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Filtering by Category: #beautybullshit

Why Do Men Run the Beauty Industry?

Jessica Assaf

"We've ceased making progress at the top in any industry anywhere in the world ... In the United States, women have had 14% of the top corporate jobs and 17% of the board seats for 10 years. Ten years of no progress. Ten years of no progress is no progress." 

-Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Meet George, Jean Paul, Alan, Lorenzo, Fabrizio, and John. They are the CEOs of L'Oreal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, OPI Nail Polish, and MAC Cosmetics. Remember their faces. These men essentially run the $50 billion beauty industry. 

I am not pointing this out because I think these men are evil and they are intentionally poisoning us with heavy metals and endocrine disruptors in our makeup. But when I think about the people fighting tirelessly for legislation regulating the chemicals in our consumer products, the global women's collectives producing some of the most nourishing raw ingredients like Shea butter in West Africa, and the mothers who have joined together nationwide to beg for baby products free of Bisphenol A, I see corporate businessmen at the end of the road, inhibiting real progress. Businessmen are trained to minimize costs and maximize profits. It is not a businessman's job to find the safest ingredients possible; the goal of any entity is to make money. And unfortunately, it is impossible to quantify the value of precautionary health. Think about it... In monetary terms, how can we prove that potentially preventing cancer, birth defects, or infertility later in life by creating safe products without legal and widely-used preservatives and emulsifiers is worth more than producing a cheap, shelf-stable product today that lasts for ten years? 

As a current student at Harvard Business School, this is my reality. A few days ago I was telling my classmates about an idea I am working on to support the safest brands on the market and someone said, "Oh Jessica, you really still think people care about the ingredients in their products?" This someone happened to be the typical conservative "finance guy" whose family runs one of the biggest fashion empires in the world. I turned to him and replied, "Actually, yes, most women care about the safety of the products they use every single day, and they should." As frustrated as I was, I realize now that there is no reason why this ultra-privileged young man should care about beauty or women's health. The only problem is that businessmen like him run our beauty industry.

In this case, the word "businessman" is not a general term for all individuals working in business. The underlying issue is that men run most industries in our country, including beauty. According to Catalyst, women currently hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. There are 23 women CEOs out of 500 companies. As a result, men are the stakeholders in making the majority of decisions that directly affect women. And unless these businessman are more passionate about women's health than they are about money, it is hard to imagine why the CEOs of the biggest beauty brands would care about the ingredients in cosmetics they would never use themselves. 

That is why I believe that women should take back the power and rule the beauty world. While this big dream may sound difficult, the process is simple. All we need to do is consider who is running the company we are buying from before we make a purchase. Imagine how drastically the beauty industry would change if we focused all of our buying power exclusively on companies with a clear, conscious mission to provide the safest products possible. We could start a revolution. 

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, discusses the impact of male-dominated industries on women's destinies. She writes:

"The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results." 

So while the corporate world is intimidating, ultimately we as women are the only ones holding ourselves back from the progress that could be made, from a world where we control what is going into our products and into our bodies, and a consumer market where we buy our beauty products from women who actually understand what it is like to wake up every morning and put on makeup. These are the businesspeople who could actually understand our current daily battle of wanting to look glamorous, but not at the expense of our health. As Sheryl says, 

“If more women are in leadership roles, we’ll stop assuming they shouldn’t be.” 

P.S. This post is dedicated to the unrecognized male beauty leaders who are creating safe, effective products and setting new safety standards for all of us. Men like Joshua Onysko, founder of Pangea Organics, David Bronner, founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Greg Starkman, founder of Innersense, and Olowo-n'djo Tchala, founder of Alaffia. Thank you for your commitment to good business and women's wellbeing. 

Beauty Extremes: The Skin Bleaching Phenomenon

Alexis Krauss

Our dear friend Scarlett Newman is back, this time to discuss one of the world's most distressing beauty extremes: skin bleaching. While every woman has the right to make choices about her appearance and cosmetically alter herself, we must stop and ask why in 2015 woman of color are turning to products to make their skin whiter. What does whiter skin mean and why in some countries is it still considered superior to darker skin? What are the side-effects of skin lightening products? Scarlett tackles these controversial and sensitive topics in the following Beauty Lies Truth editorial. Please share your thoughts! Xoxo Alexis

In many parts of the world, lighter skinned women are believed to be more beautiful, successful and able to find marriage. Because of this social construct, women are resorting to using bleaching creams and relying on other harsh procedures to lighten their skin. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 77% of Nigerian woman—the highest percentage in the world—use skin lightening products on a regular basis. Whether sold on the black market or commercially, skin lightening products have sufficiently contributed to Africa’s billion dollar beauty industry. In Nigeria, skin lightening can cost anywhere from a few dollars for a cream or a cleanser, to a few hundred dollars for salon procedures. The increasing demand for a Westernized aesthetic has skyrocketed the sale of these products not just in Africa but across the globe.

Popular skin lightening product currently available for sale.

Popular skin lightening product currently available for sale.

    While some people do use skin lightening products in moderation to combat acne and other related scars, much of the conversation surrounding bleaching is based on the idea of “wanting to be white.” The disturbing yet common belief that "white" is the purest and most celebrated aesthetic is indoctrinated into the minds of women and girls across the globe, further perpetuating self-doubt and self-hatred. Eurocentric beauty standards, in some way or another, are disseminated on various media platforms everyday, reinforcing to women of color that lighter=better. This isn’t a political article, but I feel that the politics of racism play an incredible role in why people with darker skin are turning to dangerous products and procedures to determine their worth. 

