Last week the New York Times reported that Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to remove a host of questionable ingredients and contaminants from their products—notably formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane—by 2015.

According to the article they also intend to phase out parabens, phthlates, triclosan and other chemicals we’ve long had on our X list, though it was a little bit unclear from the piece whether this was all going to be on the same timeline.

This is notable progress, and even Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, told the Times as much:

“We’ve never really seen a major personal care product company take the kind of move that they’re taking with this,” said Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, one of the organizations that has been negotiating with company officials to change their practices. “Not really even anything in the ballpark.”

Of course, for this crowd, us included, it’s easy to be a bit cynical about the timeline (and if you are, our friend Kathryn Borel’s comedic piece about it in the Globe and Mail might give you a laugh). But if J&J is really going to eliminate all of these ingredients—and we have no reason to assume they won’t—then that’s applaudable, to say the least!

On this new site they’re cleverly explaining the changes as “moving beyond safety.”

For us the big question remains: What will they replace the current chemicals with? Only then will we know if this is atrue move toward changing the market. Any guesses?

Image from the Globe and Mail

Oh, bother. We can’t say we’re terribly surprised about this, and we know that even when nail polish is free of toluene, DBP and formaldehyde, it’s still usually as far as you can get from natural, but yup:

A new report from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found levels of these harmful chemicals in 10 of the 12 “nontoxic” nail polishes it tested.

From the Washington Post:

Investigators found that 10 of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene actually contained it, with four of the products having dangerously high levels.

The report also found that five of seven products that claimed to be “free of the toxic three” actually included one or more of the agents in significant levels.

As I type this, gazing at my chipped coral manicure (OPI, don’t hate—it was for an important occasion), I’m sort of faced with that “I knew it but I didn’t want to know it” feeling. It’s similar to how we felt when we were writing the book and had to part with some of our favorite products. Like my “all-natural” defrizzer that was aloe-based, but also contained no fewer than three parabens—as well as fragrance.

But back to polish. Among those tested and mislabeled were:  Sation 99 basecoat, Sation 53 red-pink nail color, Dare to Wear nail lacquer, Chelsea 650 Baby’s Breath Nail Lacquer, New York Summer Nail Color, Paris Spicy 298 nail lacquer, Sunshine nail lacquer, Cacie Light Free Gel Basecoat, Cacie Sun Protection Topcoat, Golden Girl Topcoat, Nail Art Top-N-Seal and High Gloss Topcoat.

Glad that none of the brands I use are on the list, but there’s little comfort in that, obviously, since the Tox department only tested a random sample.

Show’s to go ya you never can be too sure you’re getting what you’re buying, no matter how careful you are. That’s why we try to only shop from brands we know very well, whose transparency and authenticity we trust. But blah all the same. Are you going to stop getting your nails done?

Image via

For those new to the site, one of our kind-of claims to fame is for being early to sound the alarm, if you will, on the dangers of the Brazilian Blowout. Our book opens with a scene of us sitting in a fancy West Hollywood salon, choking on the formaldehyde fumes of this now infamous hair treatment. It marked the beginning of our journey into clean beauty—without the BB, there would be no book and no site.

Behind closed doors, we were later told that the negative attention brought upon the blowout, by us and other clean-beauty and public health advocates, helped serve as a catalyst for the lawsuit thrown down by California’s Attorney General back in November 2010. California has this nifty law called Prop 65 that stipulates products that contain carcinogens must feature a warning label on it. And now it’s been enforced for the first time.

Because not only was Brazilian Blowout not warning consumers and salon workers about the high levels of formaldehyde—as much as 10% according to some lab tests—in their treatment, they were also claiming some versions of the product were formaldehyde free. We’ve covered the story extensively and posted the original filing here. A few days ago the saga reached its conclusion. For now.

In a settlement, GIB, LLC, the company that makes Brazilian Blowout, must stop its deceptive advertising and pay $600,000 in fees, penalties and costs. Remember, though, as Virginia at Beauty Schooled points out: This applies to one brand and one brand only for now. There are countless other companies also making similar Brazilian blowout (lower-case b) formulas, and this doesn’t yank the procedure or the products from salons, either. It just slaps it with a CAUTION label.

Is it enough? No, but it’s something.
For those interested we’ve listed the settlement requirements below.

Requirements as listed by a Department of Justice press release:

- Produce a complete and accurate safety information sheet on the two products that includes a Proposition 65 cancer warning; distribute this information to recent product purchasers who may still have product on hand; and distribute it with all future product shipments. The revised safety information sheet — known as a “Material Safety Data Sheet,” or MSDS — will be posted on the company’s web site.

- Affix “CAUTION” stickers to the bottles of the two products to inform stylists of the emission of formaldehyde gas and the need for precautionary measures, including adequate ventilation.

