Fertile Ground: Beauty Products and the Beast

a color photo of two LUSH beauty products

In an effort to avoid as many chemicals as I can in our toxic world, I do my best to not put anything on my face that I couldn’t put in my mouth. For many people, though, mainstream beauty products are standard items. According to a Bloomberg report, the average American woman uses about twelve health and beauty products on her face every morning. From formaldehyde in shampoo to lead in lipstick, that’s a lot of toxins to be absorbing.

What’s a chemical-packed cosmetic company to do? Clever marketers think they have the answer: Greenwash their products with the allure of nature, like a slow-motion waterfall pouring through the consumer’s heart. From advertising to product ingredients, cosmetics, their companies, and their commercials are an ecofeminist issue.

Many companies like to prey upon what they perceive to be the customer’s nature-loving-but-still-tech-savvy lifestyle. Aveeno, for example, has the slogan, “That’s the beauty of nature and science.” The sleek website has pictures of models spliced with silky packaging and even silkier nature pictures: shiitake mushrooms, stalks of wheat, chamomile blossoms. Mmm, the website hopes you think, those plants do look nice! I like natural things! But not, like, too natural, since one can plainly see that the nature pictures on Aveeno’s website look every bit as fake and photoshopped as the model’s faces. By photoshopping pictures of lavender and chamomile on a model’s face and body, they are exoticizing nature, turning it into a glossy pin-up, making it something to be admired, possessed, used, and ultimately, think of as unreal. These smooth, high-def pictures of plants, like the pictures of women, are unachievable, and therefore, not something we should think of as living and breathing.

Aveeno, like many other companies, additionally boasts that it has “science” on its side; sure, we want to use nature, but we will make it better, more digestible for the smartphone-using, iPad-wielding customer. Nature (plant photos) and women (model photos) are here for our consumption. Cosmetic companies are painting a Willy Wonka frosted fantasyland, and it doesn’t do women or nature any favors.

Lush, an extremely popular beauty product company, is another offender. Again, we see the romanticization of nature on the website, along with the romanticization of indigenous people in other parts of the world, mostly women, harvesting plants and stirring things. A video begins with products (signature “bath bombs,” I think) being laid in a field of grass and wind, but this is just the beginning. Driving the “we’re sooo natural!” point home, we see Lush employees travelling to underdeveloped countries, photographing women picking pink flowers and sifting through seeds. Later we see white people pouring liquids out of test tubes. This theme is familiar—in the ’90s, Anita Roddick’s Body Shop practically pioneered this image: Native women carrying “secrets” of nature, and western culture taking it to improve on it and decant it into a plastic bottle.

After Lush “ethically sources” (hopefully it actually does pay a decent price) these materials, they are mixed with chemicals into a concoction that definitely should not be ingested.

According to Skin Deep, an environmental watchdog, the ingredients for Lush’s Karma Komba shampoo bar are: Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Cocamide DEA, Perfume, Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin), Orange Oil (Citrus dulcis), Lavender Oil (Lavandula hybrida), Pine Oil (Pinus), Lemongrass Oil (Cymbopogan flexuosus), Elemi Oil (Canarium commune), Gardenia Extract (Gardenia jasminoides), *Citral, *Geraniol, *Citronellol, *Limonene, *Linalool, FD&C Blue No. 1, Roman Chamomile Flower (Anthemis nobilis).

An example of Aveeno’s pernicious ingredients are these, from the bottle of their Calming Comfort Baby Bath: Deionized Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Decyl Glucoside, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Lauryl Methyl Gluceth-10 Hydroxypropyldimonium Chloride, Di-PPG-2-Myreth-10-Adipate, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, Hydrolyzed Oats, Coco-Glucoside, Glycerol Oleate, PEG-150 Distearate, Glycol Distearate, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Glycerin, Tetrasodium EDTA, Laureth-4, Polyquaternium-10, PEG 14-M, Quaternium-15, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Fragrance (Lavender, Vanilla).

Though Lush’s toxins are fewer, essential oils cannot make up for the poisons this product also carries, like Cocamide DEA and FD&C Blue No. 1, which are, among other things, potentially cancer-causing, allergy-inducing, hormone-disrupting, and toxic to your organs. Yum?

For both Aveeno and Lush, nature is far too “other” to be their solitary angle—plain nature just isn’t good enough. Customers, these companies seem to say, want nature to be technologically improved upon. They assume customers want nature in clean packages, digitally photographed, made into art they can stare at and examine. (I mean, doesn’t real nature mean, like, dirt and stuff?) They want the same for models in their commercials, and, in the case of Lush, they want this for “native” people that are used in these advertising campaigns. They want us to romanticize these people and look at them admiringly. Don’t worry, though, Lush says: our products aren’t all orange blossoms and sunflower seeds! We put, like, science-y stuff in them too! Yeah yeah, we visited Africa and everything, but our products are made in a FACTORY. So just relax!

My advice for actually relaxing, though, is something I say a lot: make it yourself. You have control over what goes on your body, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I make everything I can, or buy from local makers, from face moisturizer to lip gloss to shampoo (Rosemary Gladstar, famed herbalist extraordinaire, recommends rinsing your hair with apple cider vinegar every once in a while instead of shampooing!). For a good lip balm, which I also make thin and turn into a face moisturizer, I will use a combination of jojoba oil or olive oil, coconut oil, an essential oil, and beeswax. Some ingredients you can get cheaply, some you can get thinking of it as a start-up investment that will last you months, even years (for example, essential oils and beeswax). Check out natural beauty product-making books from your local library, or look online for how-to websites and videos; there are tons. If you don’t have the DIY bug in you, you can also find makers of homemade products online, on sites like Etsy.  My last bit of advice: Make sure you could eat it if you wanted to.

Any crafty commenters have suggestions for homemade beauty products or books?

Previously: Bloody Ecofeminism, OCCUPY the Earth

by Alison Parker
View profile »

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

58 Comments Have Been Posted

Love this article. I work at

Love this article. I work at LUSH and it kills me the facade I have to put on. I have worked retail for many, many years, but nowhere have I had to work so hard to be someone else as I have at LUSH. I have to pretend to be in love with the company, its founders, and everything they do/have done. This doesn't just apply to the shop floor, if my "attitude" is not right even when I'm on break, I get a lecture about not being excited enough about where I get to work.

