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Filtering by Category: #beautybullshit

Sustain Makes Safe, Sexy Products For All The Things...

Alexis Krauss

Sustain will help you feel all the feels while keeping your lady parts healthy and safe in the process. Artwork by  Carlos Bongiovanni .

Sustain will help you feel all the feels while keeping your lady parts healthy and safe in the process. Artwork by Carlos Bongiovanni.

Sustain gets it. What do I mean by that? Basically they understand that as a woman who menstruates and is sexually active, I want products that are not only healthy and environmentally conscious but products that are playful and stimulating. I want products that celebrate female orgasm and products that respect both my vagina and our planet. Sustain pretty much knocks it out of the park when it comes to all those things. 

Sustain Natural was founded in 2014 by Meika Hollender and her father, Jeffrey Hollender, the co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation. A women’s health activist, Meika was recently recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People” and Forbes' “30 Under 30” for her mission to enact positive social change and improve reproductive care in the United States. Environmentalists at their core, they create all of their products with the planet in mind. From sourcing Fair Trade latex for their condoms, to using organic ingredients in their personal care products, Sustain believes in building a brand that makes the world a better place. Since its inception, Sustain has always been committed to women with its dedicated fund 10%4Women, in which 10% of profits go to organizations including Planned Parenthood to provide access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services for low-income women in the U.S. 

Sustain also understands the importance of product safety and ingredient transparency. Their condoms, lubes and wipes are now all Made Safe certified, meaning they have passed ingredient screening for known: 

  • Behavioral toxins
  • Carcinogens
  • Developmental toxins
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Fire retardants
  • Heavy metals
  • Neurotoxins
  • High-risk pesticides
  • Reproductive toxins
  • Toxic solvents
  • Harmful VOCs

That's a pretty big deal considering like most personal care products sold here in the United States, the FDA does not require menstrual hygiene product manufacturers to disclose ingredients or conduct testing to determine their products’ long-term effects on women’s bodies. The majority of traditional menstrual products are made of conventional (non-organic) cotton, rayon, wood pulp or blends of all three, and can contain harmful ingredients like chlorine dioxide, dyes and synthetic fragrances. Many of the pesticides and herbicides used on cotton crops can leave a chemical residue in non-organic period products. Chlorine, used to bleach these products, creates a dangerous chemical called dioxin which is released into the environment and/or left in the product as a contaminant. Dioxins, a known carcinogen, are among the most dangerous substances on earth, and have been linked to a host of health issues including reproductive and developmental problems, heart disease, and even organ and genetic damage. 

Sustain's line of period products. Made with 100% cotton and yes those are bio-plastic, plant-based and biodegradable applicators. WOOHOO!

Sustain's line of period products. Made with 100% cotton and yes those are bio-plastic, plant-based and biodegradable applicators. WOOHOO!

My period can be stressful enough, so knowing that I was using products that are better, safer and more vagina-friendly was a big relief. I mean seriously, who wants to think about about toxins and carcinogens in addition to bleeding, cramping, back-aching, and multiple trips to the restroom-making. NOT ME.

Sustain also takes good care of you on the days your vagina is a bit more relaxed and ready to play. The brand’s line of organic sensual personal care is the first in the U.S. to recognize two often-ignored phases of intimacy: foreplay and post-play. According to co-founder Meika Hollender, “Over 80% of women have faked an orgasm in their life, and we think that’s an issue...Foreplay is essential to orgasm for women, and orgasms tend to correlate with sexual satisfaction." I couldn't agree more. Sustain's products are formulated with your health in mind but are also extremely effective at helping you achieve mind-blowing orgasms on the regular.

I was particularly impressed with their Body + Massage Oil and Personal Lubricant. The Body + Massage Oil is a simple, clean formulation which blends organic almond and jojoba oils with aphrodisiacs like orange, ylang ylang, and ginger. The result is a sultry, slippery and light oil that works wonderfully for naked full body massages. Due to the non-toxic and extremely gently nature of the formulation I felt very comfortable having my partner use it on and around my most intimate parts. It's relatively fast absorbing and doesn't leave you or your sheets too greasy. While I've generally preferred coconut oil as my go to all natural lube, I enjoyed experimenting with Sustain's Personal Lubricant. I'm by no means an expert on lube but this one kept things sexy and slippery. The primary ingredient is Organic Aloe and it's 100% vegan, compatible with latex, free of parabens, glycerin, dyes, silicone, petroleum and gluten. Seriously Sustain, thank you for keeping the petrochemicals out of my pussy!

