount of BPA can increase cardiac risk by 45%, study finds

Bisphenol A is in the plastic-like lining of tin cans that separates the food from metal. Health Canada has designated the compound as toxic and had it removed from baby bottles.

The widely used plastic-making compound has already been labelled toxic by Health Canada and removed from baby bottles. Article in full

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Push is on to improve U.S. chemical safety laws: Agencies lead drive

An interesting article that indicates change is in the wind, at least in
the US.

In November, researchers released a startling finding: In pregnant women, a study found that developing babies are being exposed to toxic chemicals from consumer products even before they take their first breaths. The finding is yet another confirmation that U.S. chemical safety laws are failing to safeguard health.

See the rest of the article at:


Starting Again This Week

Just a short note to say I've been away and then unfortunately I got sick. The story behind this sickness involves chemicals, so maybe I should tell it some day! Anyway, please be assured that we're back on and I'll be tweeting as well as of next week.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Musings on What We Don't Know

It's almost Christmas. I had an interesting discussion with an architect yesterday. He said that New Zealand manufactures a lot of building products with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs)/chemical content that are exported but have little or no market here. It made me wince to think about how New Zealanders are allowing themselves to be exposed to high VOCs/chemicals from the items used to build kitchens, bathrooms, roofs, walls, garages, children's rooms, bedrooms, etc. I suggested to him that this was because of a lack of knowledge of the problems associated with VOCs and chemicals and he was in total agreement.

What you don't know can harm you.

We're trying to change that by bringing you more information. From early 2010, we will be aiming to bring regular informative updates on chemicals, the things you can do to help yourself avoid exposure to carcinogens and possible carcinogens and more. Keep watching and in the meantime, wishing you all a very safe and peaceful holiday season.

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