Retail's a pain in the ass..but at least some places don't take themselves this seriously. I'm selling cosmetics. I sell soap. Yes, they are somewhat natural and most I enjoy using, but I hate having to pretend that I work for the best place in the world where it's all love and peace and not what it really is--profit.

And I'm not even going to get into the shark-attack manner of selling they have us utilize...for those of you who shop at LUSH and places like it...keep in mind that the salesperson who is following you around and buggin the hell out of you probably hates it just as much as you do. And that super hyper, overly sweet attitude is often faked because anything less would get one fired.

And these companies really aren't feminist either...although where I work they really try to pretend they are all for women's empowerment. To me, that would mean paying their employees (usually women) better and offering benefits, as well as actually giving more than ten hours a week to them as well. It means doing more than just using the idea of indigenous women's empowerment for your advertising. It means not requiring your employees to act like bubble-headed soap whores in order to keep a job...intellectualism is shunned at my shop.

/end rant of disgruntled feminist retail worker

I work for Lush too, and I

I work for Lush too, and I think that you are full of it.

Not one thing they teach you to do has anything to do with being fake. You shouldn't be working there if you don't like it. It would be the same as working anywhere else...if you have a piss poor attitude you WILL be reprimanded. You should probably be thankful that Lush is extremely lenient on write-ups and firing people. Seriously, get a new job.

That and we aren't taught to harass customers or anything like it. They don't "pretend" to be about women empowerment. In all honesty, I've never heard/seen a feminist thing come from the head honchos. Its absolute bullshit. Not getting scheduled often means that your manager is probably punishing you for being a crappy team member. If you are being told repeatedly that you need an attitude adjustment and brush it off, why on Earth would someone want to give you more opportunities to be negative and bring the whole team down?

I don't really agree with

I don't really agree with almost anything from this article OR the comments, but you need to chill on this retail angle.
I TOO work for a Lush store, and YES they don't tell you directly "please be phony" but we are taught to say things to customers that aren't 100% true and/or proven. FOR EXAMPLE I was TAUGHT to tell people that our shampoos are "great for colored hair, even if it's not with henna!" Not true.

And also untrue; I've been written up at my store for not being PERKY BEHIND THE SCENES. That's right, not even out on the floor I got a write-up for "being a downer" when I was sick. :| So yeah, all stores are different because all MANAGERS are different. All people are different.

And um, maybe this person doesn't have ANY OTHER JOB OPTIONS literally. Telling them to move on isn't really an option mayhaps? Anyway point being calm thyself.


20$ says anonymous #2 owns lush

Hi. I can tell you that as a

Hi. I can tell you that as a Lush customer, I find the forced cheerfulness of some of the employees grating and unpleasant. I've had the pleasure of dealing with very nice employees at the branch I frequent, but occasionally I get someone, maybe someone who's just been reprimanded for not being perky enough, practically jumping all over me and babbling like someone with meth psychosis and it's rather tiresome. You should tell this to your managers, and that there's a wide gulf between "hyperactive and pushy" and "piss-poor."

Meh. Feel the way you want.

Meh. Feel the way you want. I'm sure all stores are different but this is my experience. I've worked retail for years and have always been the quickest to be promoted...I've worked as assistant manager at a few places and have also done hiring and training. I've had customers remember me and comment about how great it was to deal with me...and most of my jobs I stayed at for more than a few years. So, no offense, but I don't think it's me in this case.

We really are asked to have a certain attitude--and it's way over simply being friendly and having a good personality--because that comes naturally to me. And we really are expected to harass customers...but obviously we don't call it that. When I've told people I work there I've had some say they won't go in because they hate being "pounced" on.

And for the record, I am leaving as soon as another job opens up...but where I live there aren't hundreds of part-time jobs out there. I'm a graduate student and need to work part-time to support myself--even though I'm on scholarship I still need to eat! And EVERYONE gets around the same hours a week...like many retail chains they prefer to hire more employees for fewer hours--it makes scheduling easier and makes it fairly certain no-one will get benefits.

My experience isn't that abnormal for a lot of retail. It shouldn't be this way. As feminists we should care about everyone--including those who work retail and any other job that places profit above employees. We deserve benefits and hours and the ability to earn enough to live.

Welcome to working retail.

Welcome to working retail. 95% of retail companies are like this. Every place wants you to upsell, be perky/cheerful to customers, and - generally - to exaggerate/talk up to customers to make the products seem appealing. This is not limited to Lush, this is EVERYWHERE. ALL THE TIME. NOT JUST TO SOAP.

Why should a woman be paid -more- then a man? Why not the same? Why do you feel you deserve to be paid more? And more than 10 hours a week? Okay, go to most other retail places (with the exception of McDonalds and grocery stores) and try that. Every retail company has cut their workforce hours to the bare minimum - because they are in the business of making money. If profits are down, this is how they rectify it. They also are not obligated to pay you more than minimum wage.

I would say to quit and find another job, but who knows. Maybe you can't find a job in your field. Maybe you're pissed about the Lush culture and the way you're asked to promote it and bitter because you don't have other prospects, I dunno. But it certainly seems retail isn't for you.

Where exactly did I say I

Where exactly did I say I should be paid more than a man? I simply said it's often women who work in the cosmetics industry, that's all.

And again, I've worked retail for years and have had very positive experiences.

Retail is retail. I've enjoyed most of it...and there are always a few bad days but overall it's fun and enjoyable and pays the bills till I'm finished with my degree and can do something else. Lush "culture" is what the article was about--this idea that a cosmetics company can do all these wonderful things in the world is nothing but good PR and advertising.

I'd say most of us who work retail don't love and adore the entire company they work for (while I've enjoyed jobs...I never idolized a company)...but I feel I'm expected to here.