Don't be shy. Best when massaged in all the places...

Don't be shy. Best when massaged in all the places...

If you're anything like me and can be prone to urinary tract infections you probably like to pee and wipe post-sex. Plus sometimes things just get messy and it's nice to have something better than toilet paper to do the job. Sustain's PostPlay Wipes are the perfect way to gently clean yourself. I'm not sure if you've ever looked at the average feminine care wipe ingredient list but they're generally pretty gross. Check out the chart below courtesy of Women's Voices For The Earth. You'll often find things like parabens and synthetic fragrance lurking within. Sustain keeps their wipes simple, relying on water, shea butter, aloe, vitamin E, honey and lavender to get you clean, fresh and quickly back to cuddles.

Bullshit wipes. Image courtesy of  Women's Voices For The Earth .

Bullshit wipes. Image courtesy of Women's Voices For The Earth.

No bullshit wipes. Ingredients: Purified Water, Sodium Cocoyl, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (and) Oryza Sativa (Rice) Extract, Sorbitol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera), Tocopherol (natural vitamin E), Organic Honey, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid (PH buffer), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil.

No bullshit wipes. Ingredients: Purified Water, Sodium Cocoyl, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (and) Oryza Sativa (Rice) Extract, Sorbitol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera), Tocopherol (natural vitamin E), Organic Honey, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid (PH buffer), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil.

Sustain makes it easy and safe to meet all of your feminine care needs. Their prices are reasonable and they offer all sorts of convenient subscription options that allow you to customize personal care and period kits. As a company they continue to raise industry standards for women focused products. “With Sustain, we hope to spark a movement towards full ingredient transparency industry-wide and to encourage an open dialogue about these crucial health issues,” says Jeffrey Hollender, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Sustain Natural. “We strive to be a symbol for rising global standards of what is expected of business. We want to change the rules, not just be an exception to them.” 

I'll happily continue to support Sustain and try out any new products. I feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that women now have access to a full line of vagina friendly products. Once again Made Safe has proven they only work with companies that are aligned with our #truthbeauty values. We still have a long way to go in fighting for safety and transparency in the health and beauty industries, but with Made Safe and Sustain leading the way our bodies can stop worrying and start enjoying.



Johnson and Johnson: A History of Evil

Jessica Assaf

Johnson and Johnson was recently ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s baby powder. This means that there is a direct link between one of the most popular baby products on the market and cancer. Johnson and Johnson is considered the “most trustworthy brand” by Forbes, and the company is praised for its “consumer healthcare products.” Just last week, I had a case at Harvard Business School about Johnson and Johnson’s investment in an employee mental health program. After the class discussion, while the company executive was speaking, I wanted to ask him if they established the mental health program to ease employee guilt over the fact that Johnson and Johnson was knowingly putting harmful products on the market.

I have a longstanding history with the company, beginning when I found out that Johnson and Johnson formulated their “No More Tears” baby shampoo with 1,4 dioxane and quaternium-15, two formaldehyde-releasing preservatives classified as known human carcinogens by the EPA. I was shocked that America’s most trusted brand was using carcinogens in their baby shampoo, and no one was talking about it. So I created stickers that said “No More Toxic Tears” and applied them to products in stores. I was able to generate some press, and I joined the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to educate consumers and boycott Johnson and Johnson until they agreed to reformulate. With widespread consumer pressure, the company finally took responsibility and promised to phase the chemicals out of the product. They launched an “improved formula” version of the baby shampoo, and all concern diminished.

Now it is confirmed that Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder is linked to cancer. This product is a household staple, used by millions of families around the world. By buying this product, we are complying. We are accepting the fact that this billion-dollar industry is exposing consumers to cancer-causing chemicals. The worst part of all is that these products are used primarily on infants and young children, who are exceptionally vulnerable to chemical exposures. This is not the first story about Johnson and Johnson’s concerning products, and it will not be the last, unless we act now.