Skin bleaching is not a new phenomenon. This advertisement dates back to 1935.

Skin bleaching is not a new phenomenon. This advertisement dates back to 1935.

    Not surprisingly, these extreme beauty trends result in detrimental health consequences. Many skin bleaching products contain mercury and hydroquinone which can lead to kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration and scarring. Like some products we consume here in the west, the harmful substances are not listed transparently on product labels and are instead couched in the language of green-washing. Skin lightening creams contain ingredients that slow the production of melanin in the skin’s outer layer. Melanin is a brown pigment in the skin that works as the body’s natural protection against the harmful effects of UV rays.   

    What even prompted me to create this post was an interview I found on the Internet with Cameroonian pop star, Dencia, now known more for her bleached skin than for her music. In the interview, Dencia was asked if she equated whiteness with beauty, and she responded, “white means pure. A lot of people don’t feel clean or confident with dark spots.” While skin-lightening attempts are usually manifestations of inadequecy and self-loathing, Dencia claims to have done this to be “daring” and for personal reasons. “I like trying things. I’m not doing it because I wanna have boyfriends. And I’m not doing it because I want anybody to accept me. It’s because I just wanted to do it,” she told EBONY Magazine

     Two years ago, Dencia came out with a cosmetic cream conveniently called “Whitenicious,” which was “intentionally” set out to treat dark spots and hyperpigmentation.  While she’s never outright said, “The whiter your skin is, the more beautiful you will be,” the advertisements and posters for Whitenicious communicate exactly that.  People look at the advertisements and think that the Whitenicious cream will be able to make them look whiter and therefore more desirable and socially acceptable. The message she’s sending out is incredibly controversial and the product she’s selling will, if used enough, result in bleaching your skin. 

Dencia before and after lightening her skin.

Dencia before and after lightening her skin.

    When approached about the health hazards of skin bleaching, she rejected the idea that there had been medical research done indicating that several skin lightening ingredients are carcinogenic, combating the statement by saying, “The air you breathe outside causes you cancer. Everything in the world causes cancer.” Dencia chooses to ignore cultural stigmas and health hazards in order to focus on the profit of her product. The first batch of Whitenicious sold out in 24 hours and has continued to sell considerably well since its release—she relies heavily on numbers to steer the conversation surrounding her product in a different direction. 

    This is a prime example of the type of #beautybullshit that I felt needed to be exposed on Beauty Lies Truth. A billion-dollar business built on the absurd idea that women with darker skin are inferior, and can be “cured” with dangerous cosmetic bleaching is tragic.  It’s sickening to know that women of color are choosing to put themselves through harmful bleaching procedures, and it’s heartbreaking that a large portion of the global beauty industry continues to champion dangerous products and perpetuate racist stereotypes. 


Beauty Without Blood: The Truth About Animal Testing

Alexis Krauss

The reality of cosmetics testing on animals is a still a very real and very disconcerting one. While some progress has been made, millions of animals are still experimented upon all in the name of "human safety." But are these practices really keeping us safe? In addition to being an incredibly badass professional makeup artist, our friend Emily Elisabeth Keough has dedicated herself to animal rights activism and consumer education. We're thrilled that Emily has given her time to breakdown the myriad of issues surrounding animal testing and the cruelty free movement. Enjoy! Xoxo Alexis

Emily (left) at work as a professional makeup artist.

Emily (left) at work as a professional makeup artist.

The first time I experienced #beautybullshit was when I was thirteen years old. In the height of my post-punk teen angst, I had fallen in love with the perfect shade of crimson eyeliner to smudge across my eyes every day---a shade called "Gash" by Urban Decay cosmetics. 

Though that symbolic shade of my teenage-hood has sadly been discontinued, it exposed me to a sick, cruel world that I had never imagined would exist; a world where docile, innocent creatures were systematically trapped, burned, poisoned, and tortured. If they survived this misery, they would be euthanized and have their lifeless bodies tossed in the trash. They would know nothing but fear, pain, suffering and agony.  All in the name of human vanity. I remember scrolling through Urban Decay's website and reading about the horrific suffering implemented by cosmetic animal testing for the first time and immediately made the correlation with my own family pet, a chubby Labrador and Dalmatian mix named Rosa. At the time, colored rubber wristbands created by organizations to raise awareness had become extremely popular, and Urban Decay had created their own purple wristband stamped with their mantra against cosmetic animal testing---"How Could Anyone?" My purple wristband taught me a lot about activism before I even realized I was an activist. It was a conversation starter among my classmates, who were just as horrified as I was when I explained the meaning behind it.

Years later, the conversation continued well into my career as a professional makeup artist. Whether I was working with models or the every day woman, the dialogue was the same--they wanted to know what products I was using and why. Throughout these conversations I learned that consumers want to use quality products that are both healthy and ethical.

The reality of animal testing is not one we like to face. Many consumers will be delighted to see a cruelty free logo on their cosmetic products, but in this age of designer loyalty and bargain shopping, purchasing cruelty free products is not often a deciding factor...and that is the very reason why cosmetic animal testing still exists. This needs to change. It is for this reason that I've created the no bullshit, #truthbeauty guide on animal testing---grey areas, false claims, the #beautylies that companies feed you, and the reason why your voice is so important to ending cosmetic animal testing for good.