Greenwashing works because we automatically assume natural is better, somehow. Blame the Romantics, as I do, for giving us a warped picture of "nature" as a harmless panacea; existing to insure fields of flowers through which humans can romp. Nature contains just as many "potentially cancer-causing, allergy-inducing, hormone-disrupting, and toxic to your organs" compounds. In fact, it's often plant-derived ingredients in cosmetic products that cause allergic reactions.

Really Karen? Love to see the

Really Karen? Love to see the research. Where did you get this quote "Nature contains just as many "potentially cancer-causing, allergy-inducing, hormone-disrupting, and toxic to your organs" compounds"? It's ludicrous. You are calling fruit, seed, herbs, nuts and trees as cancer-causing as petrochemicals? I don't know where you get your information from but it can't possibly be from an academic source. it's pure garbage.

Where do you think

Where do you think petrochemicals originate?

Nature is hazardous to your health.

Arsenic and cyanide are naturally occurring compounds. Pennyroyal oil causes <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909490">multiple organ failure</a> if taken internally. (Is the NIH a sufficiently academic source?) A July 2006 issue of Science News contained an article about feminizing effects observed in boys who consumed and used lavender products.

You can do your own googling for more.

Yes, Karen is correct and

Yes, Karen is correct and what she is saying is not garbage. Wasabi, the stuff you eat with your sushi contains more naturally occuring parabens than what is contained in most personal care products. And now phyto hormones are causing a bigger concern in the subject of endocrine interruption than the parabens are. This does not justify using toxic and often unnecessary chemical fillers in personal care products, but it is something to consider.

i tried a little googling and

i tried a little googling and was unable to find anything myself. could you please provide a source re: wasabi & parabens?
thank you so much!!

Nature is awe-inspiring, and also dangerous.

Nature gives us life-giving rain -- and also death-dealing hurricanes. We shouldn't prize things that are natural simply for being natural and without knowing whether it being natural is something that promotes wellness or inhibits it. For example -- rosemary essential oil can stimulate uterine contractions and bring on pre-term labor, so pregnant women wanting to stay that way should eschew its use. Look in any encyclopedia of essential oils, and tons of them will come with toxicity and sensitivity warnings, even ones that are often used in homemade cosmetics offered for sale in craft fairs and on etsy.com (cassia is the one I see most often -- it's a significant irritant to people with sensitive skin).

I'd also note that ingestion isn't a very good barometer for personal care product safety. If you make soap yourself (which I do), you know that the main ingredients are water, oil and lye. Lye is corrosive and poisonous (albeit "natural" if derived from potash, as our great-great-grandparents did) -- definitely not edible. Hell, you buy it at the hardware store under drain cleaners! However, when mixed with oils at a proper temperature, the corrosive qualities are rendered inert through the chemical reaction of saponification. The fatty acids + glycerol in the acidic oils mix with the sodium and the hydroxide ion in the basic lye to make glycerin and a soap salt, the combination of which has a neutral ph. It's all natural, and the end result may be edible (although I wouldn't encourage it), but the component parts you'd see on an ingredients list certainly wouldn't be. Doesn't make soap unsafe, though, especially for topical use.

There's another element here that makes things confusing, which is that there are federal regulatory requirements for personal care product labels that make even natural -- really, truly, natural, edible, whatever -- stuff sound more like chemicals. If you put the common terms for your base products on your labels, you can get stuck with big-time fines and penalties, even if you're just a little seller of small batch soap out of your house (the legislation, written with major manufacturers in mind, nonetheless captures all sellers). So, you probably have a sense as to what aloe vera is, but do you know the difference between Aloe Andongensis and Aloe Arborescens (names that refer to products from different parts of the same plant)? Do you think either or both is shady, because its names sound more like chemicals than aloe vera? Layer in on top of that problem that sometimes the regulated, necessary label name may not remotely resemble the common name, and it can be disheartening to people who want to do the right thing and sell products to people who want to do the same.

Lastly, there are people who like to paint themselves as authorities on toxic products, particularly on the web, and they are wholly unaccountable for their specious arguments and bad facts. Every time I get some kind of "research" from a crunchy website about something, it's point may be correct ("margarine is teh debbill!"), but it's got tons and tons of errors and nonsense supporting its position (which, in all cases is "Be Scared!" -- fear isn't my thing). Makes it hard to find a space in which to talk productively about what's really harmful.

I'm not saying that lab-created compounds or ingredients in nature-humping, big-company products aren't harmful. They may well be. But some of the products listed as "toxic" sounded like natural products labeled with their regulated names, so they may well be natural, maybe even edible, but they'll be maligned because of how they sound and because someone with a website has thrown them in with other compounds that sound bad. And some ARE definitely bad and shouldn't be associated with products aimed at people who want to cut down on toxic sludge thrown at us from a lot of bad places. It matters how we get from here to there, though -- being right means taking the longer, harder path.

In any event, I wholeheartedly encourage people to do make their own stuff. It's easy, fun, creative, and the supplies can be easily gotten from thrift stores (you need dedicated pots for the lye soap, because of it's pre-reaction poisonousness) The best book for learning about DIY, bar none, is The Soapmaker's Companion. It's wonderful and detailed and doesn't talk down to crafters about the chemistry, like most sources do. Plus, it's got recipes for laundry soap, shampoo, lip balm and lotion, so you don't need to buy any of that crap from Aveeno if you don't want to!

This comment is fantastic.

This comment is fantastic.

I take it the writer of this

I take it the writer of this article has never seen <i>Fight Club</i> or else they'd know that homemade soap can also be used as explosives.

Making homemade soap also

Making homemade soap also requires lye, which is a corrosive base that you DEFINITELY don't want to put on your skin or in your mouth.

You're right -- and I said as much above.

Such was my point about why ingestion is a bad proxy for safety. The completely unsafe raw material for ingestion is nonetheless safe, once made into soap, of course, for topical use.