If you believe that family products should not contain ingredients known to cause cancer, stop buying from the Johnson and Johnson brand until they reformulate and make safer products. Consumers like us are best positioned to impact real change. It is up to us to set new health and safety standards for ourselves and for our children.

The History of Mascara

Jessica Assaf

Before women used synthetic dyes to color their eyelashes, they mixed ingredients like ashes with elderberry juice in their homes to create a natural colorant. Things didn't change until 1830, when a French perfumer moved to London and began developing cosmetic products, starting with perfume. His son, Eugéne Rimmel, mixed coal dust and Vaseline petroleum jelly to create the first mascara product on the market. Eugéne's product was widely used across Europe and the word "rimmel" became synonymous with "mascara." 

In 1917, Maybelline (a product from Maybell Labs) introduced the "cake mascara." This was the first product that was presented with a small brush, to be used with a mixture of sodium stearate soap and pigments. Maybelline became a market leader in cosmetics, later bought by L'Oreal and renamed Maybelline New York. They continued to develop new, innovative products, focusing on eye products like eyebrow pencils and mascaras. 

In 1933, women used Lash Lure eyelash and eyebrow dye to enhance their eyes. Advertisements for Lash Lure Eye Lash and Brow Dye promised their "new and improved mascara will give you a radiating personality, with a before and an after". Lash Lure contained a dyeing agent that was extremely toxic to the body. Many women became permanently blind after using Lash Lure, and one woman died. Several states banned eyelash dyes after multiple incidents. Finally, in 1938, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act became a law. 

Revlon launched the first mascara in a tube in 1958, which included the spiral brush that is still used today.

Our cosmetic safety laws have not significantly changed since 1938. 

P&G's Response To Our Letter

Jessica Assaf

Here is P&G's response to our open letter asking the company to disclose the ingredients in their tampons and pads. What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. 

Jessica and Kiran,

Mr. Lafley forwarded your letter to me. Thanks for taking the time to ask us about our product safety. Nothing is more important than the safety of the women who use our products. For decades our feminine care products have provided protection and comfort for women around the world, and that protection begins with safety.  The safety of women is the foundation of everything we do.  We share our feminine care product information with independent experts including medical consultants, university scientists, and the FDA so that women can use our feminine hygiene products with confidence.  In addition, our products are medical devices in the US and are required to meet the strict safety expectations of the FDA.  We have also added more detailed product information about Tampax and Always at:

In addition, the materials in our feminine care products are commonly used across the industry.  Thus, for more information, another contact would be Lawrence Sloan, Deputy Executive Director for the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products (BAHP) at

We would be interested in hearing your feedback on the information we have on our Tampax and Always websites as we consider additional updates in the future. Please reach out if you have further input. We have joint interest in product safety, helping women have access to menstrual education & products, and reducing embarrassment about periods.

An Open Plea to Alan Lafley in His Last 2 Weeks as CEO of Procter & Gamble

Jessica Assaf

Jessica Assaf and Kiran Gandhi are two non-traditional MBA students at Harvard Business School dedicated to changing the status quo and using their platform to improve the health of women. Here is an open letter we sent Alan Lafley, HBS Class of 1977, to demand safer feminine products. Join us and sign the petition to tell P&G we want to know the ingredients in our tampons and pads. 

Dear Alan,

We are writing to you because we believe you are one of the most influential businessmen in the world. As two young women at Harvard Business School, we have every reason to believe that you are one of the business school’s most powerful graduates. You are powerful because you have the power to change industries overnight. And in your last two weeks as CEO of Procter and Gamble, we have a question for you:

Will you set new standards to improve the safety of our feminine products?

We have reason to be concerned. Two years ago, Women’s Voices For The Earth commissioned laboratory testing of Always brand pads and found that the products emit potential carcinogens and reproductive and developmental toxins. Feminine products are considered “medical devices” and as a result, ingredients do not have to be listed on the label or disclosed by the manufacturers. Millions of women like us use these products every month, and we demand to know the undisclosed chemicals entering the most absorptive parts of our bodies.

More specifically, we are asking you to share the full list of ingredients and materials used to make Tampax tampons and Always pads. P&G promises leadership, ownership, integrity and trust, yet Tampax and Always brands refuse to disclose the ingredient lists of their products. As a result, women all over the world are unknowingly exposing their bodies to unidentified compounds that may be harmful to our health. As P&G customers, we have the right to assess your products based on our own standards of health and safety.

