Still waiting on FDA to do something about Brazilian Blowout

I was glad to see the Wall Street Journal story about the dangers of Brazilian Blowout hair treatments.  The article did a good job describing the health concerns with this product, but left out an important part of the story: Where’s FDA? The story of Brazilian Blowout is the perfect illustration of FDA’s failure to protect the public from dangerous products.

Here’s the Letter to the Editor I wrote to Wall Street Journal (which they have not yet seen fit to print) laying out the concerns that are piled up so high that even cynical me is shocked that FDA has failed to act.

Dear Editor:

Thanks to Anjali Athavaley for her story about the concerns with keratin hair treatments (Taming of the Curl, March 23). The situation with Brazilian Blowout illustrates the need for regulatory reform in the US.  These products have been pulled from the shelves in Canada, France and Ireland; health warnings have been issued by Oregon OSHA and Connecticut Department of Health; and the California Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against the company. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review Panel has said the levels of formaldehyde and methylene glycol in these products cannot be verified as safe, and even the Personal Care Products Council is asking FDA to intervene.

Yet FDA has taken no action and Brazilian Blowout treatments are still being used in salons across America, still exposing women and salon workers to a known carcinogen. It’s time to reform the 70-year-old cosmetics regulations in the US and give FDA the authority and resources to keep unsafe products off the market.

Thank you,
Stacy Malkan

Update: In September 2011 — a full year after Canada banned the products — US FDA finally issued a warning letter to Brazilian Blowout. But the agency has taken no action to actually protect consumers, and formaldehyde hair straighteners are still being applied to the heads of women across America.

Paul Mitchell’s new ‘natural’ line: good, bad or indifferent?

John Paul Mitchell and his wife Eloise Dejoria are featured on the cover of the latest issue of Coco Eco magazine and the hair-care giant has (finally!) released a new line of paraben-free, sulfate-free products called Awapuhi Wild Ginger. We don’t yet have an ingredient list (update: now we do, check the comments), but the marketing campaign sure looks lovely.

So what do you think? A good stop forward? Should Paul Mitchell be doing more? Read on for what people are saying from a debate on Facebook, and we’d love to continue the conversation here with your comments…

Anna Griffin (editor of Coco Eco magazine) LOVE this product!

Remy Chevalier Paul Mitchell has been given a free pass because of the amazing environmental work they do, so let’s hope being featured in CocoEco that greening the chemistry of all their other products becomes a new mandate for the company.

Magda Freedom Rod but is it FRAGRANCE FREE? Have the signed The Compact for Safe Cosmetics yet? Love to know-yes they’ve done environmental work but they’re just as guilty as Estee Lauder touting their pink ribbon if they’re still using fragrance and not signing-just sayin

Josie Roman There were so many GREAT sulfate free, paraben free, cruelty free, ammonia free, even vegan health and beauty products at the Natural Products Expo this weekend in Anaheim and honestly, I can care about those big guys catching up now to try to get a piece of the market

Anna Griffin Paul Mitchell has always been cruelty free, has the organic Tea Tree line which is carbon neutral, and now the Awapuhi & Wild Ginger collection which is sulfate and paraben free. I think the thing is to support all efforts being made by the larger companies, whilst requesting further commitment towards clean products. And in the meantime as Josie points out, there are some amazing smaller brands that we can choose to support.

Josie Roman I agree Anna, I do support ALL efforts ad it would be GREAT that all manufacturers did what is right soon. What bothers me is the possibility that smaller companies maybe put out of business if all the big companies catch up. At the end of the day, it is the small fish that has done the hard work of moving and shaking the waters in the right direction!

Anna Griffin I totally agree Josie, and you’ll be pleased to know that John Paul Dejoria is actually supporting smaller brands that are sustainable and philanthropic with a new e-commerce platform called JP Selects which launches May 1st. This is an amazing opportunity for those who have paved the way and stuck by their ethics to gain distribution and a share of the marketplace by being introduced to a large database of those looking for cleaner, healthier and more eco-conscious products.