If you look at the EWG Skin Deep database (which the article endorses), there is a specific comment about sodium hydroxide (lye) for an olive oil soap considered safe by their standards: "The product manufacturer has listed sodium hydroxide on the product label or has informed Skin Deep's research team that it is used to make the product. In a properly manufactured soap, this common raw ingredient completely reacts with oils; none remains in the product. Therefore, the hazards associated with sodium hydroxide are not considered relevant for this product." So, doesn't say you should eat the lye or the soap, but does say that the soap doesn't present any of the hazards of the lye.


I know soap doesn't present

I know soap doesn't present any of the hazards of lye--I was remarking on the sentiment in the article that the ingredients in products that one uses on one's skin should necessarily be fit for consumption; or the misconception that homemade or "natural" processes always use benign components, while anything that comes out of a factory or a lab is inherently "toxic."

Elaborating on sentiments expressed by other commenters, I'm put off by the lack of citations. Not necessarily in this post specifically (though no actual studies are cited), but throughout the series. The post on the history of "witches," for example, made an awful lot of (dubious) assertions about medieval history without citing a single source. If one is going to make declarations about purported health benefits or historical events, there should be research-based sources to back up those claims.

Ah, Fight Club. Tis where we

Ah, Fight Club. Tis where we all go for our most accurate sources.


hair wash

(Note: I am Caucasian, with thick wavy hair. YMMV with different characteristics.)
A baking soda solution is a great hear cleanser. Apple cider vinegar brings out a nice shine but it doesn't remove excess oils from your hair. The baking soda combines with the oil in your hair to form a mild soap, which removes only excess oil, leaving the rest to condition your hair. I find that a tablespoon of baking soda in 8oz of water gives me enough solution for 4 showers (It should only be applied to your scalp, and should be rubbed in vigorously just as you would with shampoo).
You'll find that once you aren't stripping all the oils from your head with the detergents found in shampoo, your head will gradually start producing less oil and you will need to wash your hair less frequently. I have used this system for six or seven years and wash my hair a maximum of once a week.
Sometimes I find that my hair isn't oily enough at the end of a week to warrant a full baking soda wash! When this is the case, I pull a wet washcloth over my hair from the scalp to the ends, first standing up and then bent over so the washcloth starts at the nape of the neck. This pulls extra oil down to the ends of my hair where it can do the most good. Having done this five or six times I vigorously rub my scalp under the water as if I had put in shampoo, just to make sure all the excess oil got loosened up.

Apple cider vinegar should be applied in the same dilution as the baking soda -- about one tablespoon per cup. Any more than that and the high acidity will dry out your hair instead of bringing out the gloss. Apply the vinegar primarily to the ends of your hair, and then pour the rest over the roots and rub it in.

Brushing detangled hair with a boar bristle brush is another good way to keep oil under control. boar bristle brushes can be sourced ethically, although that won't help vegans. Wood bristles is another good choice for moving oil. Make sure to wash your hairbrush periodically -- I use Dr. Bronner's.

I use BS/ACV too. Works

I use BS/ACV too. Works great. I also use baking soda on my skin.

It's true that women are a

It's true that women are a big part of producing beauty ingredients around the world. I think it's great if a company profiles the hard work that goes into the products. People rarely acknowledge this even with the food that they eat. To criticize this and use the word "native" to describe female workers is offensive.

DIY beauty

<p>By now we all should know that chances are if it comes out of a fancy bottle, it isn't " all natural ". The gimmicky marketing tactics employed to make these products more appealing are very hard to resist, especially for product junkies like me, and I even know better. The fact is that we want foamy, creamy, nice looking products. Sulfates, (foaming agents) emulsifiers, and ingredients such as "cocamide dea" give these products the texture that make them so appealing. A foaming cleanser isn't really getting you any more clean than a non-foaming or low foaming cleanser is, and is more than likely stripping the acid mantle (protective oils) from your skin, but we sure like our sudsy bubbles. In a culture where convenience and luxuries rule, changing the personal care landscape seems a daunting task.
The Indie Beauty Network and Mountain Rose Herbs are good places to look if you are interested in learning more about DIY beauty. Good luck, and thanks for starting this dialogue!
Licensed Esthetician and amateur skin science geek</p>

Great article! A few years

Great article!

A few years ago I decided to stop putting commercial toxins on my skin, if I could avoid it. I've not used shampoo for almost four years now, and my hair has never been healthier (I usually use a combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar - google "no poo") and buy local non-toxic soaps and skin creams when I don't have the time or effort to make my own (I've tried various combinations of oils and butters), also because I move too much to make the investment worth it of large tubs. Overall I've saved SO much money over the last few years, and it's incredibly freeing to be able to just completely bypass aisles upon aisles in the supermarket and pharmacy.

Of course, I will preface this with that everyone's hair and skin is different, and it may take some time and experimentation to find what works for each person. There is also tremendous social pressure to conform to not only beauty standards, but also hygiene standards. People often get totally freaked out when I tell them that I usually only wash my hair once a week, or so (which is all it needs, in my case). Most of these standards are totally bogus - we're all different, and need to find what works for us.

Beauty companies do not have your best interest at heart! They have a fabulous team of marketers and advertisers! We don't need to listen to that. Make your own routines, and support other people to do the same! (Without shaming them, of course, because that's counterproductive).

I'm wondering what you (and

I'm wondering what you (and any one else dedicated to truly natural skin care) do for make up? I want to make the switch to all natural and home made products, but don't think this can really apply to concealer and mascara, for example. I don't wear make up very often but definitely do sometimes, so any suggestions would be great!


Thank you for the article! For fellow readers, I recommend that you use the Skin Deep database alongside "GoodGuide." It provides information such as the ingredients, the product's environmental impact, and the company's wage and labor practices to give it a final score as a "good" product. Like Skin Deep, it's not a complete database but is nonetheless helpful.

Skin Deep

Just some thoughts on the Skin Deep Website and organization (Environmental Watchdog Group).

Their goal is sensationalism with negative assumptions discrediting the entire industry.
They do not have labs to do analysis nor assessing quality & purity. So their accusation of ingredients and formulas are incorrect. They rely solely on library reference searches and broadcast only the story that favors them.
Their grading system is also bogus and not accurate. This is due to information they have on all the brands are out dated, plus their science is incorrect.