In business school we learn that every problem is an opportunity for improvement and innovation. As you prepare to leave P&G, we ask that you consider our plea as an opportunity to create new standards for the safety of our products.

Here are two strategic benefits to taking action now:

  1. As competitors in the market like LOLA and Conscious Period emerge to provide women with non-toxic, all natural alternatives, the consumer population will become more educated about their range of choices. They will become increasingly concerned that P&G and other market leaders actively choose not to list the ingredients in their products. P&G has a reason to be proactive instead of waiting to lose market share to take action. Your company could be a market leader, produce cleaner products, and re-educate consumers about their own purchasing power, which will drive long-term customer loyalty.
  2. This is a rebranding opportunity. P&G has a longstanding reputation as American innovators and now the company has the opportunity to build upon its incredible Always “Unstoppable” ad campaign by continuing to support women.

As P&G customers, we should not have to choose between your products and our health. Please consider our perspective, as we represent thousands of likeminded women who want to believe in P&G’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. But first, take action to protect the health of women globally and #detoxthebox.


Jessica Assaf and Kiran Gandhi  

Let's Get This Straight...

Alexis Krauss

Dear Readers,

I’m not usually someone who takes to the internet to defend myself, but I think it’s important to address some of the concerns that have been raised regarding our recent interview on Racked

First, I’d like to explain that while the journalist did a fine job condensing our 45 minute chat into a relatively brief interview, she frequently paraphrases and at times takes our quotes out of context. However, that is the case with most interviews, and trust me I've done plenty of them. It’s rare that you’ll ever read a verbatim transcription. They are often too verbose to publish and are not necessarily "clickbait" worthy .

Secondly, I’d like to clarify a few points that seem to have angered some readers. Specifically, I’d like to provide some sources, since the publication did not fact check our statements or include corroborating links.

In the article Jess and I express our disapproval of the ubiquity of mineral oil and petroleum derivatives in cosmetics. Mineral oil is extremely common in personal care products and in our opinion is overused and unnecessary. We prefer alternative moisturizers such as plant based essential oils, shea butter and coconut oil (just to name a few) because they are often more sustainable and do not further our dependence on petroleum and petroleum by-products. While using mineral oil is not going to make you drop dead, there are some health concerns associated with its use. I’ve attached some sources which I’ve personally found to be extremely informative.







I also want to clarify that when Jess and I state that we are personally opposed to companies formulating with certain ingredients we are NOT fear-mongering. We’re simply attempting to educate people on these issues and inform consumers of alternatives. We’re mostly here to celebrate lesser known brands and their wonderful products. We want you to see the beauty industry through a critical lens and make empowered choices when it comes to what you choose to use on your body. Exposing the risks associated with potentially harmful chemicals is part of that educational process, not an attempt to manipulate or fear-monger. Jess and I are not scientists and we’ve never claimed to be. We're not trying to say that all synthetics are bad and all natural ingredients are good. The conversation is much more subtle than that. We’re simply trying to expose issues within the beauty industry that often go undiscussed. Trust us, we’d love it if we didn’t have to talk about these things. I want nothing more than our drug store shelves to be full of sustainable, safe, effective and affordable products, just like I want our grocery stores to be full of organic, fair trade, non-GMO, and pesticide-free foods.

Lastly, I want to make it clear that we are not "co-opting" feminism or "man-hating". We strongly believe that more women should occupy leadership positions in the business world and that includes the beauty industry. More importantly we support small businesses and very often the brands that contact us and the companies that abide by our standards are run by women who have the same frustrations as we do. If a male CEO is acting ethically and championing health over beauty, we are going to acknowledge and celebrate his work, as we have done with companies such as Nourish Organic, Innersense Organic Beauty, and Ursa Major, just to name a few. 

I hope this clarifies some points and if you have additional follow-up questions please don't hesitate to email us. We're excited that our work has sparked such a lively debate and we look forward to it continuing.


Alexis (& Jess)


The Problem with Parabens

Jessica Assaf

After I wrote an article recently about how Lush isn't as natural as people think, many people asked me why I hate parabens so much. People told me that truly natural products actually need strong preservatives like parabens to protect the "freshness" of their ingredients. Plus, I'm not a chemist, so why should I shame a company without the science to back up my claims?

