What I learned in 2009

Posted on December 31st, 2009 by Gina

I have been testing the 3P’s of Vanity – Products, Processes and Plastic Surgery – for years. You could say that I have been trying out for this job my entire life.  I have been a total patsy for the cosmetics industry, have allowed some dermatologists too much access to my face, and have seen nearly every plastic surgeon in town (someday I’m going to do something BIG!)  Now, I research for you instead of for me.  My husband says it’s cheaper.

So, what did I learn in 2009?  One word:  Skepticism.

Particularly, skepticism in the use of the word “natural” in personal care products.  Just because it says “natural” or “organic” or even “hypoallergenic” on the label, does not make it any of those things.  Only one government agency certifies organic products – the USDA.  Without that seal on the label, those herbs may have been cooked up in a lab.

Further, I’m skeptical about those who take the natural movement to the extreme.  Some chemicals belong in cosmetics.  Preservatives belong, for instance, so that your product doesn’t go bad.  Thickening agents belong in some, too, to make the product rich for smoothing on the skin.  New research has backed me up on my support of some synthetics recently, when the UK gave the green light to the preservative paraben in cosmetic and grooming products.

Lastlly, natural products, if that is what they actually are, are not necessarily good for you.  Some plant extracts can irritate the hell out of your skin and are much oilier than a facial product should be.  As I have said before – arsenic is a natural ingredient, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in your spouse’s coffee.

So, what’s a consumer to do?  A helpful way to make a quick assessment is the nose on your face.  If it has a heavy fragrance, you need to be skeptical, particularly if you are in your childbearing years.  There is nothing wrong with smelling good, but in the cosmetic manufacturing industry, chemicals we don’t know about are hidden in the word “fragrance” on the label.  Companies don’t have to disclose what ingredients make up fragrance, because they can claim it falls within their “trade secrets”.  Ingredients already known to be in some fragrance or fragrance blockers (herbs smell bad), are the ones considered high in reproductive toxicity by the Environmental Working Group, our safety watchdog for personal care products.

Mintel, a research company that supplies intelligence on consumers and products, predicts that 2010 will be the “Nu Natural” year, where consumers will be focused less on certification and more on “results, efficiency and safety.”  They, and LookinGood, suggest we look for labels like “free from” and “sustainable” rather than the often abused Mother Nature endorsement.

Of course, you can always ask LookinGood.  That’s what we’re here for.

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A short history of cosmetics

150BC Romans use yellow eye shadow.

The Romans preferred to use gold-colored eye shadow which was made from saffron and painted onto the area around the sides and under their eyes. Then they used powdered wood ash to color their eyelids black. This gold color was quite significant at the time because they saw themselves as the rulers of the Mediterranean.