Remy Chevalier The Paul Mitchell Tea Tree line may contain organic tea tree oil, but the formulation of the product itself is far from organic, in fact one of the worse list of ingredients out there. I met John Paul and his wife at the UN a year ago. We discussed green chemistry. John Paul honestly knew nothing of the subject. I’ve met teachers at his schools who have quit over how toxic their products are to breathe.

Magda Freedom Rod: ‎@ Anna I’m going with demanding rather than requesting that manufacturers remove toxic chemicals from their products — ESPECIALLY when they are marketing themselves as green. Seriously. A friend of mine (38-no family history) just got diagnosed with breast cancer. We all know this is closely linked to toxins in our beauty products. ( Yes we acknowledge the great work he’s done, but let’s not sugarcoat the fact that the products are still at the end of the day-TOXIC-Are you using them?

Magda Freedom Rod I like companies who are truly green post their ingredients on their website-major points for transparency. That was another thing I always considered when choosing lines for Visionary — integrity, integrity, integrity/transparency,transparency,transparency…

Remy Chevalier I look at this as an opportunity. Paul Mitchell has 60 schools in 26 different states. I think once John Paul and his wife come to understand who the community surrounding CocoEco is, they’ll be hard pressed not to instigate some genuine changes.

Stacy Malkan I share Josie’s concern that the most important thing is to support the small independent businesses that have been doing it right and that share our values. Yes we are still working to get the big companies to change, that’s important, but I personally will not buy anything from the big cosmetics corporations until they remove all carcinogens and other known toxins from ALL their brands, and until they commit to fully disclosing ingredients (including fragrance chemicals). That’s where the true industry leaders already are, and those are the companies we must support. None of the big beauty corporations including Paul Mitchell are anywhere close … yet. This summer the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics will announce the hundreds of companies that have complied with these principles via the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Stay tuned…

What do YOU think? Does supporting the green efforts by the big corporations help or hinder the market for smaller companies and truly green products? Also check out the discussion on the Safe Cosmetics Facebook page.

Five Tips for Frugal Shoppers

Today @dbjelica712 tweeted me to ask me if there are safe brands for frugal shoppers. The answer is more challenging than it should be, and takes longer than a tweet. But the good news is, you can save money and buy safe products. It just takes some creative accounting and a willingness to look at the big picture.

I like to think of money as energy, and I want to put my energy into creating the kind of world I want to live in. So I try to buy all my personal care products from companies I trust – these tend to be small, independently owned companies, local if possible, that share my vision of a healthy world (the type of companies you won’t find in the pages of Vogue).

But I have to confess, sometimes I‘m a sucker for a cheap price tag. This was the case when I recently bought a 32-ounce bottle of Whole Foods’ 365 brand shampoo.  I like the bigger bottle (three cheers for less plastic) and I knew the product was high quality because it was recently reformulated to meet the store’s Premium Body Care Standards (yay Whole Foods!) — never mind that whole thing about union busting and the CEO who tried to torpedo health care.

Sometimes it gets complicated. But in general, I’m for spending my money in ways that advance my values and offsetting the cost by taking money away from the things that don’t.  In this way, I actually spend less money than I used to on products that are better for my health and the planet.  Here’s how:

Less is more — Companies love to make us think we need a different lotion for every part of our bodies, a different cleaning product for every room in the house. Better to buy one high-quality, non-toxic product from a company you love. An advantage to getting to know your local manufacturers is that sometimes you can get a great discount! (Thanks Grateful Body!)

Bye Bye Hair Dye (and other expensive toxic stuff) — Hair dye, relaxers, perms: anything that changes the shape and color of hair tends to be quite toxic chemistry, not to mention messy and expensive. Giving up the hair dye saves hundreds of dollars a year, and this is where I saved the most money. Sometimes I miss the highlights but my theory is that most women actually look better with their natural hair color. (Check out my Bye Bye Hair Dye page on Facebook.)

Make your own — Coconut oil and sesame oil make great lotions, and baking soda and vinegar are excellent cleaning agents. Here are some cheap green cleaning recipes and ideas for making your own cosmetics. I also love these ideas from the Zero Waste Family lady.