This is why I publicly stand against the use of parabens: 

Parabens are a class of widely used preservatives in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. These compounds are a series of esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid that are used primarily for their antimicrobial properties. They essentially prevent bacterial and fungal growth and they enhance the shelf life of a product. From Wikipedia

"Their efficacy as preservatives, in combination of their low cost, the long history of their use, and the inefficiency of some natural alternatives like grapefruit seed extract probably explains why parabens are so commonplace. No effective direct links between parabens and cancer have been established. However, there is concern that the estrogen-mimicking aspect of parabens may be a factor in the increasing prevalence of early puberty in girls." 

We know that parabens are cheap, and they have been used for a long time. We know that no essential oil is as potent as strong, stable, synthetic preservatives like parabens. But at what point do we counteract the potential benefits of raw, natural ingredients with the harsh synthetic compounds they seemingly require? This is my tipping point: 

Though there is no "direct link" between parabens and cancer, it has been scientifically proven that parabens are xenoestrogens, meaning they mimic the hormone, estrogen. Because xenoestrogens are synthetic, they also cause problems such as hormone disruption. Here is a study that proves parabens cause "suppressive effective on hormonal responsiveness" in rats, including a significant delay in the date of vaginal opening, a decrease in length of the estrous cycle, significant weight changes in ovaries, adrenal glands, thyroid glands, liver, and kidneys, and abnormalities in the reproductive organs. Xenoestrogens bind to hormone receptors and start behaving like estrogen, which potentially raises our body's estrogen levels. The connection between estrogen exposure and increased risk of breast cancer has been recognized for more than 100 years

To frame this logically: parabens are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen, and high estrogen levels put us at risk of breast cancer. The longer a woman is exposed to estrogen, the greater her chance of developing breast cancer, which is why early puberty is problematic. A 2011 study by doctors at the California Pacific Medical Center found that when noncancerous breast cells from high-risk patients were exposed to parabens, they started behaving like cancer cells. They were also found to block drugs used to treat estrogen-sensitive cancers. Breast cancers are already the most common form of cancer in the United States, and breast cancers are predicted to rise by 50% by 2030, according to the National Cancer Institute. 

While it is practically impossible to prove causation, there is a clear correlation between large doses of parabens and negative health outcomes. Parabens disrupt our hormonal systems and accumulate in our fat tissue. And this issue is deeply personal for me, because I have above-average levels of parabens in my body.

The clearest piece of evidence that parabens are not safe (or, not safe enough,) is the simple fact that after years of assessment, the European Union BANNED isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben, and pentylparaben last year. The United State's Cosmetic Industry Review examined parabens in 1984 and again in 2005, and both times concluded that parabens at low levels are not a concern. (Fun fact: while the Cosmetic Industry Review is lead by a woman named Wilma Bergfeld, the other eight panel voting members are all men.) 

It is easy to say that most synthetic compounds are harmful at a high enough level, and the amount of parabens in products is too small to actually affect us. But if you think about the impact of daily exposure through multiple channels in foods, medicines, and skin products over the course of a lifetime, it is impossible to evaluate the safety of accumulated exposures. If something is bad for us at a certain level, how is it good for us at all? 

There are countless paraben-free beauty products, and even more alternative preservatives that can be used to replace parabens in products. Essential oils and herbs such as rosemary, clove, thyme, cinnamon, tea tree, and lavender can be used to create a synergistic effect, acting as natural, effective preservatives. I worked for a company that makes products with five food-grade ingredients or less, and using only natural ingredients like apple cider vinegar and coconut oil, still maintains a two-year shelf life for their entire line of skincare products. Natural preservatives really work, and many can be used in conjunction to produce an even more stable formulation. Thyme oil is so effective as a natural preservative that it can even be used to stop the spread of MRSA, a deadly staph infection. 

