About a year ago, Alexandra raved about Stark Skincare, and when a deal came up last summer, I could not resist. My son and I have been using Stark consistently ever since, and loving it! We are especially fond of the CYPRESS purity + defense oil, and he uses the toner regularly too. I’m particularly impressed with the flexibility of the line—if both I and my adolescent son can use the products, that’s pretty impressive. Plus, it’s gender neutral in terms of packaging and scents. Oh, the scents. Jessica Lafleur, its founder, really knows how to put together some unique combinations, and make all the products compliment each other.

I’ve tried all things Stark, and each product is quite special; they all pop up somewhere in my rotation. So when Jessica asked if I’d like to try a new addition to her line  I was all, “Duh. Yeah!” Here’s the review…

MEADOWFOAM the everybody oil: Until very recently, I wasn’t that into body oils. Since I’ve been dry brushing, I have less need for that sort of product. But I do enjoy a nice oil after a soak in a sea salt bath, so I have been trying a few brands and some DIY. As soon as I tried this one from Stark, it immediately went to the top of my list. I love it on my legs after a bath or shower, rubbed on my belly when I’m feeling crampy, and just a little bit smoothed in my hair.  It’s more substantial than some other body oils, so if you have need of serious moisture this is a great one to try—and yet, it sinks right in and leaves my skin incredibly soft with not even the slightest bit of greasiness. Really!

I had never heard of meadowfoam seed oil but it seems a great addition to skin and hair care (here’s what Mountain Rose Herbs has to say about it). The formula also includes some of my favorite skin care ingredients: sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and shea butter.

So let’s talk about the scent. I often like unscented products because I’m incredibly picky and sensitive, so when I do choose to use a scent it has to be spectacular. Check! It’s quite complex and subtle, with the citrus popping first, then a hint of lavender, and as I rub it in I can catch the chocolate. Later, after it sits on my skin a while, coconut. I really like that the scent is right there for me while I rub the oil in, but then fades so as not to compete with any other fragrances I use that day. The only thing I’m not 100% in love with is the press/flip top. I find those a bit messy, so I’m on the lookout for a pump top that will fit the bottle.

I love the oil so much I purchased another bottle so I’ll be ready when skirt season hits. Come on, spring!  What do you love about Stark?


Fragrance: One Reader’s Story

Last week we posted about synthetic fragrance in the workplace, and a great (but also bummer!) conversation ensued in the comments. Over email though, one reader sent us a longer account of her personal experience working in a fragrance-filled environment, and we wanted to share it with you.

When I read this email I cried. It’s no small thing to be told that you’ve affected someone’s life in a good way, and we always get a little choked when we hear it. But mostly this story is so upsetting (but then redeeming!) that it touched me in a very real way.

Note: By publishing this, we are not in any way saying that one woman’s experience proves a larger trend. We have also removed the name of the store where our reader (who also asked to remain nameless, though she was happy to share the story) was employed because 1) you can guess, 2) we don’t want to get in trouble, and 3) it really could be any store that pumps fragrance in the air.

Hi ladies,

Thank you so much for everything you guys have done.  You have made an amazing difference in my life, and I’m trying to pay it forward by raising awareness with all of my loved ones.

First off, I love everything you guys are doing.  You both have changed my life with your book. Reading today’s blogpost on synthetic fragrance in the workplace really resonated with me, because synthetic fragrance in the workplace destroyed my thyroid.

It all started about 8 months ago when I was getting some routine blood tests because my husband and I wanted to start a family.  When my blood tests came back, my doctor informed me that I have hyperthyroid.  I got referred to an endocrinologist who ran a bunch of other tests, included one to see what my thyroid looks like because my different levels were really weird.  When my doctor got my test back, he saw that my thyroid had been completely destroyed except for a tiny portion where it looked like it was healing itself.  He asked me what had changed in my life that might explain my thyroid repairing itself.

For two years before this, I worked part time at [insert BEAUTY STORE] in order to pay for grad school.  I was constantly around synthetic fragrance and a whole slew of nasty products that made me feel and look like crap.  I was sick all the time and had terrible cystic acne.  After grad school, I quit [BEAUTY STORE] when I got my first real job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  This was also when I found your book.  I got out of the terrible environment that [STORE] provided and switched all of my products to legitimate naturals, not the green-washed ones for sale at [STORE].  In weeks, I felt better, my cystic acne went away, and little did I know, my thyroid began to be able to repair itself.