Just say No – to gratuitous products that add unnecessary expense and chemical exposures to our lives: perfumes, body sprays, vaginal sprays, air fresheners, dryer sheets, bubble bath… It feels great to discover how much we actually don’t need! And after taking a break from all these synthetic fragrances, you start to notice how gross they actually smell.

Get political – We can’t just shop our way out of these problems, we also need to change the laws to require companies to stop using hazardous chemicals. Until then, green products will continue to be a niche market in expensive stores that only some people can afford. That’s why it’s crucial to support laws like the Safe Cosmetics Act that will shift whole industries to safer products.

Extra bonus: turn off the TV to save lots of cash! How much do people spend on cable these days? Most shows I like run for free on the internet without all the brainwashing ads that try to make me think it’s a good idea for the scent of laundry detergent to last for seven days! (persistent chemicals anyone?)

Once more for the record: Lead in lipstick is still a problem

How nice to know that John Hurson, lobbyist for the Personal Care Products Council, was thinking about me the other night from somewhere in the DC area (a bar perhaps?). At 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 31, he tweeted, “@safecosmetics Does Stacy Malkan know that FDA says your attack on lead in lipstick is crap?”

No I hadn’t heard that one. Here’s what I do know: lipsticks still contain unacceptable levels of lead and cosmetics companies need to get it out of there. Lead builds up in the body over time and it is extremely toxic to the developing brain. Here are some important quotes on the topic.

“No safe blood lead level has been identified,” states the U.S. Center’s for Disease Control.

“Even the current ‘low’ levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits,” writes David Bellinger, PhD, of Harvard Medical School.

“Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Boston University and medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

You have to remember, guys at the Personal Care Products Council: children begin their lives in the bodies of women, millions of whom are using lead-containing lipstick every day.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics first reported the problem of lead in lipstick in 2007. FDA followed up with its own study; with a more sensitive detection method, the agency found even higher levels of lead in lipstick. Yes the levels are overall low, but, see above, there is no safe level of lead exposure.

Most disturbingly, both studies revealed that certain brands of lipstick had much higher lead levels than others (hello L’Oreal and Maybelline) — so clearly there is plenty of room for improvement.

As for FDA, the agency has conducted no safety assessments and has no evidence to back up claims of safety, as we pointed out in a letter to FDA dated January 2010 (still waiting for a response on that one). Meanwhile, environmental groups and several U.S. Senators are insisting that FDA set safety standards for lead in cosmetics based on the lowest lead levels that companies can feasibly achieve – as FDA did with candy.

Does that clear it up?

You Can’t Put Lipstick on an Inter-Sex Frog

What do you think about that for a title for my next book? Thanks to Gary Ruskin for the suggestion! So on to my big news for the week: I have an essay on the New York Times bestseller list. Yes Kris Carr’s wonderful book Crazy Sexy Diet hit the NYT list as #6.

When Kris asked me if she could re-print an article I wrote in her book, I said sure and didn’t think much about it. When the book arrived — a wonderfully designed, four-color beauty of a book — I flipped to page 132 and thought, oh my. There is my photo looking rather large and the first two words of my essay in big scripty green type: Penis deformation?

I don’t like those two words together in the same sentence, as I wrote in the essay, which is a rather flip (yet honest) discussion of the epidemic of mixed-up sex organs in frogs, fish and people.  Hey, if I have to get on the NYT bestseller list through somebody else’s book, at least I got to go for the gonads, so to speak. For more on this topic, see my post about the state of male sexual health.

Congratulations to Kris! I bought the book for the women I love most in the world and I urge everyone to do the same.

More good news: The filmmakers of Pink Skies will be in the Bay Area Feb. 17 to show their inspiring film about the power of women and the possibilities of preventing breast cancer. This phenomenal film covers “Jump for the Cause,” an event that brought together 181 women from 31 countries to create the World Record All-Women’s Skydiving Formation.