- Cease deceptive advertising of the products as formaldehyde-free and safe; engage in substantial corrective advertising, including honest communications to sales staff regarding product risks; and change numerous aspects of Brazilian Blowout’s web site content.

- Retest the two products for total smog-forming chemicals (volatile organic compounds) at two Department of Justice-approved laboratories, and work with DOJ and the Air Resources Board to ensure that those products comply with state air quality regulations.

- Report the presence of formaldehyde in its products to the Safe Cosmetics Program at the Department of Public Health.

- Disclose refund policies to consumers before the products are purchased.

- Require proof of professional licensing before selling “salon use only” products to stylists.

To this day we still get letters and comments on old posts about women who have lost their hair, damaged their scalps or suffered in some way from the Brazilian blowout. Have you done it? Please continue to share your experiences. This this is far from over.

Image via


What’s Your Favorite 3-Free Polish?

A perfectly clean nail polish is a very hard thing to find. Especially if you don’t want it washing off in the shower! But there’s good news today from our friends at Well+GOOD: More mainstream lines are ditching the big bad three, meaning flexible clean girls can now enjoy awesome shades without the full toxic load. Here’s their post—but first(!) tell us about your favorite cleaner polish in the comments, please.

It used to be that less-toxic nail polishes were made by just a handful of natural-leaning brands.

Now, brands like Chanel and Nars have gone three-free—meaning no formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene—and more choices.

Non-toxic polishes are the new gold standard for nails, says Adair Ilyinksy, co-owner of the chic TenOverTen nail salon in Tribeca. “There’s an understanding now that modern formulations don’t require formaldehyde.”

What colors are hot with New Yorkers this fall? “Metallics have been really big,” says Ilyinsky. “There’s also been a move away from puttys and grays towards blues and greens.”

Here are the popular nail polish shades you’ll want to get your hands on now.

Click here for their list.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added eight new substances to its carcinogen list, and guess what made the cut? Our old friend formaldehyde. This doesn’t mean the cosmetics industry has to (or will) stop using the substance in its products, though, so here’s a primer that we hope you’ll share widely, on how to avoid that ghastly, terrible, no good, very bad thing.

As a reminder, formaldehyde is used in some nail polishes and chemical straightening procedures like the Brazilian blowout—yes, even in formulations that claim to be formaldehyde free (it’s the active ingredient, y’all; doesn’t work without the poison)—but it can also leach out of products like shampoo, baby wash, face wash and makeup, too. It is often present in the form of what are euphemistically called “formaldehyde donors.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about donations I think about kidneys, and blood, and organizations like UNICEF and the Nature Conservancy. I don’t think about shampoos donating carcinogens to me while I shower. Pretty sure I’m not alone on that.

So for a refresher, now that we have a long-overdue federal warning on the matter, here is some of what to avoid, and how.

1. The Brazilian blowout. We did it. We regret it—or, well, we would have regretted it if it hadn’t been the inspiration for our book. Do not do this, little chickens, or any similar procedure whether or not it has that name. Variations include but are not limited to keratin hairstyling, keratin treatment, Brazilian hair straightening…you get the picture.

2. Any nail polish that doesn’t explicitly say it is formaldehyde-free. If it doesn’t say that, it probably isn’t. And if you read the label and see formaldehyde on it (ahem) well, then you have your answer. The good news? Many are formaldehyde- and other-nasties-free (see our review and the many recommendations in the comments from all of you).

3. Products containing DMDM-Hydantoin. Here’s a fun thing to do: Go to the drug store and check the back of every shampoo on the shelf and count how many do NOT contain this, because you’ll lose count if you try to tally the ones that DO. It’s a preservative, it releases formaldehyde, and you do not want to use this on yourself or your baby (or your boyfriend).

4. Products containing quaternium-15. Another preservative that leaches formaldehyde. Even the industry itself acknowledges in its reports (which I would link to except it’s behind a paywall). Avoid.

5. Products containing diazolidinyl urea (or Germall 115). Another common antimicrobial that leaches formaldehyde. Scan your ingredients. And if you don’t want to listen to us, listen to Dr, Oz, who has it on his no-no list in You Being Beautiful, which we mention a bunch in the book.

6. Products containing imidiazolidinyl urea (or Germall II). Ditto.

7. Products containing butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Used in eye makeup, eye pencils, lots of skincare products, fragrance and fragrance-masking chemicals, which can be present in products listed as “fragrance-free.” Some people say it’s not a formaldehyde donor, some people say it is. I’m not a chemist but I tend to err on the side of caution, and you should too.

We might be preaching to the converted here (“might,” ha) but you all know people who know people, so please—share this information with them.

Image via