Toxic Beauty


Most women have morning routines that include beauty products. This morning I decided to count the products I slather on my face and body. Why? Because I learned the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every single day, and I wanted to determine how my routine stacked up.

Here goes:
Body: soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer
Face: tinted moisturizer, concealer, blush, eyeliner

Nine products that I hope have been tested for safety. Hope is the key word here. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel comfortable hoping these products are safe. I want to know they are safe.

I may use a few less products than the average woman, but with 1 of every 13 women exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products, it’s still an unhealthy crap shoot.

Personal care products fall under FDA rules.

I often discuss the toxics chemicals in our homes, schools, workplaces, playgrounds and cleaning products. Most of these products are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But our personal care products: soaps, cosmetics, sunscreens, deodorants, shampoos, hair dye, toothpaste and nail polish are applied directly onto our bodies. These products are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA does not pre-approve products before they are distributed to stores. According to the FDA,

“With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited ingredients, a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” 

If the government doesn’t determine whether these products are safe before they hit the shelves of Sephora, who does?

Who decides whether our personal care products are safe or not?

According to this highly informative article in Teen Vogue, it isn’t a complete free-for-all.

“To ensure their products are safe, many cosmetics companies in the US refer to findings from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an independent safety-assessment body. The CIR has an expert panel of nine scientists who are responsible for making safety assessments about individual ingredients used in cosmetics.”

Who sits on the CIR “expert panel?”

A trade group that represents the US cosmetics companies, funded by the $60 billion cosmetic industry, called the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC).

I am appalled that the safety assessment of those nine products I put on my body almost every day with the hope that they will keep me healthy may have been researched and deemed “safe” by an industry-funded panel with skin in the game. No pun intended.

We hope our government would protect us from a $60 billion industry that would benefit financially from poisoning us. But it can’t.

Is there hope for our sorely under-regulated beauty routines?

The law that governs these products was written in 1938. After 80 years, three senators are now trying to update it.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) teamed up on a bipartisan bill. The senators introduced an updated version in May called the Personal Care Products Safety Act of 2017. And, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) released the FDA Cosmetic Safety and Modernization Act Bill last month.

There are a few differences between the Feinstein-Collins bill and the Hatch bill. Most notably, the Hatch proposal does not require companies to share ingredient lists.

To keep the ball rolling, according to the Teen Vogue article, “a bipartisan group in the Senate’s subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will evaluate the two bills and come up with an integrated draft for review.”

Do these bills go far enough?

It’s a mixed bag because the beauty industry would still lack an approval process. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope, as Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, a nonprofit that runs the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (which she also directs), tells Teen Vogue:

“Because it has taken decades to arrive at new legislation for personal care products, there is concern that whatever is passed now is what we’ll be stuck with for a while. We know that we’re only going to get one bite at this apple. It’s been more than 70 years since the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic law was enacted, so we don’t want another 70-year wait before it gets fixed.”

Still hoping for safer personal care products for you and your family?

Contact the offices of Senators FeinsteinCollins, and Hatch, and share your thoughts on these bills.

This article originally published on Moms Clean Air Force.

A Glorious Freedom


Today is a special day for me. A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon, was released today and I’m thrilled my essay, “True Roots” is included! The book is about women over the age of 40 who are thriving.

I’m over the moon to be included in this book because I feel a huge positive shift in my life as I age, AND because my essay mingles with so many of my heroes from the literary world and beyond. Cheryl Strayed, Vera Wang, Christy Turlington Burns, Debbie Millman, Dara Torres, and many others contributed to the book. And check out who wrote the opening in the introduction…

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life—it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I would be.” – Anne Lamott

Here’s an excerpt from my essay, “True Roots.”

“As I took a seat beside my colleagues at a business meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss toxic chemical reform, I could already feel my scalp tighten. The environmental scientist we were listening to began discussing low-level chemical buildup left in our bodies by personal care products. As she rattled off a list of chemicals, I was struck by a profound contradiction in my own life.  