The film features breast cancer survivors, researchers, healers and activists (including yours truly talking about cancer-causing chemicals in personal care products). The skydiving footage is unbelievable, and I can’t watch the Pink Skies trailer without crying. RSVP here for the free screening Feb. 17 in Berkeley.

And finally, here is the clip of my appearance on Fran Drescher’s Tawk Show. We had a lot of fun!

Next up: Alaska! Coming soon: Austin, Houston, and Knoxville Tennessee.

Love the Label: A Tale of Power and Activism on Campus

Thanks to Marina DelMarco for your inspiration and enthusiasm in starting a safe cosmetics campaign in Ontario Canada. Here is the story of how and why she did it.

By Marina DelMarco

From a small University in Northern Ontario comes a campaign with big goals — and big questions. The Love the Label campaign was launched on campus at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON to promote awareness about the toxins and noxious ingredients in our cosmetics and personal care products. Our daily beauty and health care regimens expose our bodies and the environment to chemicals that can act as hormone disruptors, allergens, lung irritants and carcinogens.  Consumers have the right to make well-informed choices based on their knowledge of the contents of various products: this is the mission of Love the Label.

How did this campaign begin? The seed was planted in early 2010. My younger sister Lucia is enrolled in environmental toxicology at Nipissing U. After a particular class, she began criticizing my favourite hairspray and perfume. When I put on nail polish, she’d walk out of the room almost mad.

I thought she was just being annoying, until she showed me a website called “Skin Deep.” The Environmental Working Group out of the USA has analyzed over 60,000 name brand products that we buy and use everyday and put all the information in a searchable database. Lucia told me to check my favourite shampoo; Herbal Essences. It was a 6! I couldn’t believe it. I ended up checking and numbering my entire makeup bag and then throwing it all out! I decided there was something terribly wrong about this broken-down system.

We, as consumers, trust our products. And all of a sudden, the world that I consumed: the images of beauty, of ultimate lashes, of entrancing perfumes, was literally washed down the drain (into our waterways no doubt) and I simply couldn’t stand for a world where the decisions for safe products are being made by the industry that profits from them!

Love the Label started soon thereafter. I assembled a team, a design, and our overall educational construct. I began contacting various organizations around Canada and the USA asking for advice on how to develop a grassroots campaign. Our team spent most of the summer contacting organic companies around Canada buying natural products, asking for samples and business cards so that we’d be able to better prepare our students with safe alternatives!

In September, Love the Label began promoting on campus. We filled our booth with our campaign colours, our banner, our products on trial display, petition postcards, and information pamphlets from the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defense Canada, Femmetoxic/BCAM, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in the USA. The responses on campus were unreal. Our “products on trial” display features high, moderate, and low hazard products that have all been analyzed on the Skin Deep Database. Students would come by and ask why their favourite perfume was rated “high hazard.” We would then flood them with information, and hand out our tip cards that contain chemicals to avoid in daily products. Girls, guys, professors were all blown away.

It’s been such an amazing experience so far, and we have much more to accomplish!

I encourage everyone to become skeptical consumers! Read labels, and if you don’t love the label, don’t buy the product!!

Marina DeMarco & Love the Label .. xoxo
Advocates for Truth and Nature

Books and Stories I Love So Far in 2011

Welcome 2011! So far, things aren’t looking so pretty! Today’s paper had no less than 25 bad-news stories: shootings, bombings, extreme weather events, awful state budget cuts.  It’s hard to sidestep the cynicism. But here goes: just as the days are lengthening toward the spring solstice, people everywhere are waking up to the power we have to shape the world around us and create a brighter future. It’s happening, it can’t be stopped, I truly believe it.

So, to the potential of 2011, I honor some of my favorite sheroes who are taking a stand for health and life:

Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet: A beautiful, inspiring book! I urge you all to buy it right now. Kris Carr has survived cancer and come out the other side as her healthiest, happiest self — and she shows us how to get there too. “Are you ready to live like you mean it?” she asks. “Are you ready to get out of your slump, over your fear, and plug into your Crazy Sexy potential?” Yes, sign me up! (Also see the article by me on page 132 of Kris’ book).