Beauty Lie #1: Animal testing leads to safer cosmetics for consumers. 

Though animal testing may have once contributed to the European Union's database of over 20,000 cosmetic ingredients with safety reports, it has made no progression in the past fifty years. Tests include the Repeated Dose Toxicity test, in which rabbits or mice are force-fed or inhale an ingredient for 90 days and are then killed; Reproductive Toxicity test, in which a pregnant rabbit or rat is force-fed an ingredient and then killed along with her unborn babies; and the Skin Sensitization test, in which an ingredient is rubbed onto the skin of an animal and becomes more itchy and inflamed with each use. For Carcinogenicity tests, rats and rabbits are force-fed ingredients until they develop cancer, which can take years. 

These tests with "successful" results on animals have very different results on humans. Even extremely low dosages of parabens in products are being linked to breast cancer in humans and nearly every person on the planet knows of at least one cosmetic product that causes an irritation on their skin. The reason why animal testing does not work for human products is pretty straightforward---because the testing is being done on animals instead of humans. To date, BUAV has spent over €238 million on researching and developing modern methods that are cruelty free and more relevant to humans. These methods have been found to predict human reactions more accurately than the traditional outdated animal tests. An example of this is the EPISKIN, a skin model using reconstituted human skin donated from cosmetic surgery which has shown to be more effective in measuring skin irritation than the outdated and cruel rabbit Draize test.

The very use of animal testing also begs an even bigger question: why are we even testing ingredients when there are over 20,000 ingredients that already have sufficient safety data reports? Why are we testing and using synthetic chemicals and petroleum based ingredients when there are natural, safe, effective alternatives that have been used in beauty regimes for thousands of years? The answer, quite simply, can all be tied back to money. Is animal testing being facilitated so consumers can have a broader range of "safe" products or so cosmetic companies can benefit from patenting the synthetic ingredients they fabricate? I'll let you decide.

Beauty Lie #2: Only rabbits and rats are used for animal testing. 

While it is true that millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits are killed every year for cosmetic animal testing, many consumers unfortunately do not have the same emotional attachment to those animals as we do the dogs and cats we keep as pets. This very reason is why research corporations work vigilantly to hide the fact that over 66,000 dogs and 21,000 cats are used in animal testing each year. 

The favorite dog breed among lab researchers are Beagles, which make up the vast majority of dogs used in testing. Sadly, Beagles are not used in particular because they have similar biological features as humans but rather due to their extremely docile nature. They are bred to be companions of humans and therefore will gladly accept being force-fed, choked from toxic inhalation, blindness, pain and an entire life in a sterile, cold, artificial environment in hopes of receiving love and companionship from the humans that perform these acts on them. Obviously this happy ending is rarely ever met. Organizations like the Beagle Freedom Project were created to help expose this animal testing beauty lie and to show consumers that the very products they use daily are tested on the same pets they love at home.

Beauty Lie #3: If a product is labeled "Cruelty Free", that means it was not tested 
on animals. 

Of course that is what a company would like you to believe. The truth is, since cruelty free shopping has become a larger trend in recent years, many companies are jumping on board for reasons that are more marketing oriented than ethical. Be aware of how a product is labeled, as different verbiage can hold very different meanings. Here is a basic breakdown: 

"This final product has not been tested on animals" - This is the ultimate form of deception. Companies will print this on products to make the consumer think they are purchasing a cruelty free product, but the key word here is "final". What this phrase actually is saying is that the final product, as in the one you're holding in your hand, was not tested on an animal before you picked it up off the shelf to purchase. That means that every ingredient in the formula could have been (and likely was) tested on animals. It is very rare that "final products" are tested on animals---these usually are tested on human volunteers to list the results of clinical studies for marketing purposes. In other words, this phrase is a cop out and likely means that product was involved in animal testing at some point.

"This product has not been tested on animals" - Technically this phrase should indicate that the product is cruelty free. There is no regulation on using this phrase on products (much like how there is no regulation on labeling products as "natural" or "organic"), so its up to the company to be ethical and honest when using it. It could have similar meaning to the aforementioned phrase, in which the final product was not tested on animals but it does not indicate that all ingredients are derived from suppliers who do not test on animals.

leaping bunny 2.jpg

Leaping Bunny logo - The Leaping Bunny program was created to differentiate companies which do not participate in animal testing. If this logo is featured on a product, it means The Leaping Bunny organization has certified that company based on their own standards, which include not using any ingredients from suppliers who test on animals. This logo is the most accurate way of determining a truly cruelty free product. Other organizations such as PETA have their own certifications for cruelty free products which is also used by cosmetic companies.

Other considerations - even if a company claims to be cruelty free, it can be owned by a parent company which is not (Ex. Burt's Bees claims to be cruelty free but its parent company, Clorox, is not). Additionally, any company that sells its products in China and / or Russia is NOT cruelty free as both countries mandate animal testing on all cosmetic products before allowing distribution. Yet another way companies use a grey area to deceive ethical consumers. An in-depth list of certified cruelty free products can be found here.

Beauty Lie #4: If a product is NOT labeled "Cruelty Free", it's likely that it could have been tested on animals. 

