Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blinded (With Science)

I'm having an interesting discussion with Skulda, over at Skulda's Claws.  She has a post about detoxifying your makeup kit and the 'Dirty Dozen' of scary stuff that is probably in a lot of your cosmetics and other products. The website she links to is set up by David Suzuki - who is completely awesome - but I disagree with some of what he has to say. She also links to Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, and they happen to be a personal pet peeve of mine. Why? Because a lot of the information they provide is based on myths, urban legends and scare tactics. Like the one about nail polish having formaldehyde in it. I'm personally partial to the science based and intelligently researched Personal Care Truth website. Contrast their article with Dr. Suzuki's. Or this one.

One of the reasons this sort of thing is a pet peeve of mine is my mother. She very firmly believes that all chemicals are 'bad' and that natural and organic is always good. She's quite elderly and relies on several medicines to live - COPD medications, blood thinners, heart and blood pressure medications. She hates taking them and constantly insists that she'd be fine if she just stopped putting all this 'stuff' into her body. Every time she gets ill, she blames it on her medications and sometimes stops taking them. This usually lands her in the emergency room. That's why I find sites like Personal Care Truth invaluable. Or, as I like to point out to her, my father and his family all grew up on a farm. Everything they ate was natural - grown right there, pesticide free or traded for same with a neighbor. You wanted chicken for dinner, you went outside and strangled one. You want veggies - you know where the garden is. Even their water was straight from the well. Dad wouldn't even take an aspirin unless he was in trauma level pain. In spite of them all being younger than her, they're all dead. Most of them of some kind of cancer. My father of leukemia, and before his sixtieth birthday.  Mom's family all lived into their 90's, every one of them medicated to the gills. I also point out that the world is full of natural, organic stuff you don't want to go anywhere near - poison ivy, anyone?

Before I go on - I am absolutely NOT anti-natural or anti-organic. I may be a skeptic, but I'm definitely a bleeding heart, left wing, eco-friendly, artsy, non-conformist liberal. I prefer natural and organic when I can get it, and I'll get to why in a minute. I grow my own vegetables when I can, eat as little meat as I can. I love cheese too much to be vegan, but I do try to get locally, ethically produced eggs, meat and cheeses. Most of my skin care and cleaning products are natural, organic, and if possible, indie. I use eco-friendly cleaning products like Method and 7th Generation (especially laundry soaps). Cruelty free and environmentally friendly as important to me.

Why? - I have multiple chemical sensitivities. It's not the chemicals fault - it's me. I have asthma and I'm also allergic to damn near everything. Except, oddly, poison ivy. I'm allergic to lavender, for heaven's sake. I have to be insanely careful what gets on my skin, or into my lungs. I'm violently allergic to fabric softener and dryer sheets. Can't even touch the things. Two or three times a year I end up at the doctor covered in hives from any of a number of causes. So it's very, very important to me to know EXACTLY what I'm using. I've had far less trouble using natural and organic products than with more conventional synthetic, processed goods. Why? I have a theory about that.

WARNING - what follows is NOT science. It is my opinion based on my own personal experiences. I could be totally full of it. Just saying.

I think the problem isn't chemicals, but rather the extreme refining and processing involved in making modern products. The chemical is stripped from it's natural matrix and processed to be more effective, stronger and cheaper, and I think in many cases - or at least for people like me, that causes as many problems as it solves. Aspirin is more effective than willow bark tea, but it is also more likely to damage your stomach. Do you see where I'm going with this? Also, while some of these products aren't intrinsically harmful to the person using them, (since no given individual is likely to be exposed to a sufficient amount), I do worry about the cumulative effect on the environment. Parabens may not be harmful to me personally, nor am I likely to use enough to cause problems to the environment as a whole, what about the effects of millions of people using them and sending them into the air, the ground, the water? I don't think we know enough yet to be sure about that, and I prefer to err on the side of caution.

And I just find that simpler, more natural products cause me less health problems and work better. I use SLS free shampoo because my hair responds better to it, and it doesn't strip out the chemical cocktail I call my hair dye as quickly. If it works, and doesn't cause me problems, physical or ethical, I use it. Given a choice between to reasonably equal products, I'll go natural first. But if natural and organic doesn't do the job, I'll start looking into processed chemicals. If my head hurts, bring on the aspirin. Chemical laundry soap - oh hell, no. I like my skin and I want to keep it hive-free, thank you very much. Febreze? You don't even want to know what that does to my lungs. Silicons, mineral oil, petroleum jelly? Bring it. I still heart Burt's Bees and Organix.

My other big problem with the whole OMG! Your makeup is full of poison! mindset - the Safe Cosmetics Act. It has been revamped into the SCA of 2011, and it's still out there. From their web site "The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products."  It sounds awesome. It should be awesome. It's not. It's bad, bad, bad, and here's why. It will most likely bring about more animal testing without increasing the safety of products and might well damage or even destroy indie beauty as an economically viable business.
Colin Sanders (if you only read one link, read this one)
Essential U - detailed blog with lots of information
Herbs of Grace
Soap Queen
Winged Seed
Alabu Skin Care Blog
Personal Care Truth
PCT (again)
Natural Soap Bar Co.
Savvy Sister

 Most of all, I'm in favour of people making intelligent, informed choices, whether or not I agree with them, based on as much information as they can gather, rather than simply relying on knee-jerk "They say" platitudes.

What do you all think? Do you prefer natural organic products? Why?

This post contains my opinions and lots of them. As always, your mileage may vary. You are encouraged to discuss and debate these issues, provided you do so in a respectful and adult manner. Abusive and inflammatory posts will be deleted.


  1. Ironically, mineral oil and petroleum jelly are on my sensitivity list, as in one wrong lotion or lip balm use results in chemical burns. SLS is a problem for me as well, causing something like plaque psoriasis (and it bleeds, to boot) on my scalp.

    I think that half of our problem is we haven't done nearly enough research into the long-term effects of these chemicals. We don't know the full extent of what happens when they start building up in our bodies, in our waterways, in the air we breathe.

    Some chemicals are necessary or extremely beneficial, but others are in use simply because it's the cheapest, easiest to produce alternative.

  2. Everybody's different - what's heaven to one person is intolerable to another. My skin loves silicons - for other people - breakouts, burns, all kinds of problems. Good and bad can be so subjective.

  3. I'm an odd one... And I'm fairly new to the Indie scene. And this article is such a good one to touch on! Great job :)

    That being said, I prefer to go as natural as I can with my cosmetics. However, I do have concealers which are loaded with chemicals- for days I need more coverage. Otherwise- mascaras, lippies and eyeliners are the only non-indie things I use just out of habit. I'm also not above trying big-brand cosmetics should a color or product strike me as needing to try. I plan on expanding my collection to be as environmentally AND skin friendly as I can find. I'm not crazy about chemicals- but they won't ruin my day.

    I'm not vegan, I love my red meat, I'm lactose intolerant but I love ice cream and cheese... And I don't take any sort of enzymes to help me digest it. I do, however, have dairy in moderation so I don't totally wreck my belly and hurt for hours. LOL

    I think my Dad has it right- everything in moderation. Too much of anything is bad- whether it's organic, refined, processed, or engineered. A different viewpoint also- if it weren't for the manufactured medications I'm on, I probably would have gone crazy right now or writing around in agony stuck in a bed because of the amount of pain I'm in... So while I try to be as eco-friendly as possible, I'm not going to give everything up which isn't organic :)