Great article. I love

Great article.
I love sweet-smelling body products, but I am increasingly worried about all the bad stuff in them. I was wondering if anyone knows of any companies that make non-toxic vanilla-scented body wash and lotions, or how I could make my own. I'll do my own search, of course, but I'm hoping I can get some good tips here :)


Don't I have enough going on in my life without making my own motherfucking shampoo? Every day we all ingest chemicals <i>and</i> natural substances that may give us cancer or shorten our lives in myriad ways. To feel like an ethical consumer I have to worry about whether a product is cruelty-free, organic, fair trade, non-sweatshop, eco-friendly and is made by a company that doesn't discriminate against LGBT people, provides a living wage and isn't scary conservative. How am I supposed to do all that research and still have time to work a full time job, attend to family and friends and maybe have a cocktail once in a blue moon?

It seems like more and more left leaning organizations are telling me that if I'm not doing it all myself I'm hurting the environment or the people around me. That's an incredible amount of pressure. We're being told that unless I'm growing my own food so I know where it comes from, make my own clothes to recycle and save resources and make sure I don't use anything that could possibly harm anything or anyone (see above), I'm supporting the partriarchy/dominant hegemony. It seems like everyone wants me to be Laura Ingalls, but I have to work a full-time job to make rent money. How is this even possible?

I think that there are more

I think that there are more important things than lifestyle politics. To the extent that you can afford to buy organic, fair trade, locally made/grown, cruelty-free, etc, it's great to do that, but that should not be either the beginning or the end of your activism. If growing your own food and making your own clothes prevents you from participating in activism that attempts to change the core structures of power that are inflicting much of the damage on the planet, on workers, on all of us, then you are being neutralized.

Putting the emphasis on individual actions (driving cars, shopping at walmart, eating meat. whatever) makes it all about personal responsibility, our responsibility, and takes the responsibility off of corporations and governments and other such power structures who are inflicting the real damage. That isn't to say that we shouldn't think about our own actions and the effects that we can have (boycotts, public pressure campaigns, and the like), but we shouldn't look at our buying habits as though that as all we can do, or even the most important thing we can do.

So really I'm saying, don't be so caught up in being Laura Ingalls, do what you can and what is important to you, but also look at the bigger picture. (This is where I would start talking socialism and revolution/reform, but I'm going to hold back, because I can go on for years, and maybe you aren't interested. But if you are, I certainly like talking about it, and will gladly offer my opinions, just maybe through email or something, to not subject all of Bitch to it.)

I get what you're saying, and

I get what you're saying, and I tend to agree. I think I was under the influence of narcotic painkillers from recent surgery and didn't make my point very well. It feels oppressive to me that after everything else I'm asked to do in terms of activism and effecting change (along with just, you know, <i>life</i>) that there's this assumption that if I don't make my own facial scrub out of bark and honey, I'm a bad feminist. Enough already! I buy my shampoo off the shelf and sometimes, just sometimes, it's not even organic. <i>*Gasp!*</i> Take away my NOW membership.

And perhaps I'm just a wee tiny bit overwhelmed from narcotics, hospital bills and unemployment. Anything's possible.

That's completely

That's completely understandable. To be honest, I think that is the core reason why so many individuals have difficulty changing certain lifestyle habits because there are SO MANY THINGS. I think the best way to go about it, though, is to pick one thing that is easy for you to adopt. Perhaps recycling is something really easy for you to do. Great! You're already doing SOMETHING, and it's a wonderful start! Don't beat yourself up over it because it is 'all' you're doing. Ultimately, taking one step is what naturally leads to the others. No one becomes completely cruelty-free, environmentally neutral, and all-organic overnight. It's a process, there's no doubt about it. For example, you're recycling. This may become a habit for you - literally, something as simple as taking out the trash. Eventually you realize you can take it a step further and start incorporating organic recycling/compounds in the mix. It'll be a change of pace, but soon you'll get used to even that! Then you may look at other things in your home and realize you can make small changes, such as buying more earth friendly cleaning products. And on and on. You should never have to feel like everything needs to be done at once, because I don't think ANYONE can do that (and to those who can, whoa).

At least, this process is how it worked for me. A couple of years ago I went vegetarian for ethical reasons, then became a vegan for more ethical/environmental/health reasons. This lead me to buying only cruelty-free products, which also lead me on the road to discover organic products. It's actually really fun! Sometimes I feel guilty for not doing as much as other people, but then I remind myself of everything I already HAVE done. I admit, sometimes I even compare myself to people who don't even recycle (I'm 20, if that sheds light on my demographic). I know it's bad to compare and blahblahblah, but sometimes it's reassuring to show myself where I started and where I am now.

Just take it one step at a time, and do what's comfortable for YOU. If everyone made the postivite changes they are capable of, we would see a HUGE impact on our planet - and in a good way - even if those changes seem relatively small to the individual. Good luck, and I hope things start looking up for you!

I meant my comment more in

I meant my comment more in the strain of a rant "Exactly, I hate when people make me feel that way, and here is how I deal with it." and less of a lecture, but the internets don't always allow the tone to come across.

It's possible to be

It's possible to be eco-friendly and sustainable without being unscientific, and the disregard for scientific and historical accuracy in this series has really gotten to me.

A "chemical" is any substance with a consistent molecular composition. That's it. It's completely impossible to avoid chemicals. The world isn't just full of chemicals, it's made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. H2O. Dihydrogen monoxide. Every chemical substance can be called by a scientific name that describes its composition. Just because you see ingredients listed by chemical names doesn't mean they must be "dangerous toxins." Just because some chemicals are synthetically isolated or derived does not mean that they are toxic, and many chemicals found in "nature" are extremely toxic. For example, botulinum toxin, one of the most powerful and deadly neurotoxins on Earth, is produced quite "naturally" by bacteria. It is also used effectively in medicine as Botox, not just in cosmetic procedures, but as a treatment for hypertonia in conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Often--as is the case with "artificial" flavors, for example--the chemical synthesized in a lab is exactly the same as the chemical that would be "found in nature." That is, it has precisely the same molecular structure, and that's all a given chemical or substance is: certain atoms arranged in a certain way. The only difference is the source, and in the case of plant-derived chemicals it may sometimes be more environmentally sound to produce the desired substance in a lab rather than plundering rainforests or clearing land for industrial farms.

