Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Are You Worth It?

A picture says a thousand words

This week's "Little Bit Greener" theme is "Green Grooming" … Now I could write a whole book on this subject and still not even skim the surface of this huge topic so I shall try my best to summarise my thoughts and findings as concisely as possible.

One of the greatest forces of human nature is Vanity. The other is Greed. Put these two forces together and what have you got? The Cosmetics Industry. My overriding statement here would be "Wake up and smell the Bullsh*t!". Question your awareness and ask yourself what am I buying and more importantly why? Just as we make relationship with the food we eat and the land we tend, so should we think about the origins of what we're pasting onto ourselves in the name of "beauty". Where does it come from? What does it do? Why do we need it? What’s in it? What are the consequences? How was it tested? What IS an "air-light polymer with innovative optical element" ? Does it really work? Does this product really need to come wrapped in three ever decreasing plastic boxes and six layers of cardboard? Do I really want a tall, dark, handsome stranger to accost me on the street with a bunch of flowers and a promise of undying adoration if I use this perfume? Exactly WHO is benefiting from this product? Me or the company who made it?

Dont' just read what it says on the label. Whether a product contains sodium laureth sulphate or not is really the least of your worries because the cosmetics trade is one of the most unethical industries in existence. It consistently breaks just about every 'green' rule in the book. Ingredients are used which have been harvested after the torture, death or near extinction of some some animals, manufacturing processes are detrimental to the environment, packaging often outweighs the cost and size of the product and after all that, to save money, these lotions, potions, sprays and scrubs often contain harmful chemicals and toxins which are bad for us, and bad for the environment. In addition, most of the claims of the manufacturers about their products are scandalous lies. The formulas of cosmetic products including creams, shampoos, conditioners, waxes, balms and lotions of all types for hair and body, are all basically the same - creams, balms and lotions are made from varying amounts of oil and water, shampoos and soaps are little more than detergent - the same type we use to wash our dishes and clothes! What differs from brand to brand is the addition of various extracts from animals, plants and minerals which are given ridiculous names designed specifically to bamboozle the consumer and marketed as the next best thing in the quest for beauty, sparkle and wellbeing. Some products work, and some of them don't - that is more to do with your genetic make-up than anything else.

One of the problems of being a big player in the cosmetics trade, is that to keep making as much money as possible, the industry has to be self perpetuating which is why there's always a new product around the corner. If each new product that comes on the market is as good as they keep telling us, why are companies tripping over themselves to find new and better ingredients and formulas? Why do we need yet another miracle product? Why, in this day and age, is it still necessary to test on animals or use animal derived ingredients? In 2004, L'Oreal, the worlds largest user of animal tested ingredients, who openly oppose a ban against animal testing, applied for 586 patents for newly developed formulas.

There is very little legislation on the environmental impact of the manufacturing process and the amount and type of packaging used for cosmetics. It is a well known fact that excessive and expensive packaging, lends credibility to the “worth” of a product. Outrageously, it is common for cosmetics firms to package the same product (ie: a cleansing cream) in two different types of packaging. One for the lower, cheap end of the market, and another for the high, expensive end of the market. One way of doing this is by branding certain products to a particular retailer.

So aside from the commercial considerations and questions, what is actually IN those brightly coloured and temptingly packaged vases and phials?? Did you know that:

Collagen, a popular “firming” ingredient, is a fibrous protein derived from animal cartilage and often extracted from the skin of calves.

Amniotic fluid from pregnant cows is used in facial and body moisturisers due to its neutral PH of 7.

Thymus Extract is nothing to do with the herb Thyme, but is a substance extracted from the thymus glands of animals and used in skin cream to help the immune system and improve cell function.

Hyaluronic Acid is an extremely popular ingredient and you will find it in almost every “super” moisturiser or skin preparation which claims to “hydrate” skin or fight dehydration. Originally, it came from Cocks Combs, and although there is now a similar plant based alternative, both types are widely used.

Kalaya Oil is a recent addition to the cosmetics armoury and is used as a skin softner and anti imflamatory ingredient in moisturising cream, shower cream, shampoo and soap. Though it sounds as if it comes from an exotic plant or nut, it is actually extracted from the fat of specially farmed emus.

Elastin is an animal derived protein used in cream for dry skin. It is similar to collagen, extracted from bovine neck ligaments and used for mature skins as the molecules are smaller and more easily absorbed than collagen.

Embryo extract from foetal calves is used for hormones in anti-aging creams.

