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Category — Book Reviews

Review of NO MORE DIRTY LOOKS – The Truth About Your Beauty Products

Now that the truth about what’s lurking on your beauty counter is spreading like wildfire, the publishing houses are jumping on the green wagon and putting more and more information out there. Which is really nice of them. Because as exciting as all this search for safe makeup and natural skincare can be, not all of us have the time/money/patience to do it.

And so I’m very happy to introduce you to a new essential read on the subject that recently arrived on the market.

NO MORE DIRTY LOOKS – The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, by Siobhan O’Connor & Alexandra Spunt

No More Dirty Looks - The Truth About Your Beauty Products

So what is special about this book?

It’s practical. It’s fun. Its focus is beauty products and healthy choices, and not a political agenda (though, it’s hard to avoid some politicizing on the subject…) It presents good research with practical applications.

Personally, I love the book’s writing style. As I already mentioned – it’s fun. It uses simple language and simple explanations of convoluted terms and practices. Though I must add a warning for the extra sensitive types – sometimes the language gets a bit PG using s**t type words…. But those are always in context and, in my opinion, used totally deservedly…

The structure of the book is simple and intuitive. In an entertaining (though scary in retrospect) string of personal anecdotes the authors describe how they stumbled into questioning the beauty industry (suffering through the stench of toxic fumes just to get the hair straight should eventually ring a bell for most thinking people… ) and the shock they experienced while uncovering mountains of evidence that this stuff isn’t safe, but no one in power is doing anything about it.

And you know what — I get it. That realization can be nerve-wracking. For those of you still doubting the shadiness of the beauty industry, what do you think of this:

“They’ve read the same reports we have, and then some. So why are they selling us these things? In the words of one industry scientist whose employer charges $250 for a 2-ounce pot of face cream, “Because we can” (p.4).

However, let me assure you. This isn’t just a book about how bad things are and that you should just write to the congress (though you should). It gets practical right away.

There is a very good section on the “dirty” ingredients you should be on the lookout for in your products. (Note: I listed some of the major ingredients to avoid some time ago, but the book’s list is more detailed, plus it includes an ingredient blacklist in an appendix that is really long and scary.) The book has great description of these offenders, including how to spot them, risk associated and studies that indicate that.

No More Dirty Looks covers every major product category relevant to human appearance, gives its background, potential hazards, things to look out for, a list of products you CAN buy in that category and even tips on how to make your own. It even has a recipe for making your own mascara! (! (Disclaimer – I haven’t tried it yet, but the thought is intriguing).

I particularly loved (and was disturbed by) the background story of shampoo. Did you know that it didn’t even exist as a product we know now until 1930s? Me neither…

There is also a very basic diet/lifestyle guide at the end. Some statistics, while true, read like pure entertainment. For example, statistically, all married men are healthier, but only happily married women are (now how is that fair?). And did you know that hugging and other physical bonding has a rejuvenating effect on the skin?

In short, this book is a great overall guide for those who don’t have time to do all the research. Probably one of the most practical and realistic guides I’ve seen. And it’s an easy read – took me only a few hours to get through it.

My only criticism is that the list of recommended products seems to focus too heavily on a limited set of already well known (in the green world) manufacturers. The brand research for things we can use could’ve been wider. I think this is a missed opportunity to introduce the lesser known makers of quality organic/natural products to consumers.

But overall, I recommend this book to any woman who wants to take charge of her appearance in a healthy way. And it should probably be “the guide” given by parents to their daughters when they discover themselves in the mirror.

August 24, 2010   19 Comments

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Better Skin – Beware the Natural Products!

I’m not even sure if I should write the following under the heading of sarcastic, ironic, or, what was that about?

I came upon the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Better Skinat my local library, and thought I’ll read up a bit. After all, this line of books is a bestseller and many a woman probably skims through books like these for advice.

So, ahem, imagine my surprise when somewhere tacked at the back of a chapter I found a section on natural skin care.

One and a half pages dedicated to natural skin care! With TWO CAUTION BOXES!!! And not even a mention of organic skin care or anything…

So, ladies, apparently (according to the book) you should always wear lipstick, balm or something on your lips for moisture and protection, you should use tons of skin care products if you want to have a healthy skin, but if something is natural – beware! It’s dangerous!

