What’s a Drug and What’s a Cosmetic?

A couple of weeks ago we asked you what your fountain of youth was. I made the maybe-annoying (but totally sincere!) point that for me it’s all about smiling, exercise, diet, sleep, sex and…argan oil. In other words, I don’t put much stock in products that claim to be anti-agers, because I understand the science of how our skin changes as we get older, and because I know women of all ages with lines and freckles and whatnot who absolutely embody grace and beauty—and their husbands and boyfriends and girlfriends think so too.

But we still like to keep tabs on what’s going on in the anti-aging market, and as it turns out, so does the FDA. Say what?

From Beauty Schooled:

Over 80 companies — including big girl brands like L’Oreal, Avon and Revlon! — are on a special FDA watch list because the agency believes they may be importing, manufacturing or shipping skin care creams that make “drug claims,” like that said skin cream can alter the structure or function of your body (cellulite and wrinkle erasers, anyone?) or treat or prevent disease. This is a violation of pretty much the only cosmetics law we have in this country. And the beauty industry can’t even follow that one.

We talk a little in the book about confusing “cosmeceuticals”—this is a made up marketing term that means nothing but implies a lot. Specifically: a performance that could be almost drug-like, and the sense that it may be doctor-recommended, probably because so many of these lines are actually by doctors. These are essentially products that make drug-like claims, but are regulated (which is to say, are not really regulated at all) as cosmetics.

By definition, cosmetics are supposed to be, well, cosmetic. According to the FDA, cosmetics are defined by their intended use, as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”

If it were true that all cosmetics do is alter appearance and “promote attractiveness” (LOL), then we wouldn’t have had a book to write. We’d also have really dirty clothes, because that would mean our skin is impermeable and so everything we put on ourselves would just rub off onto anything else that touched it, which is obviously not what happens.

The bottom line is it’s simply not true that cosmetics behave in a way that is purely cosmetic. So shouldn’t some of them be treated like drugs? Yes, say many experts—even some conservative ones who probably disagree with almost everything else we say. Tthe FDA even has a section of its site devoted to the matter.

Through the trusty channels of skin absorption and inhalation, some—though not all—ingredients do make their way into our bodies, where all kinds of undesirable things can happen. So the problem, as we see it, is the way cosmetics are defined in the first place. The science has outpaced the definitions and the regulations, and based on what we now know about some ingredients—from the ones that promise to plump up our smile lines to the ones that promise nothing but can sneak into our bodies and mess with our hormones—it’s time for the FDA to hop out of its time machine and do something.

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Should Walmart Target Kids With Cosmetics?

The short answer, of course, is hells no! But what if they’re clean?

Come February, Walmart will be launching a new line of cosmetics for the 8-to-12-year-old set called GeoGirl. Because what little girls need is to be encouraged to put crap on their still-perfect skin and to learn right from go that being beautiful requires enhancement from products.

But then, here’s the thing: When I was a kid, I loved nothing more than putting on a full face of makeup, spraying my self-cut bangs into an 80s tease, gluing on some Lee Press-On Nails, and pretending to be a grown-up. I cringe to think of the chemicals, but that sort of adult imitation is kind of par for the course, no?

So, if GeoGirl is actually clean—as it is claiming to be, but ingredients are not listed anywhere yet (and we have our doubts, especially given the super low price point)—is that a better option than mom’s kit? I, for one, don’t know where I stand on this. Marketing makeup to kids just seems so insidious. But if they’re learning about clean cosmetics at that age, doesn’t that bode well for the the future? What do you think?

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A New List: The Dirty Dozen

If you grew up in Canada like we did, you probably grew up loving David Suzuki. The environmentalist and educator has been ahead of so many issues for so long, so we were quite delighted to see that the foundation that bears his name has taken on cosmetics. Yesterday they announced the findings of their months-long research into cosmetics, and they’ve unveiled their own Dirty Dozen, which has a lot in common with the ingredients we warn about in the book (where we show you how to actually find these mysterious things on product labels, and in which products they appear). We like their list!

We’d love to see Canada pave the way for reform, but considering the head of the cosmetics industry in Canada is also a former government health official, we won’t be holding our breath.

You can download the complete PDF here. And read on to see what made their list:

1. BHA and BHT

2. Coal tar dyes

3. DEA

4. Dibutyl phthalate

5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

6. Parabens

7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)

8. PEG compounds

9. Petrolatum

10. Siloxanes

11. Sodium laureth sulfate

12. Triclosan


What We Think of Paula Begoun

We keep getting asked this question so let’s make it official: We think Paula Begoun, the bestselling author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me who also has her own line of cosmetics, is an amazing researcher; we think she has done incredible things to empower women in their beauty choices; no, we have never tried her line; yes, we take issue with some of the ingredients in her line; and perhaps most important, we differ significantly with her take on the safety of some ingredients.

If you love her book, that’s awesome. We love her books too. We just don’t AGREE with them. That said, we think if we’d met her way back when, we’d have some things to talk about.

Have you read her books?

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Why is Nobody Listening to Dr. Oz?

Last week my boyfriend’s mom tipped me off: Doctor Oz was finally rerunning his “Dangerous Beauty” segment. I’d heard about this episode back in February, and had frantically searched for it online to no avail—it didn’t seem to be making waves. The Oz had posted some pretty damning stuff on his website back then—calling out the FDA’s lack of regulation and the industry’s tricky labeling practices—but the focus seemed very product-specific. Regardless, I set my DVR, and yesterday hunkered down to watch.

Um, have any of you seen this? I don’t think my mouth closed for the first five minutes. It starts off with a newly recorded intro from the doctor, about how that day—June 2nd—might be a game changing day for all the women watching… He goes on to say:

“What if I told you your makeup could be hazardous to your health? That it could even hurt your beauty in the long run? Take a look at this…”

It gets even crazier. Here’s what he says in the intro voiceover, folks. Since I still can’t find it online, you’ll have to imagine both his soothing voice and the super dramatic, anxiety-inducing music:

“…that lotion you put on your face every day to fight wrinkles hasn’t been approved by the government at all. The FDA oversees this multibillion dollar industry, but it does not approve products before they hit store shelves. [The music starts getting crazy here.] Even more alarming? Cosmetics companies are only required to list intended ingredients on their products. These companies are in no way really obligated to list harmful byproducts that may occur during manufacturing. Think you’re safer buying ‘natural,’ ‘organic’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ products? Think again. There are no guidelines for those terms in the cosmetic world—they simply mean whatever the company wants them to…”

When the show begins, he talks directly with women about the most dangerous items in their cosmetics bags.

I have two things to say: 1. You’re a badass, Dr. Oz. And more important, 2. Why is nobody talking about this? Dr. Oz is the most famous doctor in America. If he can’t create a media maelstrom over this, who can?

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