Cosmetic Awareness

Cosmetic Awareness

Alexa Schirtzinger
Published: 08/14/2008

I was reading Treehugger.com today and stumbled upon an article that appealed to my US Weekly/Gawker sensibilities: The seven celebrities who need a lesson in going green. Most of them were guilty of private jets, wanton air travel, and, in the fantastic case of Woody Harrelson, ordering a vegan belt and shoes to be flown from California to Cannes so he could keep up the eco-chic…

But I was most fascinated by the Gwyneth Paltrow entry. Aside from calling out Paltrow for her eco-unfriendly endorsement of an Estee Lauder perfume, the article mentioned the best-ever time-waster for hypochondriacally-inclined eco-investigators like me. (And yes, I was attempting an Olympic record for hyphenated words in that last sentence.)

So, in short, if you’ve ever wondered what all those mysterious lotions and potions contain, you can find it all (most of it, anyway) on the Skin Deep, a cosmetic database launched by the Environmental Working Group in 2004 to fill consumers in about what the products they're using really contain and settle some of those urban legends about fingernails in lipstick and antiperspirants that kill. From toothpaste to nail polish (Revlon liquid quick dry = good; Sally Hansen French manicure kit = bad) and baby oil to deodorant, a wealth of brands are ranked from zero (“low hazard”) to 10 (“high hazard”) on the toxicity scale.

Being the aforementioned, over-hyphenated curious one, I did a quick run-down of the various cosmetics I use, and things were more or less as I expected:
Contact lens solution: 2
Chanel perfume: 5
Tom’s of Maine toothpaste: 1
Redken shampoo: 6
Redken conditioner: 5
Clinique lip gloss: 4
Nivea body lotion: 4 
(Scarily, my L'Occitane perfume, which touts itself as very natural, was between 8 and 9!)

Each product has a little checklist: “Ingredients in this product are linked to”—with boxes for cancer, reproductive toxicity, and the ominous “Other concerns” (such as endocrine disruption or the ever-vague “biochemical changes”). The EWG provides a percentage-based data gap—so you can tell exactly how accurate the product’s ranking is—and reports what percentage of similar products are less toxic. (The lower that number is, the better you’re doing.) Oh, and then there’s a link to buy it, if the warnings haven’t been dire enough to deter you.

In another, only partially related vein, I recently embarked on something like my sixth attempt to buy and use an all-natural deodorant. I chose Alba Botanicals Tea Tree deodorant, in part because I’ve used Alba in lotions and liked it, but also (and largely) because I’ve tried all the other natural deodorants, and they don’t work.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but the Alba stuff, to my dismay, didn’t work at all. In fact, it made me smell worse—and we can’t have that, because I smell bad enough after my morning subway ride as it is. So last week I gave up and bought a normal, carcinogenic antiperspirant that works like a charm. It only gets a 4 on the toxicity scale (Alba is a 3), and I figure it will help rich men fall in love with me so they can pay my hospital bills when the aluminum-whatever finally takes its toll. 

Two additional notes:
1) Skin Deep has a particularly thorough sunscreen database, too. Check it out before your Labor Day beach vacation.
2) I'm definitely open to suggestions on the deodorant front.