 If a product was not tested on animals, why not say so? Ignorance is bliss, and usually any product that omits labeling itself as cruelty free does so for a reason.

So how is this madness stopped? The answer is more simple than one may think: stop buying products that are tested on animals. The fact is, if the consumer wants something, companies will make it happen. We saw this come to fruition recently with the ongoing conversations about the toxicity of parabens and phthalates in cosmetic products leading to hundreds of large companies removing them from their formulations. Your money is power, so put your money where your mouth is.

If you want to see your favorite products go cruelty free, tell that company! With the interconnection of modern social media, its easier now than it ever was to write a company via email or better yet---to publicly ask them on their Facebook or Twitter accounts to stop testing on animals. The more a company sees its users refusing to support their products, the more they will pay attention.

There are several easily accessible tools that can help as well. You can pledge to go cruelty free via numerous organizations such as Cruelty Free International, The Human Society International, PETA, and The Beagle Freedom Project. These organizations are more than happy to forward your pledge to dissuade the thousands of companies that still facilitate animal testing. Furthermore, you can download the Cruelty Cutter app and scan any barcode on a product to find out whether its cruelty free. 

Thankfully there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In 2013, animals and activists had their most successful breakthrough yet when the European Union passed a ban on cosmetic animal testing. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection spent 40 years and €238 million (approximately $280 million USD) on alternative testing methods to have the ban pass, but it meant that some of the largest cosmetic manufacturers in the world were now forced to omit animal testing. It is difficult to believe that the United States has not followed suit and still allows animal testing. In fact, even after 28 of the world's leading countries agreed to ban cosmetic animal testing, U.S. congress still shut down a bill proposing the same ban. Alas, the cruelty free crusade is not over. 

In my humble opinion, animal testing is one of the biggest #beautylies of this industry. It's the very reason why I enrolled in a program to receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Cosmetic Marketing---to make change happen in an industry I'm passionate about. Given that there are so many humane, more effective alternatives, hundreds of thousands of people fighting tirelessly against it for nearly a century, and over 30 countries banning it, it's crazy to believe the cruelty and misery of animal testing is still facilitated every day in the name of vanity. There is no need for it. These animals do not deserve this barbaric treatment, but they have no voice to stop it. The only voice they have is us---will you use it?



The Complicated Truth Behind "Natural" By Mia Davis

Alexis Krauss

So you've made the switch to using more "natural" beauty products and you're feeling really good about it. However, before you grab that face wash off the shelf just because it says "natural"  take a moment to read the back label. Unfortunately, just opting for a product advertised as "natural" doesn't always mean it contains safe or sustainably sourced ingredients. Environmental health and consumer right-to-know advocate Mia Davis uncovers the beauty bullshit behind the "natural" craze and educates us on how to make smarter and safer consumer choices. Xoxo Alexis & Jess

Mommy Mia!

Mommy Mia!

Hypothetical situation: Someone has placed two cosmetic products on a table in front of you—let’s say they are powdered bronzers, both the same shade, both look nice. One has the word “natural” on the front of the label, the other does not. The person offering you the cosmetics says, “Did you know that it is perfectly legal for cosmetics companies to use toxic chemicals in their products, and to keep heavy metal contaminants secret from consumers? Yep, it is. Anyway—choose whichever bronzer you’d like!” 

Raise your hand if you’re going to reach for the “natural” one, especially now that this nugget of information about toxic chemicals has been passed on to you. I think most people would go for the natural brand, all other things (the look/feel of the product, the fact that they are both free to you) being equal. And you wouldn’t be alone: the natural and organic segment of the cosmetics industry has been growing strong and steady for years, and we’re led to believe that natural cosmetics are better—that is, safer—for us, and better for the environment too.

The truth is more complicated. The word “natural” isn’t regulated in the cosmetics industry, so companies can say almost anything is natural. It is pretty meaningless, unless the company has defined it or is certified by a credible third party. Furthermore, not all natural chemicals are safe, and not all synthetic chemicals are unsafe. There is a difference between ingredient “safety” and ingredient “source.”

"Safety" is about health. Does the ingredient have the potential to harm our health, and if so, how and at what levels? The agency that regulates cosmetics, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not define "safe" (and the FDA can’t require that companies substantiate the safety of their products), so it is currently up to companies to determine what "safe" means to them.  Most companies start and stop with acute reactions (e.g. irritated skin); they do not look at how repeated use of their product day in and day out, in combination with other products, might impact the user.

“Source” is where the ingredient came from.  Was it grown on an organic farm?  Harvested from the ocean? Grown on a plantation that used to be a rainforest? Mined from the earth? Created in a laboratory from petroleum-derived chemicals? Created in a laboratory from plant-derived and petroleum-derived chemicals (which many cosmetics companies would still call a “natural” ingredient)?  All of these sources are common sources.

As a long time environmental health advocate, I believe that: 

  • Consumers need to know that safety and source aren’t the same thing, 
  • Consumers (and workers!) deserve full ingredient transparency and meaningful claims on all products, and
  • Companies—all of them—need to take a long-term view when it comes to both source and safety. 

Consumers want safer chemicals and safer products. Cosmetics companies should be responding to this by removing chemicals that can have harmful effects at low doses, like hormone disrupters. Those shouldn’t be in the cosmetics we use on our bodies, or on our kids’ bodies. Neither should chemicals that we’re exposed to from other sources, which can build up in our bodies—regardless of whether those ingredients came from the ground (e.g. lead) or a laboratory (e.g. triclosan). 