My endocrinologist is pretty conservative, and didn’t want to believe that changing all my personal care products and being out of [STORE's] contaminated air is what was causing the change.  However, two months ago, I had my follow up appointment and my thyroid has completely healed and all of my levels are normal.

I will never go back to [STORE] and will never use dirty products again, because I know that getting rid of all the crap has saved my life.  I wish that someone could go in and study employees of places like [STORE] and see how being in an environment with all the toxic products really has a detrimental affect on the human body.

Pretty powerful stuff, no? We so appreciate all the comments and accounts we hear, so keep them coming. If you too have a longer testimonial to share don’t hesitate to email us at nomoredirtylooks at gmail dot com. We would never publish anything without asking your permission, and when we get to the next book, you can bet that we’ll be contacting some of you for your stories.


Do You Work Around Synthetic Fragrance?

It’s totally happened. I’ve become that slightly-loony-bin person: the anti-fragrance zealot. I’m not talking about the wonderful scents we were gabbing about yesterday. And like S, I too occasionally miss a phthalate, especially when I’m longing for lasting power or smell the rare incredible synthetic perfume.

But last week I went to the mall, not my usual stomping ground. It seems like every day I become a little more sensitive: to sounds, to crowds, to gross displays of consumerism (there’s so much stuff at the mall, man), but especially to synthetic scent. I honestly feel like a bit of an ass admitting this. I don’t want to sound precious, because we must live and function in the real world, and I know this is a high-class problem, quite literally, and it’s not like I have a chemical sensitivity. But, there it is. The whole experience made me kind of miserable. Then I started thinking of the people who work there.

Day in, day out, these mall employees have fragrance pumped at them from all sides: from Sephora to the Macy’s counter, from Neiman to Lush. It’s a serious assault on the senses, let alone on lungs and probably hormones. So without getting too activisty, I wanted to ask you: Is there synthetic fragrance in your work environment? And, if so, does it bother you? Have you complained?

Progress is slowly underway: You may recall that one woman actually won $100,000 settlement after suing her workplace for ignoring her chemical sensitivity to fragrance. Not surprisingly that company has since banned all fragrance use. That’s cool. I also noticed just the other day that someone’s work email footer read “this is fragrance free environment.”

As I was leaving the mall, I walked by Sephora. Having a momentary lapse of reason, I thought: Oh, I’ll just pop in and buy some waterproof mascara. Well, I couldn’t even last a minute! I walked in, got one whiff of that place and turned on my heels. Fragrance may force me to abandon my last dirty product at long last.

Image via

Cough. Cough. Coughcoughocough.

Look at what now exists? The Safe Cosmetics Alliance. It sounds a lot like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, right? Except it’s not. It’s an industry-funded campaign that appears to me to be designed to confuse you.

“The cosmetics industry is committed to maintaining its high safety standards (1) by advocating that laws keep pace with science and technology (2). We support new regulations to help strengthen FDA oversight (3), increase transparency (4), and enhance consumer confidence (5).” [Numbers ours.]

Let’s fact check it, yeah?

(1) This is a good time to refresh everyone’s memory about safety testing and the cosmetics industry. Yes, they do test their products’ ingredients for safety. Most large companies have large teams of scientists who do just that, and we believe, as we’ve said in the book, that according to whatever criteria they are using for “safe” that indeed, their products pass the test. “Safe” is a vague word, though. It’s safe because it doesn’t give me a rash? It’s safe now and we just really HOPE it’s safe to use daily for decades? It’s safe because we don’t know that it’s for sure unsafe? It’s safe because we are certain it’s benign to the human body and to nature?

If this said “The cosmetics industry is committed to ensuring that personal care products are free of reproductive toxicants, carcinogens, hormone disruptors and neurotoxins,” I’d feel a lot better about that. Precise language, clear promises, good stuff. But it doesn’t.

(2) As we all know, cosmetics regulations haven’t really changed since 1938, when they were written. Since then, the industry has exploded in size, revenue, ingredients used and certainly technology. So I’m not totally sure what they’re saying here, but it strikes me as completely ludicrous (personal opinion).

