BY Eileen Z. Fuentes

As I was walking down St. Nicholas Ave, I was surprised to see that some of the most notable brand name cosmetics were available on any given street corner right here in this neighborhood for a good price. Even the economical drugstore brands could be purchased for less. On this particular day, it was scorching hot so I thought to myself, how could this stuff not go rancid in such extreme weather? Every day of the week, rain or shine, the merchants are here. This question led to a myriad of other issues surrounding not only the quality of the products but instead the high number of toxins that were found in them.

As I began my quest for answers, I learned that most beauty care products are linked to cancer, neurological disorders, asthma, infertility and more. On average, women use at least 12 products a day and men use around 6. Even baby products are loaded with toxic ingredients (including fluoride). One would assume that the government would make every effort to keep us safe against agents that have the potential to cause us harm, however, there is no such regulatory obligation under the existing federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. As a matter of fact, cosmetic companies only have to answer to themselves.

According to the National Cancer Institute, parabens, a preservative found in deodorant is closely linked to cancer. The same applies to Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) an ingredient added to lotions, sun block, soaps and lead, which appears in 61% of lipsticks. Mercury, which causes a host of neurological disorders, is prevalent in mascara. And the risks associated with perfumes/colognes are too numerous to list. Even still they don’t have to disclose the ingredients due to its complex formulations. Formaldehyde is another known carcinogen and is harmful to the immune and respiratory systems but it still appears in many beauty products including nail polish and the Brazilian Keratin treatment, an Uptown favorite.

So how do you protect yourself from these harmful products? Watch The Story of Cosmetics.  This short video is chock full of good information. Do not be deceived by brands, price, pink ribbons adorning the package, and know that words like “herbal”, “organic”, and “natural” have no legal definition and so you should still read the label to ensure that it is free of toxins. Don’t leave home without your wallet-sized shoppers guide to safe cosmetics. Take some time and check out the and see how your existing make-up is rated then go to the to find a healthy alternative. Let your voice be heard by asking congress to get behind the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. And remember the women of Washington Heights/Inwood are already beautiful so let’s keep it really real.


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  • Drew
    September 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks Eileen, I really appreciated this post. Especially the fact that fluoride is toxic and we brush with it everyday. The fact that its put into out drinking water is even more disturbing. Also if you think about it the amount of diseases and sickness around now its incredible. If you think about it, the majority of products were not around in the early part of the century. I firmly believe many diseases are linked to what we put into our body and on our bodies. Not to get off of topic but now refiners now wanting to disguise high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.” This because of the bad rap it has gotten over the past few years. Well your body doesnt know what to do with it so it stores it and its also not a natural sugar. Ok i am done on my rant, thanks again Eileen.

  • Elieen
    September 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Drew, you have every right to rant. It’s absurd what goes on and the various disguises to poison…because that is what it truly is. The good thing is that that awareness is on the rise. Thanks for the comment!

  • Rihana
    September 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that not only did this all begin based on the 1950s mindset, as is stated at the 4 min 47 second mark, but so too are the test methods we use to evaluate these chemicals.

    The larger problem we are facing is that we have “tested” and deemed “safe” tens of thousands of chemicals on animals only to find that the many results are not accurate in humans. It’s time to use human-relevant non-animal testing practices as outlined by the National Academy of Sciences report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy in 2007.”

    The potential for chemical reform is quite exciting, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice millions of animals (for toxicity testing) in the name of better protection for human health and the environment. We need Congress to mandate and create market incentives to use nonanimal methods and tests.

  • Unity carrie
    September 26, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Thanks my brilliant sistah. I ams orry for the longest comment post you may hae ever gotten but this is SOOOO up my alley. I have been doing this for the past 7 years. I discovered the cosmetic data base when it was called Skin Deep and have been using it ever since. I ony used California Baby for Madi and as of the last 3 years I have weaned myself off of Chanel (even the perfume and body oil that I used every single day). I have tried to get my local Whole Foods for years to put the cosmetic data base rating on the products. I have never used flouride toothpaste with Madi and I always refuse it for both of us at her bi-yearly dental visits (I also have never allowed dental x-rays for her and I stopped them for me 18 months ago. I plan to only do them every 2 years).

    I use and highly recommend Suki. It is a completely natural, vegan and organic product line that is HANDMADE, locally (a day’s leisurely drive away) in North Hampton, Massachusetts. Here is their website The products are so clean and the ingredients are of such high quality (usually just a few ingredients in each product. I perosonally don’t have any with more than 2 ingredients) that you only need the smallest amount. I use their facial oil, eye repair (which is also great around the lips area) and the Butter Cream Healing Salve (which I use on everything).

    To wash, I use Dr. Hauschka’s Cleansing Milk and the Cleansing Cream with Almonds. I also use their mascara, lip balm and gloss and I have the eye liner (but haven’t used it). To treat any blemishes I simply use pure Tea Tree Oil after applying my Suki facial oil.

    I don’t really use any other make up but am looking for some eye shadows. I also get a more natural nail polish at Whole Foods and a natural nail polish remover but I actually have been forgoing any polish except for special occassions for the past year.

    I use only hand made soaps and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap for the bath and only John Masters shampoo and conditioner (I buy the large size that you can only buy through his website and I stock up when they have a sale). You should check him out. He is amazing and a pioneer. I have not been to his salon yet but am booking an appointment for my next touch up.

    People complain that natural quality products are expensive but I disagree. First off you need so much less that the products last you much longer and every year the last week of August and first week of September Whole Foods has a 15% to 20% off sale on Dr Hauschka so I stock up for the year.

    Another favorite is 80Acres Lavender Olive Oil Body Balm (made in the USA from USA ingredients
    Madi and I both love this one at night for our hands, elbows and tired feet. I use the Evan Healey French Rose Clay (mask). It is the BEST I have ever used and I have used many clays. It is NOT drying at all. I mix it with rose water. Farmaesthetics Sweet Milk & Chamomile exfoliant and Nourishing Lavender Milk (for the bdy) are also great Made in the USA on the East Coast. Please feel free to pass on any product recommendations. One last tip, Madi loves baths so I put in some organic unprocessed coconut oil in her bath water for extra mositure. I even bring my own massage oil for both Madi and I to our monthly massage appointment.

  • De La Cruzin
    September 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Hey Eileen,

    Once again, great stuff. It is so interesting to learn about new things whether it applies to me, personally, or not. Reading your articles brought me to opening my mind to almost anything. That video was very interesting, as well. Coming from someone who is not a fan of watching anything that is longer than 3 minutes, I actually listened to the whole entire thing. Knowledge is contagious!

    Thanks again,

    Slick Rick