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.”



“Oh look, there’s Meg Ryan.”

A curly topped slim blond woman in oversized jeans, striped tee, sunglasses and Dansko clogs stood in the lunch line with us.

Peeking out from under a floppy hat like the celebrity I am not, I whispered to my husband, “She looks sweet.”

Of course, I’m appraising this from the soft landings her movies emote — When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle… I have no idea if she is sweet.

Since I wrote the article about cosmetic surgery, I’ve been thinking about what is real and what is not. What’s artificial beauty? Are cosmetic “enhancements” and hair dye unnatural? What about hair extensions?

Meg Ryan looked like Meg Ryan.

In my last post, a reader left this comment about the characters in one of my favorite Netflix series:

“Seeing Jane Fonda on Frankie & Grace and Meryl Streep makes me ill. They’ve aged sooooo well.”

Remembering the scene where Grace (Jane Fonda) takes off her makeup, hair extensions, and the little clips on her face that give her a surgery-free facelift, makes we wonder whether passing judgment on what is real and unreal has any merit at all, especially in the entertainment business, an industry so inflated, so distorted.

Maybe Meg Ryan had facework like the tabloids claim. Maybe not. To me, Meg (apparently, we’re now on a first name basis since we stood in line together) looked like the other 50-something-year-old women waiting for sandwiches.

She looked sweet. She looked real.

Is it real when you feel comfortable in your skin?

A few extra notes:

Note #1 Eco-design followers: I haven’t forgotten you! Here’s Meg’s design philosophy:

“The whole idea is to keep things as simple as possible; I like everything pared down to its purest form.”

Check out how she puts this into practice in her Martha’s Vineyard beach house.

Note #2 In my summer travels, UNREAL candy — “reUNventing your favorite candy” — has been popping up — and into my mouth. Is candy with “real” ingredients and less sugar UNjunk?


A Trend. A Pushback. A Change.


A Trend.

“Take any girl in her twenties and then check back in with her 20, 30 or 40 years later. I guarantee that you will see a stronger, smarter, better version of that woman later in her life.” ~ The Prime Book

Stronger, smarter, better…

Resonates, doesn’t it?

A Pushback.

Many of you know I decided to grow out my long, dark chemically-dyed hair. All transitioned now, it is a flowy silver mane. I love it. Yet, for decades I dyed my hair the color of coal. In fact, one of the main chemicals in my old hair dye, PPD, para-Phenylenediamine, is derived from coal tar!

The Green Divas invited me to write about the roots of our obsession here: 3 Questions About Hair Dye & 3 Reasons To Ditch It .

Now… my mother, my best friend and most of you color your hair. So believe me, I get it. The barrage of age-appropriate hair behaviors we ascribe to is a tough nut to crack, and no one wants to find themselves on a hairdresser’s hit list.

Speaking of hairdressers…

I chuckled reading about the flap on the other side of the pond between Sarah Harris, the feature fashion director at British Vogue, and Nicky Clark, “UK’s leading celebrity hairdresser.” Silver-haired Sarah responds with just the right fervor to Nicky’s urging the Duchess of Cambridge to cover her gray roots — or else — it will be a “disaster.”

Nicky: “Until you’re really old, you can’t be seen to have any gray hairs”

Sarah: “To cast such trite aspersions is like saying that women can’t have long hair the other side of 40, or that a 57-year-old man can’t have a blond, flowing, tinged (?), highlighted (?), backcombed (!) bouffant, whether they’re a celebrity hairdresser or otherwise.”

A Change.

As we get older, women can defy the notion that we need surgical procedures to disguise ourselves into looking youthful. But when roadblocks present a picture to younger women that they better do something quick or else the ravages of time will surely take their toll, I am reminded of this,

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” ~Rosa Parks

And that is why I wrote a rapid response to the recent TIME cover article, Nip. Tuck. Or Else: Why You’ll be Getting Cosmetic Procedures Even If You Don’t Really Want To? Here’s my take on this trend:

Nip, Tuck…and What?

There’s a sea change in the way we see ourselves and are seen. While it may seem like we live in a culture that prizes youth above all, in the miles ahead we can renounce those who tell women to tuck up, cover up or shut up — and become living proof that with age we are stronger, smarter, better.

The Sun Sets, The Mood Changes


Often places and objects that transform, reveal a visible pace of change. This shack, called the Lucid Stead, is an installation created by Phillip K. Smith III on a 70-year-old wooden residence in the California High Desert. It wears its heart cleverly on its sleeve, as you can see right through it. While quietly changing its mood as the sun rises and sets, it settles into its surroundings.

It endures. It thrives. It fascinates.

This reminds me of another house I’ve written about, the Mondrian House. I revisited it last month on a brisk morning, pausing to watch it live, breathe and shake off the difficult winter. The house cautiously takes in the ocean air, while gazing out over this Aquinnah landscape:


The homes we take for granted rise and fall as we do. Taking with them bits and pieces of the past, present and future with variable degrees of wear and tear.

As the sun sets and the mood changes, a big birthday rises this week. There are no clear aging guidelines, only ones derived from instinct. It’s not really the age I feel. I could remodel, but that doesn’t seem authentic to me.


I’m summoned towards nostalgia for the freedom of the good old days, while looking out over the changing landscape and seeing things as if viewing them for first time, with fascination.

Photos: Mirror House: Steven King Photography, Landscape: Ronnie Citron, Water image: Gabrielisak Photography