(3) As the laws are currently written, the FDA does not have the manpower, legal authority or budget to regulate the cosmetics industry and we have to assume that’s exactly how the Personal Care Products Council wants it, since they spend time and money lobbying against regulation, and have launched impressive, persuasive campaigns throughout history any time anyone has tried. (See our regulation chapter in the book for a refresher on this.) That said, the industry’s counter-take on the Safe Cosmetics Act has been that they agree that it’s time for the laws to change. As you can well imagine, however, the difference between what the Act thinks the laws should say, and what the PCPC (the industry trade group representing the industry) thinks it should say, is gigantic.

(4) The most transparent thing about a beauty product is its ingredient label, with the very important exception of its fragrance—which is in almost all products, including things like blush and eye shadow. Fragrance is at the top of our personal “no exceptions” list, and we think it should at the top of yours too. But hey—if the companies want to go totally transparent and offer up exactly what safety testing they’re doing, for instance, I would love to see that, and I bet you would too. We’d also love to see minutes from their meetings and for them to return journalists’ calls.

(5) This part sounds true! They want you to have faith in their products so that you will buy them. Unfortunately, they’re not meeting any of the criteria that would make us feel better. How about you?

Two weeks ago, upon landing at LAX with a couple of friends, I got a text message from Alexandra warning me about something of critical importance to people like us.

The hotel we’d be staying at, the text message read, was scent branded. Her sister had already checked in and the word was out: It totally reeked in the lobby, but not to worry—the rooms weren’t scented.

How bad could it be? I thought. Turns out, really, really bad. The lobby, the hallways on every floor and even the bath products (which I would never use anyway, unless… well, we’ll get to that). The fragrance is probably best described as spicy, toxic coconut. And it was intense—even to people less fussy about such things.

(If you don’t know what scent branding is, you should read this old post. And if you don’t know why we care about such things, you should read this old post about how toxic perfume can be.)

On our second day there, we were chatting up the concierge and I asked him if he liked it. He looked a little sheepish and said “People either love it or hate it,” and left it at that. It got me thinking about two things. First, how lucky I am to work in a field where inhaling chemicals all day is not an occupational hazard. Second, how powerful scent is in affecting, informing and remembering different experiences.

Example: Yesterday someone popped by my office at work smelling terrific. She was wearing a Chanel perfume I used to spritz myself with daily—it’s one of these classic fragrances that’s a little different on everyone, but always smells fantastic. I was struck by how much I liked it, because in my quest to clean out all my products, and forgo perfume altogether, I tend to react pretty badly to synthetic fragrances of all kinds. Like the toxic coconut at that hotel, for example, or the too-close-to-me dude on the train who bathes in Axe.

Smell, we’re told, is our most powerful sense for memory triggers, which is probably why my coworker smelled so good to me, and why it made me really like having her in my office (well that and her lovely disposition, obvs). Because I wore that perfume when I was falling in love years ago, and it reminds me of a really happy time. There are a few smells I still love: Old Spice deodorant on dudes; Tide; my mom’s Hanae Mori perfume, which Alexandra and I also used to wear; J+J baby lotion. What do they all have in common? Very fond memories!

So back to the hotel. On day three I was no longer sharing a room with my friend Anna, who, unlike me, didn’t forget her shampoo and conditioner at home. Day one I used her stash. Day two I didn’t wash my hair. And day three I was out of luck. Needing a wash for a big event that night—oh you know, just ALEXANDRA’S WEDDING—I was left with no choice but to use the hotel’s “signature” stash. Holy crap was that a bad idea. I spent all day complaining about how terrible it smelled; I got a headache; I tried to spray my hair with other things to mask the smell, to no avail. Alexandra’s sister even offered me her shower and her stuff and I declined, against my better judgment. The result? I was really, really mad at the hotel!

But here’s the thing. I loved that hotel. The rooms were massive, the staff was charming and attractive, the outside couch area was an urban oasis and the brussell sprouts at the restaurant were bananas. When I think about being there, I think about happy times. And yet I am fairly certain that if I had to smell that coconut concoction again, it would completely—and negatively—affect my memory of the place.

So we want to know—if you’re already all cleaned up with your cosmetics or even if you aren’t: What synthetic smells do you still love? And are they attached to fond memories?