Consumers also clearly want more natural and sustainable chemicals and products. Cosmetics companies should do all they can to source ingredients from reliable sources. Certified organic ingredients, and ingredients grown/harvested/mined in ways that respect the environment and local populations are key.

In an industry with a super complicated supply chain, with chemicals that have little-to-no toxicological information, and when companies can straight-up hide contaminants, fragrances and even preservatives from their product labels, this is no easy matter. But as consumers become more and more aware, and when we demand that “safe” and “natural” actually mean something, then we’ll see action. 


Mia Davis is a long-time environmental health and consumer right-to-know advocate. She co-directed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the Coming Clean Workgroup for Safe Markets, and is Head of Health & Safety at Beautycounter, a certified B Corp with the mission to get safe products into everyone’s hands by changing the cosmetics industry and US chemical policy. No problem, right?







L'Oreal's Response

Jessica Assaf

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Here is a link to a video explaining their safety standards, and below are the documents justifying L'Oreal's use of parabens, formaldehyde, heavy metals, and fragrance:

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Shadan claims that L'Oreal's products "meet or exceed the safety standards in the more 130 countries in which they are sold," yet there are no safety standards in the United States. Here is a list of the 1,373 substances prohibited in cosmetics by the European Union. As of today, 1,362 are still legal and widely used in U.S. products. Until these chemicals are banned worldwide, it is up to us to pressure companies like L'Oreal to implement universal health standards.

The Reasoning Behind My Public Battle With L'Oreal

Jessica Assaf

I have been trying to educate the public about the unregulated beauty industry for almost ten years. Whenever I tell someone about the potentially harmful ingredients in our cosmetics and skincare, these are two typical responses: 1. There are way bigger problems in the world than the chemicals in your makeup.

2. Everything causes cancer. Why should I worry about my products?

At the same time, I have overheard the most popular beauty brands refer to their products as "just shit in a pretty pink box," referencing the fact that some of the most expensive brands at Sephora use the exact same ingredients as the cheapest drugstore brands. These are the companies, like L'Oreal, who have gone so far as to post dozens of pages on their websites, justifying the use of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, endocrine disruptors, and heavy metals. These are the companies that already have safer formulations for countries with stricter standards, yet they continue to claim that there is absolutely no evidence suggesting these chemicals are unsafe.

Yes, there are bigger problems in the world than the ingredients in our beauty products. And yes, everything too many things cause cancer, and yes, everything is made up of chemicals. But the reality is that the European Union has banned or restricted 1,373 chemicals off the market, and the FDA has banned 11. Cosmetic legislation has remained untouched in the U.S. since 1938, when sixteen women became blind, and one died from a contaminated ingredient in Lash Lure, a popular eyelash product. There is no direct scientific evidence that proves any of these ingredients cause cancer, because the industry is self-regulated, so why would any company fund a study that would link their products to increased cancer rates? And there is no direct scientific data that proves any of these ingredients do not cause cancer, because there is no way to prove that a lifetime accumulated exposure to a single chemical is the cause of a certain health outcome. There is also no way to prove what happens when these chemicals interact in our bodies over time.

Companies like L'Oreal tell us that there is no health risk at a small enough dose, yet we are using these products every single day, for our entire life, on our body's biggest organ, and 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream. That is all the math I need to know to consider the safer alternatives.

Did you know that when a woman is diagnosed with cancer, her doctor recommends that she immediately shift her diet to only organic, whole foods, and eliminate parabens, hormone disruptors, and other chemicals from her daily routine? This standardized protocol suggests that these chemicals do play a role in the spread of the disease, and who knows if they could have contributed to the initial diagnosis. Why should we wait for cancer or infertility to make a change, when we can make a preventative change right now?

L'Oreal does not care about creating healthy products. Jane Iredale initially launched Iredale Mineral Cosmetics for women undergoing chemotherapy, as they are especially sensitive to chemical exposures. Adina Grigore founded S.W. Basics because every other skincare product gave her an allergic reaction. These are the companies that truly care about safety.

To be perfectly honest, I never thought I would go to business school. I thought I would be the crazy/annoying girl protesting on the street forever, committed to building a grassroots movement with the sole mission to improve cosmetic safety. When I was accepted to Harvard Business School as a senior at NYU (where I studied Public Health and Social Activism,) I came to the realization that if I could work with businesses that create the safest, highest-performing, most affordable products possible, I would be providing a solution to the conventional products on the market. I spent two years working for a skincare company in Brooklyn that makes products with five ingredients or less, without any preservatives, and they still have a two-year shelf life. I discovered that in many ways, consumerism is activism, as it is an opportunity to endorse companies with a real mission, companies that proudly advertise their products as "paraben-free" on the front label. These companies are growing fast, and they show that harsh preservatives and industrial chemicals are completely unnecessary. Just yesterday, the company I worked for launched in Target. I am convinced that one day, future generations will look back in shock over the fact that we used to think it was totally normal to rub endocrine disruptors and petroleum-derivatives on our skin every single day.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I was casually checking my email before class and discovered a typical mass recruitment email from L'Oreal. Several people (including many HBS students and alumni,) have commented on my intentional decision to post the email and response on this blog, without even blurring out the sender's name. Here is my reasoning:

The only way the industry will change is if companies like L'Oreal feel threatened by increased consumer awareness. Based on my past experience (like convincing Johnson and Johnson to remove formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from their baby shampoo,) and the insight I have gathered from observing the transformation of other issues (like the food industry and climate change,) the most effective way to impact positive change is to call out a company and provide others with the tools to join the fight. In sharing Shadan's email address, I am enabling the maximum number of responses from fellow concerned consumers who wish to join me in pressuring the company to consider reformulation. I have no obligation to protect this recruiter's privacy, because my end goal is to protect the health of my generation from harmful and unnecessary chemical exposures. That is my one and only mission. And to those of you who feel I missed a major opportunity to join the L'Oreal team and inspire internal change, I have two responses for you:

1. I would never work for a company I don't believe in, when there are hundreds of other companies choosing to make safer, better products.

2. The last thing I want to do is spend my professional career trying to convince a corporation that the safety of their ingredients matter, when an entire portion of their website is dedicated to justifying the use of known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and heavy metals, a company that already makes safer products for countries with stricter regulations, yet knowingly pollutes U.S. bodies with the chemicals many companies boldly advertise their products as not containing.

Even Walmart has a "paraben-free shampoo" section on their website.

There are so many things we can't control. We can't control the quality of the air we breathe, or the water we drink. But we can control the products we rub onto our skin every single day. If we collectively decide to stop buying and defending and working for the companies that are continuously and consciously using and justifying (potentially) toxic chemicals, they will be forced to reevaluate the health standards they decided were acceptable for us. We control the market, and we can use our voices and our blogs and our social media accounts to demand safer products for ourselves and our families.

So if you agree that many companies, such as L'Oreal, can do better, email: or contact the company via Facebook: @LOrealparisUSA and join our efforts to #boycottparabens (and heavy metals, and endocrine disruptors, and phthalates, etc.) & #boycottLOreal in the meantime.

L'Oreal Tried to Recruit the Wrong Girl...

Jessica Assaf

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.09.59 PM
Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.09.59 PM

As a student at Harvard Business School, I have the honor of receiving dozens of daily recruitment emails from companies eager to court me for a summer internship. My entire class submits their resumes for a "resume book," which is purchased by thousands of companies so they can handpick the perfect candidates for their open positions, hoping that we will use everything we learn in business school to improve their operations and in turn, make them more money. I instantly delete most of these emails without even opening them, as they come from the most uninspiring corporations and boring consulting firms that I have absolutely no interest in. Today, however, I saw the word "L'Oreal" flash in my inbox, so I obviously clicked to open the email, and my jaw dropped as I read:

My response:

Hi Shadan,

I guess you didn't get a chance to review my resume before sending this email, because if you had you would have realized that I am definitely not the right candidate for an internship at L'Oreal. I have been a chemical activist since the age of fifteen, committed specifically to spreading awareness about the unregulated cosmetic industry and the unnecessary chemicals in our beauty products. I actually just wrote an article for my website, Beauty Lies Truth, ( about the top 10 best and worst beauty brands, based on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database, which is the only real resource available to learn about cosmetic safety. I included L'Oreal's "Professional Texture Expert Volume Elevation Volumizing Serum-Gel" on this list, as it is one of the most toxic products on the entire database, with a score of 10 and ingredients linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, irritation, organ system toxicity, occupational hazards, biochemical or cellular changes, enhanced skin absorption, and ecotoxicology. Here is a link to the scientific data I referenced.

As a fellow HBS student and someone you specifically reached out to, I feel I deserve to know your level of awareness regarding the ingredients in the products you sell, and your reasoning behind the use of toxic chemicals in L'Oreal products. Many of these chemicals, such as parabens, have been banned or restricted in Europe, yet L'Oreal still uses them in their U.S. products. My question is: why? Why does L'Oreal have safer formulations for European countries? Why does the leading beauty company willingly expose us to hazardous chemicals? If your answer is that these small, daily exposures don't matter, I wholeheartedly disagree. Parabens have been found in breast cancer tissue, and because many of your products, like shampoo, are used everyday, you are a part of the problem contributing to increased breast cancer rates. The same organization that open-sourced these toxic "beauty secrets" to protect public health also tested my own body for levels of chemicals that are found in your products. As a former L'Oreal customer, it is not surprising that I have above average levels of parabens in my body. My Body Burden results can be seen here.

Consumer ignorance is L'Oreal's only safety net protecting your harmful products, but as awareness spreads, all of the mainstream beauty companies (including L'Oreal) will be faced with an outpouring of outrage from your (former) loyal customers, who spent far too long believing they were in good hands. I have made it my duty to educate everyone at HBS about the potential health risks associated with the commercial brands such as L'Oreal, and my section has already started shifting their buying choices to safe, organic alternatives.

Long story short, I will not be applying for an internship at L'Oreal.