And I quote:

A subheading of Chapter 8: “The risks of going natural”. Sums up the attitude well, doesn’t it? This is a chapter about ingredients in skin care. No other category is defined as risky.

“Using all-natural products can be a serious health and safety concern.” And there is a “nice” example of a relatable story: “Andrea wanted to find a new skin care line that would be gentler to her skin. A friend recommended she try an upscale and expensive all-natural line. As soon as her beginner kit arrived, Andrea washed, toned, and moisturized her skin. Within three minutes, her face began to burn and sting, becoming red and inflamed. Ouch, Even totally natural products can cause inflammation and allergic reactions.”

Here is my issue with this story. First of all, there aren’t that many “upscale and expensive all-natural lines” out there. And of the ones I know, none would create such a reaction in a normal skin. So if Andrea reacts this way to these products, she probably has a history to reacting to products in general. In this case she must be a complete idiot to try all three totally new products all over her face at once! Otherwise this story is a complete fabrication to defame truly all-natural upscale lines. (By the way, you should always test one product at a time, and start by testing on your hand.)
Now, I’m not going to say here that natural necessarily means safe or great skin care. I’ve addressed this issue in organic skin care myths post.

But this stress on safety of natural and no such stress on all the other things that go on in skin care frankly bothers me.

Cause, you know, that PEG-Lead-Laurel-Paraben from the big brand company is SO MUCH BETTER FOR YOU. They are so safe and tested. And the dangerous things in small quantities are ok. Did the ladies who write this book actually do the math on how much these “small quantities” add up to if the routine of cleansing-washing-toning-creaming-foundationing-powdering-consealing-SPF-lipsticks-cleansing-washing-toning-nightcreaming routine that they are promoting?

There is also a section about what typically is included in skin care products. The list of categories includes preservatives (and I quote “included in this category are parabens and polysorbate 80”), dyes, fragrances, skin lighters, herbs, enzymes, humectants, etc… Guess which section asks you to use caution? Herbs! Yah… don’t worry about what’s in dyes and preservatives, but “use caution with herbal skin preparations”.

Hmm… (I’m not saying don’t use caution. But I think it’s a disservice to stress caution on herbs and be totally ok with dyes, parabens and prescription skin lighteners.) Just in case you didn’t realize that herbs are the riskiest ingredient in the mix, there is also a “caution” box warning you to phone your pharmacist to make sure they don’t interfere with anything you are taking. The only other caution box in the section is for paba in sunscreens, in case you are allergic to paba.

Oh, did I mention that there is a section called “Ingredients to Avoid”? Apparently you should only care about ingredients you are sensitive or allergic to. The only ingredient actually mentioned as something you might want to be careful with is lanolin…

For more perspective, here is what the book has to say about botox:

“Botox injections are seemingly a miracle …” and “Botox is purified botulinum bacteria. This is the same bacteria that causes a severe and often fatal form of food poisoning. The difference is that the botulinum bacteria in Botox are a purified form that won’t cause illness. It simply paralyzes certain muscles of the face.” (italics are mine)

No caution boxes, by the way. Cause you know, muscle paralysis is a totally normal thing. Your body can’t possibly object to it… Instead there is a Skin-spiration (meaning inspiration) box saying “If you choose to have botox injections, you could find that over time you break the habit of contracting the muscles in your face that cause wrinkles and expression lines.” (p. 296) Which is a skill you must be desperate to acquire. Especially if you intend to star in a Robocop remake.

Now given that this book promotes dry brushing and detoxification, I really can’t figure out where the authors are coming from. Seems like they are picking some ideas they think are “cool” and people expect to hear, but don’t follow them to logical conclusions. I would expect somebody who sais “toxins enter our bodies from air pollution, a wide variety of household-cleaning products, perfumes and bathing products, and even through laundry detergent” (p. 234) to support natural products, and not ditch them. But logic is probably too much to ask here.

Honestly, I think the Complete Idiot’s Guide has finally lived up to its brand name.

December 13, 2008   9 Comments