I work for a large environmental organization. In three years, I would turn sixty. Like many women who care about their appearance, for more than twenty-five years, I had joined the ranks of the 75 percent of US women who color their hair. My personal aim for coloring was “natural-looking” hair to complement my natural lifestyle. To achieve this, I spent hours upon hours, and thousands of dollars, attempting to embody the hair color company’s slogan, “hair color unique to you.” But who was I kidding? Whatever was unique to me was buried under layers and layers of hair dye…”

I shared on Instagram a cute video that author/illustrator, Lisa Congdon created for the book. She says about A Glorious Freedom, “No matter what your age or gender, may each of you find inspiration in this book to live bravely and fully, and to use your experience as your most powerful tool in living your best life.”

Needle. Thread. Hair.





Sheena Liam’s embroidery art is my current Instagram obsession.

Women’s Day? Bring it On.


What’s that you say, it’s Women’s Day? The Women’s March was a mere 6+ weeks ago. How can that be?

If you follow the political news cycle like I do, the Women’s March happened in the Middle Ages. I won’t bore you with all the political nonsense that’s been eating at me in the interim, but I will share that I was invited to be part of a photo documentary book for Planned Parenthood, shot by the immensely talented, Nadine Robbins.

Nadine is a painter, designer, photographer. Her portrait paintings are beyond the beyond. So when Nadine mentioned she was shooting a Diane Arbus-y black and white photo book with a few local women who marched – and I could keep my clothes on (she paints contemporary nudes) – I jumped at the opportunity.

The book is slated to be mostly photos. So I’m not sure if any of this interview will appear in the book. Nevertheless, I persisted to answer Nadine’s questions, and here they are…

Where and why did you march?

Right after the election, my outraged colleagues and I discussed plans to march together at the Women’s March on Washington. I help run a women-led national organization that pulls me deep into the world of politics. I travel to DC often, so Washington would have been the obvious march for me to attend. But as I knitted pussy hats on the train to and from my Hudson Valley home and Washington, my parental heartstrings tugged me towards my children.

My daughter and I had been having almost daily discussions about women’s issues. We worried Planned Parenthood would take a direct hit from this new extreme right-wing administration.

I remembered a time when women fought for reproductive rights, before woman had control of their bodies, before legalized abortion. It was during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970’s when I discovered that the personal is political.

Defunding Planned Parenthood, an organization my daughter and I had both used and supported, was personal. So I decided to march in Boston in solidarity with her, near her home, against a sexist, anti-women administration that aimed to take basic human rights away from my most cherished loves, my children.

How did the March make you feel?

At the end of the march, I felt high, like I was floating above a dark cloud. I had accomplished something that was bigger than me. I had joined millions of people sending a strong message that women are listening, we’re watching…and if our reproductive rights are taken away, we will regroup and fight.

With the constant barrage of harmful, regressive policies spewing out of this administration and those who condone it, it’s been hard to sustain the enthusiasm. While a part of me would like to crawl under the covers and wait out the nightmare, the radiance of the march still shines hopeful.

What was the best sign?

There was a young guy holding a sign that said, “Mom would have been very proud of you. Love, DAD” He was smiling, but there was a story there that I’m sure would have broken my heart.

What do you plan to do now?

Acting on conviction is our best defense. I’m writing to ensure we don’t normalize this dangerous administration. And I’m working locally and nationally to vote Trump and his cronies out of office.

My hope is that we can harness the energy of the March into launching a movement that goes beyond the current administration. Change happens when people speak out and demand it. Respecting and protecting the notion that equal rights are human rights is always worth fighting for.

Poster: Library of Congress, Women’s Graphics Collective

I’m So Tired


Is your spirit spinning in a dusty whirlpool of disgusting news? I keep thinking I can walk my way out of it, like after the election.

But this requires marching.

Attempting to write my way out, like after the Newtown shootings, I wrote an uplifting piece that tapped into a story connecting 1967 with 2017 – about my mother, my daughter and me – united in a mission to protect women’s rights. I planned to publish that today.

But the sweetness of the moment got tossed aside by recent events.

Trying hard not to let outrage rule my life, I will organize, resist and march. Because I love this country.

But today, I am dispirited and whirling. It’s going to be a long four years, and I’m already so tired of…

Image via nataliehsc, Etsy . Lorcaserin