"Natural" does not necessarily mean "safe," nor does "synthetic" mean "unsafe." Our bodies are made up of chemicals, and parabens are everywhere. The other day I wanted to buy Ibuprofen at the pharmacy, and I could not find a bottle of Motrin or Advil without parabens listed in their lists of "other ingredients." But just because parabens are widely used does not mean that they are safe. The skin is the body's biggest organ, and when applied topically, parabens penetrate the epidermis and enter the bloodstream. The biggest problem is that no one really knows the long-term impact of recurrent paraben exposures, and what might be a harmless level for one individual may be the tipping point for another, especially for those with compromised immune systems or certain medical conditions. The debate regarding parabens is inherently flawed, because there is not enough scientific evidence to support their universal ban, yet there is not enough scientific evidence to support their universal existence.

I'm not a professional scientist, but as an active, educated, concerned citizen, I have read every study available and I am not convinced that parabens belong in the products I use everyday, for my entire life. And in my opinion, we deserve to be convinced about the absolute safety of everything we use, on ourselves and on our children. When it comes to parabens, you get what you pay for, and no one really knows what that could ultimately be. 

So, that is my reasoning. Do we really need parabens in our products? You decide. 


The Story of Microbeads

Jessica Assaf

Our friends at The Story of Stuff have released another brilliant short video about a topic that really matters. This time they are sharing the story of microbeads, tiny plastic beads that add texture to our toothpaste and exfoliants and end up in our waterways and back up the food chain. This is a very important issue that has been discussed in the media for a long time. Six states are moving forward with legislation to ban microbeads after this New York Times piece last February. Many companies have also vowed to phase them out of their products. The New York Times wrote about microbeads again five days ago, and the fight is not over yet. 

Watch and share these 2 minutes to learn how to prevent more plastic microbeads from entering our water systems and ending up in our bodies: 

Join us and Story of Stuff to #BANTHEBEAD! 

The Ugly Truth About Lush

Jessica Assaf

LUSH is one of the most powerful beauty brands ever. They have managed to convince most people that they make totally natural products. Their logo promises "fresh handmade cosmetics," and they have an entire section of their website dedicated to expressing their company's mission, their "green policy," and their commitment to fighting animal testing:

When you walk into a Lush store, the hand-cut blocks of soap instantly give us the feeling that we are in good hands. And they market their safety standards everywhere, so it's easy to believe them. 

People always ask me about the status of Lush products. They seem like a brand with integrity, but do they actually keep their promises? I decided to randomly pick a bunch of Lush products and check out their ingredients in depth. Here is what I found: 

The truth: the first 7 ingredients suck. A foaming agent, A harsh preservative, a chemical similar to anti-freeze, and a proprietary synthetic fragrance blend that could potentially contain hormone disruptors. the remainder can't really make up for that. 

The truth: the majority of these ingredients are not safe. They are fillers and preservatives that are used solely to extend the product's shelf life. AND the real problem is that they have not been tested for safety. 


As you can see just by reading the ingredient lists, many Lush products contain questionable ingredients that have been banned or restricted in other countries. Lush products need harsh preservatives (like parabens) because their products are mostly made of water. While we might read water and think, "Oh good, water is the most natural ingredient ever," it really means that the product requires strong preservatives to prevent molding. That is why when natural companies use water in their products but claim they do not use any synthetic preservatives, we know they are lying. It's a sneaky little trick companies play because they don't have to be totally honest about their ingredients. 

The moral of this story is that we need to be better detectives when it comes to checking our ingredients for safety before we assume we know what a brand stands for. Many conscious companies market their products as having no parabens, so we know they are not necessary. All we can do is work extra hard to investigate every ingredient and hold higher standards for ourselves and for everyone.  

3 Cosmetic Industry Secrets Uncovered

Alexis Krauss

Here at Beauty Lies Truth we're all about exposing the lies swirling around the beauty industry. After all this is a #beautybullshit free zone! Greg Starkman of Innersense is a #truthbeauty champion and he's back, this time to teach us how to become smarter and more discriminating consumers. We're thrilled to share his insights on cosmetic labeling and just how tricky it can be to buy the safest products. Xoxo Alexis

Discover the Truth in Cosmetic Labeling; What “Free-of” Really Means

By Greg Starkman, Owner of Innersense Organic Beauty

When watching a magician perform a trick, it always provides some entertainment while also capturing and keeping your attention. It’s the “sleight of hand”, the set of techniques used by a magician to create an illusion. People are truly fascinated by the illusion created with any good magic trick because it’s the seemingly impossible feat made real right before their eyes. It’s also this same illusion that creates an impression leading one to believe something as true yet it is actually the opposite: false.