The following ingredients are commonly used as “fixatives” in perfume. Chanel, Dior, Yves st Laurant, Guerlain and Lancome to name a few, are the worst offenders:

Musk: A secretion from the gland of the male musk deer which is only available from dead animals. This deer is now in danger of extinction.

Civet: Less commonly used these days, but this fixative is from cats who are captured and then tormented to increase the secretions

Castor: Not from beans, but from Beavers sex glands. Freshly killed, dead beavers.

Is this what you want to be putting on your skin?

The act of treating ourselves to something expensive, luxurious and smelly, to pamper ourselves with makes us feel good and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that but why choose a product containing emu fat or cow cartilage, when a cream made with natural plant oils is just as, if not more, effective. How can our spirit connect with something which has caused the suffering, or death of an animal - for the sole purpose of keeping us beautiful? Before we buy anything, we need to be able to see through the cynical marketing ploys which feed our vanity and strip our wallets, and shun the almost robotic use of those mass produced products – most of which we simply do not need, whether or not they are endorsed by celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss or Posh Spice. If we can’t connect with the product then we have to put it back on the shelf and say to ourselves ”It’s not worth it”.

So what do we do ladies? What IS worth it? Well there are LOTS of alternatives. Firstly, you could make your own. Not only is this great fun, it is also very very satisfying. My friend Jane has been making skincare products for years - her passion is natural soap. She has set up a website HERE which is a treasure trove of information on how to make high quality products for your face, body and wellbeing. Jane has taught me to make the most divine body butters, facial creams, balms and soaps. The only thing I would say is that this is not a 'carte blanche' solution. Some ingredients are still not 'green' , palm oil being the most obvious as it's cultivation and harvest destroys the natural habitat of Orangutangs.

Although there are many Lush products that are quite harsh (I don't like their soap), they are listed as one of the top 5 ethical companies for their stance on both animal testing and environmental issues. If you can't be bothered to make your own, then Lush is probably the best answer.

Naturewatch publish a guide to compassionate products which I have found indispensable - it covers cosmetics and other household products. Their website is also packed with information though it is of a more compassionate nature than environmental.

Cosmetic Watch is just one book which lifts the lid on the cosmetic industry, there are many more. (note: The so called "21st Century Beauty Bible is NOT a helpful guide to green grooming - it is a 'catalogue' for expensive brands most of which fall into the above rapacious catergory).

The Soap Kitchen (UK) supplies raw materials for making your own cosmetics, not just soap.

Bramble Berry (USA) supplies raw materials for soaps, lotions, potions and makeup and they have a blog with loads of tutorials.

OK … i'm not finished ladies … because if there's one thing, just ONE thing that could make a world of difference to your green grooming aspirations, then this is it .. if you don't like the sight of blood, don't look away now.

Sanitary products. Not a nice subject I know and pretty disgusting when you think about it but you have to know this if you don't already. Sanitary products, and by this I mean sanitary towels, tampons and even nappies, use chemicals to increase absorbency and each time we use them, we not only exacerbate the world's landfill and pollution problems, but we also run the risk of contaminating ourselves with a dangerous cocktail of chemicals which can cause a whole range of problems, disorders, complications and can sometimes even lead to death.

A frequent ingredient in the manufacture of tampons, is dioxin which is a by-product of chlorine bleaching (creates the white appearance of sanitary products). It is one of the most harmful chemicals known to man and has been linked to reproductive and immune disorders. Once it is in the environment it cannot be removed. It accumulates in the fatty tissues of humans and animals. We are all susceptible to dioxin contamination through our diet and the environment, but there is absolutely no logical reason why women should be subject to the possibility of additional exposure through their sanitary protection.

Another common material used in today's disposable products is the synthetic fibre rayon, which is used in combination with cotton in most tampons. It is usually produced with chlorine gas. Chlorine-free rayon does exist but unless manufacturers fully label their products, which they don't always, we cannot be certain that they are chlorine free.

The use of such highly absorbent materials has also been linked to the disease Toxic Shock Syndrome. Other problems associated with absorbency enhancers in tampons include peeling of the mucous membrane, vaginal dryness, ulcers, and lesions. Apart from the obvious pollution caused by the manufacturing processes, the average woman uses 12,000 pads/liners/tampons during her menstrual lifetime. It takes 6 months for 1 tampon to biodegrade but plastic used in pads can remain in the environment forever, and it is estimated that 5 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from swallowing the type of plastic contained in these products.

So what can you do?

Menstrual cups were introduced in the 1930's (around the same time as disposable tampons). Traditionally, menstrual cups were made from latex, a substance derived from the sap of the gum tree. Latex rubber is a common allergen and so cups have now been developed which are made from medical grade silicone, a safer, softer and more attractive material.