One doesn't have to get caught up in the false dichotomy of "natural vs. unnatural" and the "technology and science is bad" mentality to be critical of methods of mass production, reckless environmental practices, and capitalism in general. I would go so far as to say that it hurts our cause, as eco-feminists, when we appear to be scientifically and historically ignorant.

Whoops--Not sure why that

Whoops--Not sure why that showed up three times. I'm not a noob, I promise.

If I had all the time in the world...

This is an interesting article, although it didn't really point out anything I didn't already know. I am much more i,pressed with all these lovely comments. There is a lot of critical thinking about this article and the whole "natural is better campaign". Natural is I'm afraid not always better, as many here have already pointed out nature can be just as cruel to your body as it is kind (one could argue that "cancers" are natural or at least naturally occurring even in the absences of carcinogenics).
I agree it is prudent to know what is being put into your body. But to make everything your self, and sometimes even buying locally (especially if you live in a cold climate with a short growing season), is not always feasible. I barely have time to make dinner let alone my own shampoo, the fact of the matter is I think that most people buy for convenience. It is good to be aware of what you buy but citing the fact that some of the ingredients in a product are not natural (despite the tone of their advertising, and lets face it if you believe all the ads you see I got a bridge to sell you) seems moot.

I'm going to come right out

I'm going to come right out and say that I like Lush. I do not like the fact that some of their products have less-than-savory ingredients, but many of their products really do contain healthy ingredients. So you know what I do? I read the ingredients. If I don't like them, I don't buy the product. It really is as simple as that.

When I have time, which is not terribly frequently, I do like to make some of my own beauty products. I make a facial scrub out of sugar, olive oil and milk (more oil for dryer skin, more milk for oilier skin), and a body scrub from olive oil, sea salt and honey. It's very quick and easy and I usually have the items in the house anyway. Honestly, though, and to parrot what many have said, I don't have time to make my own shampoo, nor do I really have the energy to obsess over every last ingredient all the time. I try to maintain a certain standard of healthfulness and environmental awareness when it comes to, well, pretty much everything in my house, but at the end of the day, sometimes I just want to wash my hair.

I have to say I take a bit of issue with your science-bashing. Mixing ingredients together to make something else, be it an emulsion for a moisturizer or a loaf of bread, surprise, is utilizing scientific advances. Science and nature should never, ever be viewed as at odds with one another. Speaking of the "evils" of science and technology, though, Alison, how much of the computer you're writing on is made from post-consumer recycled organic DIY-ness?

Yeah. I thought so.

I totally agree wIth this

I totally agree wIth this comment

I find this blogpost so hypocritical. I work for lush and wouldn't say in general I'm am totally crazy about the brand. One thing I respect is they live up to what the say they are. If you took five minutes to actually bother reading up about the brand you will see that the have promises that are displayed in shop and on their bags. They never once say they use no preservatives - little or no preservatives is what they state. And they dO uphold this. It is totally ridiculOus to think we could really go through life without a shampoo that keeps for more than a week

You have to remember lush is a company, therefore need to sell products and to do this they need a paraben to preserve the liquid. I would also like to state the highest percentage of paraben or chemical we use in store in 1%. I also find you 'cancer avoiding' lifestyle absolute crap. Cancer has always been around - as long as you don't smoke, heavily drink or anything along those lines there is no INCREASED RISK. We are more aware of the condition.

One thing need to realise is a paraben or free radical free lifestyle is impossible. It's in the air we breathe. And as a biologist I can tell you a free radical is nothing. Literally. It's a carcinogen that is nothing. It has always been there and will always be there. If you gave me 5 minutes in your life I could tell you hundred of 'free radicals ' you come across everyday.

Instead of slagging of brands such as lush who do everything they can for the environment think of companies such as - the body shop and soap&co. I expect your aware that body shop has been sold to loreal who test on animals.

Get your facts straight, live your life, and attack brands who don't actively aim to create a better world.

Health Concerns

I too worked for Lush, for 3 years. I could write a book on all the unethical and illegal practices within this company. Have any of you ever given thought to how Lush shops sanitize the bowls or areas that foot/hand/face "treatments" are done? There is no sanitizing. I was told directly by the manager that chemicals to sanitize were "not of Lush standard". Hand sanitizer was also frowned upon and I had to leave the shop floor to use. Wet dirty towels from customer demos were thrown into a Lush shopping basket behind the register were used by several employees to "clean" the cutting board and knives, as well as the demo bowls used by customers. The only item they allowed for cleaning was a mixture of mostly water mixed with their Happy Hippy Shower gel. No wonder Ringworm showed up in the shop, and nobody will acknowledge or address this.


On Black Friday I walked into Lush for the first time. Happy. Thinking nothing bad would happen. I was wrong. While I was at Lush the sale associate gave me a hand treatment. Then she tested one of those fizzy balls on my arm. It made my arm feel soft , but incredibly itchy afterwards, The next day I woke up with a red ring on my arm. Went to the doctor he told me I had ringworm. At first I thought I caught it from my kitten but that's not even possible because my kitten would have infected everyone.
I will never step foot into Lush ever again.
It's unsanitary.

What the??

As a licensed hairstylist, I can tell you that you don't need to be a "famed herbalist extraodinaire" to know about apple cider vinegar's benefits to your hair. First of all, apple cider vinegar should never and WOULD never suffice as a shampoo stand in. It is used as another reader said, on it's own to bring shine to lackluster hair, OR as a clarifying treatment mixed with baking soda or other things to remove EXCESS build-up and oiliness, not as a lone shampoo.

Apple cider vinegar is not some green-only, hippie tree-hugging secret either, lol. I inhale formaldehyde everyday while doing brazilian keratin treatments and I love to do apple cider vinegar treatments. Do I seem like a hippie to you??