Good marketing is like a good magic trick. It’s influencing the consumer to believe in a claim through influential wording, imagery and packaging. When reading a package label disclosed with, “made with 100% natural ingredients”, one assumes the product is 100% natural. Not the case, as with the magician’s “sleight of hand”, or in this case, “sleight of words”. This misrepresentation is a big problem as it misleads consumers. It’s also an opportunity for consumers to educate themselves by learning to read between the lines and discover what they are truly reading. Here are three beauty industry secrets to help you discover the truth in cosmetic labeling:

1. Play on Words:

As the demand for environmental friendly and healthier products grows, marketers are working overtime to attract consumers through “sleight of hand” wording. We are now seeing personal care products making “free of” claims such as “free of sulfates”, “free of parabens” and “free of harsh ingredients”.  These words and descriptions give the impression such a product is toxin-free, clean, safe and all natural. While I appreciate the efforts of these companies to remove toxic ingredients, they do not go far enough. At closer inspection, you will see these products are using petro chemical compounds, resins, silicones and plastics. Your will also see PEG's, MEA's, DEA's and TEA's.  These ingredients function as surfactants which are foam boosters and viscosity thickeners. All of these ingredients contain toxic impurities, such as ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. 

2. Play on Companion Products:

Although I would like to call out products specifically, our attorney will not let me. Here is a perfect example of marketing “sleight of hand”. As you can see this shampoo label is marked as “silicon free” and the accompanying conditioner label is marked as “sulfate-free”.  Can you assume both of these products are “silicon free” and “sulfate-free”? This is where the “sleight of hand” comes in. When reading the ingredients list on the shampoo label,  sulfates are listed!  And, when reading the ingredients of the conditioner, silicones are listed. Now for all intents and purposes, the manufacturer has not lied. It has skillfully used words with companion products to give the impression of a healthier, natural product.

3. Consumer Trust

Another marketing “sleight of hand” example includes the back panel of this package label.   This product is marked as “sulfate-free”, “paraben-free”, “vegan” and “sustainable”. All these words describe a product in demand by the consumer, and leaves the impression the product is all natural, clean and safe. However, note the 4th through 6th ingredients are silicons and polyquaternium (PolyQuats), which are petrochemical ingredients. The manufacturer of this product relies on consumer trust to take their marketing words as truth. Consumers have an opportunity to ask themselves a very important question: Why purchase a product that makes a “free of” claim yet still continues to use toxic ingredients that are known pathogens and carcinogens, and is also harmful to the environment?

Marketers count on consumers to skip the fine print. With fast-paced lifestyles, we are programmed to scan key points and trust the rest of the product based on that key-point scan. However, these keys points don’t always giving us an accurate, full picture. It’s “the rest” that takes extra effort to investigate, whether it’s reading the fine print, or having the education and knowledge to decode the marketing label.

Without stricter regulation of the beauty and cosmetic industry, consumers today need to be their own advocates. Remember these old adages, “if it looks too good to be true, it is”, and “knowledge is power.”  There are many things you can do to make a difference in the beauty and cosmetic industry. We encourage consumers to use online and cell phone app resources such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their Skin Deep database, and the Think Dirty App.  Another resource includes company websites. They should be providing detailed ingredient information to help consumers like you make better and informed purchase decisions.  Ultimately you vote with your dollars; companies will manufacture products where consumer demand exists. When you make educated, thorough and informed product choices, you’re helping to improve the beauty and cosmetic industry not only for yourself, but also for the environment and future generations.

Greg Starkman is co-founder and owner of Innersense Organic Beauty, which manufactures organic, toxin-free, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced hair care and skin care products. To help consumers make informed choices, all ingredients are fully disclosed on Innersense Organic Beauty product labels. His unwavering commitment to the integrity of Innersense products and company culture is a reflection of his own personal values.

Innersense Organic Beauty is a proud Certified Green Company and Compact Signor of both Safe Cosmetics & Truth in Labeling Acts, Member of the Organic Trade Association and Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC, which maintains a commitment to social and environmental sustainability).  Learn more about Innersense Organic Beauty by visiting their website at