Silicone is derived from silica, found in sandstone and quartz, one of the most abundant resources on our planet. It collects menstrual flow directly from the base of the cervix, has a capacity of 1 fl oz (a whole cycle will produce 3-4fl oz) and can be worn for anywhere between 6-12 hours depending on flow.

The many testimonials on all of these websites which sell both latex and silicone menstrual cups indicate that this is a safe, leak proof, convenient, and comfortable alternative to the disposable, commercially available tampon. (UK)
(further reading)

I've been using a Mooncup for 8 years now. It cost me £17.00 and since the first time I used it, I haven't needed anything else. Think about it - do the sums! How many boxes of Tampax and pantyliners would you use in 8 years? These products are classified as Luxury (!!!!) which enables the retailers to bump the price up even more! No, a Mooncup doesn't suck out your insides, it isn't hard to use, it isn't dangerous or 'dirty', but it might well save your life, if not your wallet.


Pomona said...

I agree with you totally about (a) the toxic chemicals in most high st beauty potions and (b) the total twaddle used in marketing them (I worked in advertising in a previous life, so I know something of this): they harm your body and your mind. I can't remember if I mentioned Pat Thomas's book before, and also a good read is The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. And if you don't want to make your own there are alternatives to buy - at all price points!

Sorry - a very long comment - but I could go on for hours on this one!!

Pomona x

dottycookie said...

I second the recommendation for The Beauty Myth - I heard Naomi Wolf speak in the US when I was there in the 90s and she was certainly compelling.

As to the cosmetic ingredients, what is there to say other than "yuk"?

Rachel said...

Wow. I thought I was quite savvy about this subject but it's obvious that I've barely touched the surface! Another amazing, informative post.
Rachel x
P.S. I've just posted a reply to your comment on TLBG too.

Gina said...

Thank you, another excellent thought provoking post!

Ginny said...

a fantastic post julia... i was so looking forward to reading this ... i knew i would learn so much... i have been gearing myself up for a mooncup for some time though not yet taken the plunge(my sister swears by hers)... was nervous about using latex beacause of an allergy, so will look into the silicone alternatives. i buy very little 'grooming' products and always read labels... if i don't recognise an ingredient i steer well clear.
i am also very suspicious about many products appearing to be 'green' and then you read the ingredients and they so are not...i think a lot of people are caught out by this.
fab post. xx
ginny x

Dragonfly said...

My goodness, it reads like a horror story! I thought I was quite careful with the products I buy (I love REN), but I will certainly be looking much closer in future.

pebbledash said...

Great informative post Julia! All I use on my face is jojoba oil - both for cleansing (remove with hot muslin cloth) and for moisturising. Rolled oats mixed with water make a gentle exfoliator too. Not sure I agree about Lush - over-perfumed and lots of their products contain sls. The company has great ethics, but I don't think their products are all they're cracked up to be. If I was purchasing I'd go for Spiezia, Pai, or Trevarno. Sorry, I've gone on a bit!

Moogsmum said...

Great thought provoking post Julia. I try to keep my cosmetics as simple as possible but I still have a way to go.


Anonymous said...

Woo hoo, what a great post! I was planning a post about this soon as well, but I had no idea about some of the things you have written about.

Collagen I knew as my other half told me, but the rest I didnt know.

Make your own is the best way I have found. I have recently discovered be never too busy to be beautiful for makeup, a sister company of lush they seem to be highly ethical, even down to much of their packaging being fairtrade.


summerfete said...

Its a scary world out there!
Thankfully I'm not a huge consumer of beauty products. Hippy! Hey I dont even wear deodorant when at home!

She says that with a blob of spot cream on her chin!!

Billie Jane said...

Yay!! I love my Mooncup too! Only I no longer need it... its the only thing that made me sad about reaching the menopause... I used to feel so free with my mooncup... I could go to the jungle and I would never have to worry about taking anything else with me! Good post Julia!

A Time for Stitching said...

It's a crime the way the beauty industry is trying to hoodwink consumers into beliveing that some products have natural ingredients when they don't. I wish it wasn't so expensive to buy 'natural' and then there's still packaging to dispose of.

laoi gaul~williams said...

a really great post! i had a similar rant a year or two ago and it felt so great to get it out there!
if i watch tv in the evening you will usually hear me ranting aloud at the beauty product ads with their special, scientific rubbish. i have never worn make up and have always carefully inspected the labels on our shampoo etc.

Florence said...

Wow Julia, what an amazing and informative post - thank you so much for taking the time to write it. x