I would like you to respond with an honest assessment of the ingredients in L'Oreal, and whether you would use the products on your children. If you do not respond, I will assume that it is indeed true that your company cares more about profit than about the health of my generation.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Jessica Assaf Public Health Advocate Turned Businesswoman HBS MBA Candidate, Class of 2016

Scary Scents and Freaky Fragrances

Alexis Krauss

Most of us love smelling good. We delight in slathering our skin with fruity lotions and washing our hair with tropical scented shampoos. Unfortunately, the very fragrances that titillate our noses and earn us all those compliments are actually chemical cocktails that are all too often toxic to our bodies and to the environment. Fragrance is ubiquitous on the ingredient lists of most personal care products. I challenge you to find a product in your home right now that doesn't contain fragrance. So what exactly goes into creating a synthetic fragrance? When you see the word fragrance on a label it can literally mean anywhere between 10 to 300 different chemicals are included in the formulation.  In our unregulated beauty landscape, companies are not required to list anything in their “fragrance” mixture. Common synthetic fragrances contain hormone disruptors such as phthalates, which have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive problems like early puberty, and the feminization of baby boys.

Health-Hazards phthalates
Health-Hazards phthalates

So what exactly is a "hormone disruptor" and how does my kiwi mango body wash have anything to do with sperm counts? Well, the answer lies within your endocrine system. The endocrine system regulates your body's hormones and its normal functioning can be disrupted by certain chemicals common in our modern day environment. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as those found in fragrance, can interfere with hormone signaling and cause your body to produce irregular levels of hormones.  For example, abnormal amounts of the hormone estrogen in a woman can result in breast cancer and too much estrogen in a man can result in lower sperm counts and infertility. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are especially dangerous to developing fetuses and have been linked to birth defects, chronic childhood diseases and developmental disorders.

endocrine disrupting
endocrine disrupting

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange run by Dr. Theo Colburn, author of Our Stolen Future, has this to say about our dramatically increased exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals:

"Over the past 60 years, through technological advances a growing number of synthetic chemicals have been used in the production of almost everything we purchase. They have become a part of our indoor environment, found in cosmetics, cleaning compounds, baby and children’s toys, food storage containers, furniture and carpets, computers, phones, and appliances.We encounter them as plastics and resins every day in our cars, trucks, planes, trains, sporting goods, outdoor equipment, medical equipment, dental sealants, and pharmaceuticals. Without fire retardants we would not be using our computers or lighting our homes. Instead of steel and wood, plastics and resins are now being used to build homes and offices, schools, etc. A large portion of pesticides are endocrine disruptors. What this constant everyday low-dose exposure means in terms of public health is just beginning to be explored by the academic community."

Scientists still have their work cut out for them when it comes to studying the exact effects endocrine disrupting chemicals have on the human body. Here at Beauty Lies Truth we strongly believe that until we know more about the dangers of these chemicals, the FDA and companies formulating with possible endocrine disruptors should take the responsible route and remove them from products. Fortunately for us there are already several brands using natural fragrance instead of synthetic chemical cocktails. Whenever possible choose products containing naturally derived fragrances or opt for unscented or fragrance-free alternatives. As usual if you have any questions about the toxicity of an ingredient in a certain product be sure to look it up in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database.

If you'd like to read more about the science of endocrine disruption I encourage you to visit the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and watch this eye-opening TED talk given by Penelope Jagessar Chaffer and Tyrone Hayes.


Oh La La, TRESemme Naturals Has Sulfates

Alexis Krauss

It's DIY Friday and Kristin Collins Jackson is back with some advice on how to battle your dry hair blues the sulfate-free way. Enjoy!! Xoxo Alexis

For several months, one of my natural hair crushes has been suffering from some seriously dry hair, which means I've been making it my business to find out how we can replenish her dry scalp and get those locks nourished and moisturized. The cold months are coming and fall is the time to get dry hair and skin under control before the air turns frigid and the wind starts whipping. After hot oil treatments and daily doses of water, my good pal was still suffering from dry locks. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and tell her to put her hair in braids for the winter she made a confession: she was using TRESemme Naturals Shampoo and Conditioner. As she g-chatted the words to me, I couldn't help but narrow my eyes. "TreSemme, huh?" To be fair, I had very little knowledge of their "naturals" product line. Could it be possible that a mainstream brand was producing completely natural, toxin and sulfate-free hair products?

No, of course not.


Ingredients: Water, Amino Methyl Propanol, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate**, Cocamidopropyl Betaine*, Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Glucoside, Sodium Methyl Lauroyl Taurate , Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Fragrance*, Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, Ammonium Chloride, Propylene Glycol*, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Dipropylene Glycol, DMDM Hydantoin*, Citric Acid, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil Organic, Sodium Xylene Sulfonate, Quaternium 80, Bisamino, Bisamino PEG/PPG 41/3 Aminoethyl PG Propyl Dimethicone*, Disodium EDTA, Alcohol, PEG 18 Glyceryl Oleate/Cocoate*, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice Organic, Polyquaternium 7*

* Ingredients considered moderate or high hazards by the Environmental Working Group

** Sulfate

Clearly my pal and I had a lot of talking to do. TRESemme Natural's collection isn't just pulling the wool over her eyes, it's misleading to most consumers. The word natural has experienced an influx in recent years due to the natural craze from buyers. Most of us are sick of putting expensive products with false promises on our hair just to have a slew of other hair woes that didn't exist BEFORE we used the product. Unsurprisingly, many companies are taking advantage of our ignorance by promoting products with the word "natural" and using a popular phrase "made from natural ingredients." Real Talk: If that phrase is on the label of something you are about to purchase you should ditch it before the check-out line.