Most importantly, with that being said .... I must rain on everyone's parade with the notion that you can absorb things through your hair strands. This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Once your hair pops out of your head, it's dead folks. The only way you would absorb ANYTHING through your "hair", whether it be nasty chemical toxins, or fun-loving henna, is really through your SCALP. So if I want to rub Karma Komba through my strands and not rub it all over my scalp, I'm not going to die. Really, I promise.

I see where you're coming from with the whole drugstore Aveeno greenwashing thing ... but LUSH is completely a different ball game. They even claim to use "little to no preservatives." They own up to the TRUTH. They are not this company that claims they are completely green and this and that with no parabens or sulfates. On their website, they even go as far as to mark what items are vegan, and which are vegetarian. Their "greenwashing" is not in fact green washing, and they DO in fact go to foreign countries and harvest fruits and veggies and what have you. They pay a hell of a good price to source these materials to lots of underprivileged kids, and on top of that they do fundraisers and donate proceeds of specially marked products to go directly to these countries, much like your friend The Body Shop does as well. LUSH does not exploit these women and children as you make it seem.

My last bit of advice, would you want to eat beeswax, or lanolin oil such as in Rosemary Gladstar's recipes?

I googled her image and her hair looks like shit

I have to say, everything has

I have to say, everything has the potential to cause cancer. It's honestly unavoidable, and I think that it's futile to try to go out of your way to go as "natural" as possible to avoid "cancer-causing agents" and whatever the likes.

Did you know that there are traces of rocket fuel in California's water system? How are you going to avoid that? I had thyroid cancer in college, and that's one theory my doctor had. Or it was simply a mutated gene. What I think about this whole thing is that fuck it. If you get cancer, you get cancer. Sometimes you just get it. Personally I'd rather live my life happily, not worrying about whether or not my deodorant and/or shampoo is going to give me cancer again. It's not worth it to constantly worry and be afraid. It's honestly not the worst thing in the world and if you think about it, by the time you're 80, chances are you're going to get it anyways.

I think it's great if it's your thing, but it's too much work for me. No thanks.

Also one more thing: Cancer

Also one more thing: Cancer has been around for centuries, even back in the day when everything was handmade and there were no factories and chemicals. They've found cancer in mummified Egyptian bodies.

Oh, and you might as well

Oh, and you might as well stay out of the sun because too much sun causes skin cancer too.

Just wanting to give ideas!

<p>*I'm certainly not trying to tell people what to do! I just want to throw ideas out there. People can use Lush or whatever beauty care regimen they like. For myself, I said I try and and not use things I wouldn't eat. I'd eat beeswax. :) &nbsp;Again, that is just me, and again, I said try...I certainly slip often!
*No science-bashing here...just making a point about both these advertising campaigns. I'm also questioning unnecessary chemicals. That said, clearly chemicals are impossible to avoid completely. </p><p>

*The use of "native": &nbsp;I agree. &nbsp;That's my point. &nbsp;It's this "native people" trope used in advertising that I find offensive.</p><p>*A lot of poisons are found in nature! &nbsp;It's true. &nbsp;I like to avoid many of those as well!</p><p>*These are just ideas I'm giving and throwing out there. &nbsp;Certainly not everyone has to agree with me! &nbsp;One of my points was that Lush and Aveeno both romanticize nature, and claim their products to be perhaps more natural than they really are, ala greenwashing. &nbsp;People can use whatever products they want. &nbsp;Like I said, I'm merely giving ideas!</p>

Alison, I have really been

Alison, I have really been enjoying your series of posts and your topics really resonate with me. I've been experiencing a great shift in perspective since winter began, making connections across capitalism and patriarchy and the way we buy into and feed this system through consumerism at the detriment of our health and sense of self-worth. As Kristen said above, "In a culture where convenience and luxuries rule, changing the personal care landscape seems a daunting task." I can totally relate to this, but more than ever I am deeply wanting change in the world, wanting to reorganize my life and live more radically. Of course living an alternative lifestyle is inconvenient; our entire cultural infrastructure discourages it. And it's not just the extra time it takes (to, say, make shampoo)- I think bravery is needed too.

In a culture wallpapered with photoshopped images of ideal beauty, I have come to feel ashamed of my own pores. A few months ago I couldn't leave the house without putting on some makeup to cover them up and even out my skin tone. But I don't think it's healthy to let that stuff sit on my skin, and I don't believe in the marketing tactics of these cosmetic companies that want me to feel inadequate as I am, and I don't know what other practices they use to produce their products (but large corporations are notorious for cutting corners to maximize profit). Waking up to the significance of shopping as a political act of financial support, how can I support these practices I hate so much? these companies who will do anything to sell their product? I can't say that I don't slip sometimes and feel self-conscious (and occasionally reach for my makeup bag), but I am trying to be strong and live according to my own (developing) code of life.

Thanks for writing. I find your posts inspiring.

I completely understand your

I completely understand your points and I agree (I'm the Anonymous who you replied to and who made the fight club joke), but it's this whole "natural is always better" idea that's false.

i adore LUSH! 1. because i

i adore LUSH! 1. because i think the company really does care about the environment & sourcing natural organic ingredients 2. because i love their products. From all the other companies out there who really dont give a shit about their customers safety or their impact on the environment, why would you want to pick on LUSH? Maybe they arent perfect but I think they are a far better option than most other cosmetics companies....also the fact that they source some of their ingredients from off grid eco-communities - supporting these small sustainable communities, puts them pretty high on my green company list. I think businesses like this should be applauded & rewarded for their efforts to be sustainable, eco-concious & ethical. I'm just really hoping the founders continue like this & dont totally sell out one day. (like body shop) i think they are genuine, this is not 'greenwashing' in this case, yes of course they have to make a profit, otherwise it's a charity not a business, but they are clearly a company with a triple botton line, profitable, ethical & sustainable.

Boy, are you people confused or just stupid?