Pink Skies: When Gulcin Gilbert asked to interview me  for her film about breast cancer prevention, I jumped at the chance, and ended up being in one of the most beautiful documentaries I’ve ever seen. This powerful and inspiring film follows “Jump for the Cause,” which brought together 181 women from 31 countries to create the World Record All Women’s Skydiving Formation — and raised nearly $1 million for breast cancer research.

The footage is incredible! The stories are so powerful. I can’t watch the trailer without crying. If you’re in the Bay Area, please join us in Berkeley on February 17 for a free private screening of Pink Skies.

There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, by Gillian Deacon: We know all about lead in lipstick! The research was pioneered by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and released the same week as my own book about toxic chemicals in cosmetics in 2007, then followed up by FDA. So what more is there to say? Gillian Deacon finds plenty. In her brave book, Gillian, an award-winning broadcast journalist in Canada, details her own struggle with cancer and her journey to find safer products, and presents in-depth research about what’s wrong with the way beauty products are made today. I learned a lot!

The Power of One Woman: I love it when the phone rings and on the other end is a kindred spirit who has awakened to her own power and the power women have to change the world. Betsy Hosp, who had a personal revolution when the doctors couldn’t tell her how to help her very sick young daughter (who is now the picture of health thanks to diet and lifestyle changes), is a source of big inspiration for me. Her story is another sign that an awakening is underway, and building momentum every single day.

Betsy is helping to build it with her wonderful website The Power of One Woman, which shares the stories of the many inspiring sheroes she is finding in her research. Kudos to Betsy and all the women out there who are  stepping up to the plate, raising their voices and showing the world what needs to be done.

A Wink from the Universe

“Our universe is doing amazing things that will not happen again in our lifetimes or in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.” This quote from my friend M.R. put into perspective the big energies of today: Winter Solstice, full moon, total eclipse of the moon … all at the tail end of a big year that was full of big energies. It has me in the mood for thinking about how we can take all this bigness to the next level.

How perfect that today is the day my friends at Plastics Pollution Coalition posted the video clips from the TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch conference. I was honored to be part of this inspiring day of luminary speakers, and to share my vision for how we can change the world. Here is the 11-minute clip of my talk: Giving the Chemical, Plastic and Beauty Industries a Makeover!

I feel as though my three years on the road since the release of my book “Not Just a Pretty Face,” with talks in more than 50 cities in 14 states, have been practice for this one discussion of big ideas boiled down into 10 minutes (and ok, it turned out to be 11).  I think it works, and anyway, I had a lot of fun!

On this day of reflection and return-of-the-light, I would love to hear your big ideas: What are your dreams for 2011?  How can we build on the momentum for change that is building all around us? How can we — all of us, and especially women — take back the power that is ours to take, and change the world?

I believe in my heart that it is already happening, that we are already winning, that last night’s eclipse was a wink of the universe to remind us that the light will always conquer dark. And now (as I said in my talk) we just need to get louder, bolder and stronger in taking on the power structures that are destroying life. The veil is lifting, and too many of us now see it for what it is.

Please write to me and share your thoughts! Also, if you are feeling in the mood for giving, please consider contributing a year-end, tax-deductable donation to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and help us continue our work in 2011 to give the beauty industry a makeover. Together, we can shift our toxic economy to one that is compatible with life and healthy for people and the planet.

Love to you all,

A hearty dose of carciongens for your shiny smooth hair

Beautiful, shiny, frizz-free hair? Count yourself lucky to have hair at all! I first heard about the Brazilian Blowout scandal from Susanne Harvey, who called to tell me she’d lost huge chunks of her long red hair after using the popular hair-smoothing product that is all the rage with celebrities.

By now you’ve probably heard: “formaldehyde free” Brazilian Blowout actually contains up to 10% formaldehyde (a cancer-causing chemical and potent allergen), according to tests conducted by Oregon Health & Science University.