The problem with the TRESemme Natural's line specifically is even though Ammonium Laureth Sulfate is third on the ingredient list, it is advertised as containing a "lower sulfate" level than their other products, which gives the impression that it is less harmful to your precious hair. For natural hair in particular, any amount of sulfates are the devil, and I mean that literally. Kinky hair is naturally dryer which is why it gives off a matte appearance and sulfates, no matter how much natural oil you are applying, are going to strip your hair of moisture and strength. These ammonium sulfates are essentially detergents that make hair unmanageable and dry: Good shampoos and conditioners do not need sulfates to keep hair detangled and moisturized.  Sulfates, which are also used in most industrial and home cleaning products, have been proven to slow hair growth by corroding the scalp and damaging hair follicles— that means if you've already got hair problems then shit is only going to get worse when you use sulfates.

After I finished scolding and berating one of my dearest friends, it was time to find a solution. She needed a truly natural product that was going to help her hair woes.  I suggested an ultimate deep conditioning mask that she could make with ingredients in her kitchen. This conditioner originally published in Bustle is my favorite deep conditioner. It moisturizes hair like a boss and it's especially beneficial for those windy mornings when you secretly regret letting your 'fro out.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 extra ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup plain oatmeal
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp vodka
  • 2-3 drops of clary sage essential oil
  • A bottle to house your new deep conditioner

First,heat your coconut milk and oatmeal in a saucepan. You don't want to nuke this in the microwave because the high temperature will zap some of the important nutrients.After you've heated your mixture, strain your milk and discard the oatmeal. For this recipe, you can definitely use whole milk or another lactic acid, I like coconut milk because it has a plethora of additional health benefits like potassium AND it's animal friendly. Mash up an avocado separately and add in your vodka, coconut oil, and essential oil. The key to an effective deep conditioner is adding a nice fatty acid, natural nourishing oils, and an antiseptic to avoid oil build-up. This recipe has all of that AND clarifying properties from the clary sage oil.

After you've mixed your ingredients, apply your conditioner directly onto your hair, being sure to massage your scalp. If it's not obvious, let me be the one to point out that ignoring your scalp is a likely cause of dry hair and diminished hair growth — a common conditioning mistake that can be easily avoided. If you've got super dry hair, you can apply your concoction on dry hair and then rinse out after 25 minutes. For my fine haired babes, apply this on freshly washed, wet hair and leave on for the same amount of time.

Be sure to completely rinse out this conditioner, those green chunks of avocado can quickly turn this heroic conditioner into a hair crisis that leaves you picking out bits of avocado throughout the week.


Pink Ribbon Posers

Jessica Assaf

October is Breast Cancer AwarenessMonth, so we are going to explain the #beautybullshit behind the "PINK RIBBON."

The first pink ribbon was actually peach, and it was a part of a campaign created by Charlotte Haley over twenty years ago to demand that the National Cancer Institute increase their budget for cancer prevention research. In 1992, Charlotte was approached by Self Magazine and Estée Lauder to use her ribbons in a breast cancer awareness campaign and she refused. She had no desire to use her ribbon to promote corporations. So Estée Lauder changed the color to pink and took credit for it. 

Pink ribbon products claim to donate a portion of their proceeds to "breast cancer research," yet most of the time this is just a marketing strategy to improve our perception of the company and increase profits. We are never told how much money is being raised for "breast cancer awareness" and where the money is being donated. The worst part is that many "pink ribbon products" actually contain cancer-causing ingredients. Breast Cancer Action coined the term "pinkwashing" as a part of their Think Before You Pink campaign to explain this horrible hypocrisy.

Pinkwasher: a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.

In honor of real Breast Cancer Awareness, we are dedicating this month to ending pinkwashing by featuring "pink ribbon products" from companies that claim to supportbreast cancer, but instead make products that cause cancer. We will post many different products throughout the month, and we will be sure to always mention the better, safer replacement.

The only way we can get these chemicals out of our products is if we stop buying them. Let's start by phasing out the chemicals known to cause cancer. Eliminating our daily exposures to the carcinogens in our beauty products is the best method of breast cancer prevention we can think of. #thinkbeforeyoupink 



AVON says they are "the leading corporate supporter of the global breast cancer cause." According to their website, they recently celebrated 20 years of the "Avon Breast Cancer Crusade," and they have formed "breast cancer programs in 50 countries" that have donated millions of dollars to "life-saving breast cancer research and access to quality care."

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Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 12.22.57 AM


Hey Avon, did you know that the best way to support the "global breast cancer cause" is to stop making products that CAUSE CANCER?

Here are some suggestions from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for choosing safer products:

    • Read labels
    • Avoid using products that list ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, including sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, chemicals that include the clauses "xynol," "ceteareth" and "oleth."
    • Avoid products that contain formaldehye-releasing preservatives, including quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol).
    • Simplify: Select products with fewer ingredients and no synthetic fragrance or dyes, and use fewer products overall.
    • Choose safety: Search EWG's cosmetic safety database, Skin Deep, to learn more about the products you use and find safer alternatives.
    • Make your own cosmetics!

While you shouldn't trust the pink ribbon, you can always trust us to share the truth about beauty and the power we each have to eliminate our exposures to toxic chemicals from the products we use everyday. Stay tuned for many more Pink Ribbon Posers this month, and join us in celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness the right way by boycotting products that contain ingredients linked to cancer. #truthbeauty