Exactly. Why would you pick on a company, who's trying to be as ethical as possible in making effective cosmetics, but yet again it is STILL A COMPANY which makes cosmetics and MONEY. LUSH are NOT using ANY animal testing on ANY of their ingredients even, which is by the way a unique pledge in anywhere in the cosmetics world at the moment and buys their ingredients from small independent companies in places like Colombia, where the people are affected by war and need the money and their business to keep them going, and they're supergrateful that LUSH are supporting them and not buying the ingredient from some big company that's stripping it from the nature. Wouldn't you be more concerned about for example The Body Shop, that has been sold to L'Oreal now, who clearly still test on animals and have very dodgy background over all. The Body Shop definitely has a lot more work to do in all of these departments. If you buy a product from them, the money will go to mother-company L'Oreal, which is one of the most unethical, non-green cosmetic-companies in the world at the moment.

So this little article has no truth or logic behind it, really. It's just plain bitchy and obviously written by someone who has done little or no research on the subject. Focus your energy on something more important, like trying to get every other company in the world into the same level as LUSH in caring for the nature, the people and the animals. At least LUSH is doing their best and have nothing to hide, how many other companies can you name that can do the same?

And if you find the over-excited bubbly staff so annoying, GO SHOP SOMEWHERE ELSE. Or make your own soap, no one cares.

The first commenter, you

The first commenter, you seriously deserve to be fired from your job and leave it open for someone who genuinely believes in the company.
I have worked for Lush for nearly a year and it is the best job I have ever had. I truly respect the company and everything they do. I seriously love Lush, the products and what they stand for. Everyone that works at my shop does as well.

You do need to be very confident and happy to work there, but that is the nature of the shop. We are hippies at heart (and we don't despise our lives, something that you seem to do for some reason?)
If you hate Lush so much, LEAVE. We don't want you there, anyway.

Haha. It's minimum wage

Haha. It's minimum wage retail job. Get over it and get over yourself. I like the product but I don't worship the company, and many people work at jobs they don't really like but they do a good job (I make great sales and customers love me) despite that fact. I've had better retail jobs. And where exactly do you live where there are hundreds of better paying part-time jobs? Sounds great! We aren't all privileged enough to work at great paying jobs we love.

And for the record, I knew a few girls that I thought totally loved the company and they were amazing sales associates and then when they got a better job or graduated school I learned in private that they'd been putting on a face too. Just like many of us do every day at our jobs in order to support ourselves.

fails to mention...

This article fails to mention that two of the main owners/creators of Lush are female, and the good initiatives Lush does. There clearly hasn't been much research done before this, especially on the ethics of the company, etc. The re-usable gift wrapping Lush uses is purchased from a women's co-op in India, and this group of women are making money for their families who otherwise wouldn't be making money. They also purchase their shea butter from a women's co-op in Ghana. The other "big" cosmetic companies out there don't do that, and Lush is still the only big one to not be owned by a larger company (ie, Body Shop, Kiehls being owned by Loreal) . I'm unsure why this article was even published by Bitch, but it definitely turns me off from purchasing the magazine again.

It fails to mention a lot of

It fails to mention a lot of things. Honestly, most of what's written for the Merc is better researched than this.

I keep coming back in the hopes things will improve but nope.

Gonna 90s this shit up. Oh

Gonna 90s this shit up.

Oh Bitch, what a great and well researched article! NOT.

<blockquote>"Many companies like to prey upon what they perceive to be the customer’s nature-loving-but-still-tech-savvy lifestyle. Aveeno, for example, has the slogan, “That’s the beauty of nature and science.” </blockquote>

Oh Bitch. That's called advertising! Shitty advertising. But advertising.

<blockquote>"Aveeno, like many other companies, additionally boasts that it has “science” on its side; sure, we want to use nature, but we will make it better, more digestible for the smartphone-using, iPad-wielding customer. Nature (plant photos) and women (model photos) are here for our consumption. Cosmetic companies are painting a Willy Wonka frosted fantasyland, and it doesn’t do women or nature any favors."</blockquote>

Wait. For science to be appealing you have to have an iPad? This doesn't make sense.

Vaguely good point with the stock + plant photos.

<blockquote>"Lush, an extremely popular beauty product company, is another offender. Again, we see the romanticization of nature on the website, along with the romanticization of indigenous people in other parts of the world, mostly women, harvesting plants and stirring things. "</blockquote>

The front page of lushusa.com is nothing like the Aveeno page. Right now it's a woman holding a baby and a dog.

- the endless bubble bars have a geeky photo of mom and daughter as a competition example for awkward photos

- gorilla perfumes have the product

No seriously, <i>where did you get that whole paragraph from</i>

<blockquote>riving the “we’re sooo natural!” point home, we see Lush employees travelling to underdeveloped countries, photographing women picking pink flowers and sifting through seeds</blockquote>

This is where they actually get the ingredients from.

<i>After Lush “ethically sources” (hopefully it actually does pay a decent price) these materials, they are mixed with chemicals into a concoction that definitely should not be ingested.</i>

Is it that hard to actually research this?

"Sodium coco-sulfate is essentially the same compound, but made from less purified coconut oil." [Wikipedia]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocamide_DEA - Bad news, lathering agent

Perfume - Could mean any number of things

Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin), Orange Oil (Citrus dulcis), Lavender Oil (Lavandula hybrida), Pine Oil (Pinus), Lemongrass Oil (Cymbopogan flexuosus), Elemi Oil (Canarium commune), Gardenia Extract (Gardenia jasminoides),



I give up at this point. This is the same BS that keeps appearing here over and over again. Poorly researched and histrionic opinion pieces.

Fertile Ground: Beauty Products and the Beast | Bitch Media

When someone w&#1075;ites an &rho;a&#1075;agraph he/she mainta&#1110;n&#1109; the th&#1086;ught of
a user in h&#1110;&#1109;/her bra&#1110;n that how a use&#1075; &#1089;an know it.
The&#1075;efor&#1077; that's why this post is amazing. Thanks!

Nice Post

Thank you for sharing a wonderful post, Alison. Good collections of natural beauty products are mentioned here beautifully. One must have to go through this type of post for natural health care.

Add new comment