The company tried to deny it. Within a week, Health Canada followed up with its own tests, confirmed the high formaldehyde content and started pulling the product from salons.

Since then, Oregon OSHA and the Connecticut Department of Health have issued health warnings. Today the California Attorney General announced a lawsuit against the company.

With all this concern, why is Brazilian Blowout still on the shelves? Why is the product still labeled formaldehyde-free? Why has the U.S. FDA done nothing?

A recent New York Times story put it plainly: people are making a lot of money off this stuff.

“Questions about the safety of Brazilian treatments have been raised for years,” reported Terry Pristin in the Times. “Yet for many salon owners and stylists, who are usually independent contractors, it is hard to contemplate eliminating such a profitable procedure.”

Welcome to America, the land of cost-benefit analysis: if somebody is making money off it, it doesn’t matter if somebody else might get cancer from it (or lose their hair).

Just one more reason we need to pass laws like the Safe Cosmetics Act that will make it illegal to put cancer-causing chemicals into personal care products in the first place. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is also demanding that FDA issue a voluntary recall of Brazilian Blowout (take action here!); FDA doesn’t currently have the authority to force recalls, but the agency could and should be warning people about the risk.

Until then, many Americans will go on paying hundreds of dollars to put formaldehyde on their heads, all the while believing that Brazilian Blowout is “The ONLY professional  smoothing treatment that improves the health of the hair.”

NYU students take on Abercrombie & Fitch over toxic stench

By Jessica Assaf

“Diethyl phthalate is not sexy!” and “We won’t stop till A&F stops the spray.” At 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, I trekked uptown carrying 20 signs with slogans like these. Scrambling to find a cab to take me to 5th Ave. and 56th Street, I nearly dropped all the signs on the sidewalk, as I couldn’t figure out a way to hold them in addition to a large box of face masks and my cell phone, flip camera and digital camera. While the moments leading up to the protest were hectic, I was at peace knowing what was ahead: we were about to stand up to Abercrombie & Fitch and demand that they stop spraying their signature fragrance, Fierce, all over their stores.

[Read more here about what's wrong with Fierce and check out Jessica's video of the New York A&F protest.]

I finally arrived at the corner of 5th and 56th and spotted Alex and Rebecca, the leaders of Teens Turning Green NYC. I signaled to them to meet me across the street so we could gather the group and prepare to walk in front of the store. I was worried that not enough people would show up; many NYU students had told me they were coming, but I was uncertain who would actually make the effort.

A few minutes later, about 20 NYU students arrived on the scene and grabbed signs and gas masks. The energy level skyrocketed, and together we walked across the street and gathered in a line directly in front of the flagship store on 5th avenue. Immediately I noticed mean glares from the four models standing outside, but that just gave us more motivation to start chanting. We also observed a line of people wrapped around the store waiting to get inside, so we decided to educate the customers in line about the potential health implications of walking into the store.

Countless people approached us from all angles, curious about what we were doing and why we were targeting Abercrombie & Fitch on a Friday afternoon. Everyone, from the clueless tourist to the ex-employee wanted to learn more. I was especially moved by one woman who used to work at Abercrombie; she told us that she was forced to spray the clothing every 30 minutes and was extremely bothered by the fragrance but had no idea that Fierce contained toxic chemicals.

Another woman told us that she worked as a broker in a building across the street, and she could smell the fragrance from her office. She said that her firm dropped A&F as a client because of their spraying. So many people thanked us for our work, which provided us with even more momentum to continue.

One of the student protesters came up to me near the end and said that this protest was different than any other he had participated in, simply because this issue matters to all of us. In talking to customers in line or people walking on the street, every single student there found his or her voice. We were standing up for health, for justice, and for the right to education.

Today’s protest was monumental because we, a group of teens, stood up to a billion-dollar corporation and won a victory. Regardless of whether A&F stops spraying their stores, we educated many people and raised consciousness exponentially, which is the first step to change. The last words of all of the protesters were, “So when is the next one?” We will continue plotting and planning until we accomplish what we’ve set out to do. This is only the beginning.