I used to say that when I grow up I wanted to be a writer (doctor/fashion designer/singer). Turns out some of us (um, me) grow up and write blogs and others publish ground-breaking books unearthing the truth about the cosmetic industry. I had a chance to chat with Alexandra Spunt, co-author of No More Dirty Looks, The Truth about Your Beauty Products–and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics. This rockstar of a writer filled me in on her new book, her fascinating findings and her personal style.
LKis: What made you write a book about the cosmetic industry? Were you always fascinated by makeup and cosmetics?
AS: I think like a lot of little girls, my co-author Siobhan O’Connor and I both had an early obsession with products. In my case, I was already mixing my own concoctions, dying my hair with henna, and wearing press-on nails by the ripe old age of 10. Granted it was the 80s.We wrote the book when we discovered that a fancy hair treatment we did was actually laced with formaldehyde. Which explained why they gave us protective goggles! What we couldn’t understand was how that was legal.
LKis: How did you do your research? Was it like a cosmetic free-for-all? I picture you and Siobahn, wading in a sea of shampoos, eyeliners and lipglosses.
AS: Ha! That’s actually not entirely off base but no, truthfully, we tried to be systematic about it.
LKis: What was the most surprising fact you uncovered while writing this book?
AS: There were so many. The lack of oversight in the industry was a big shock to us. I also had no idea
how much of what we put on our skin gets into our bodies in a meaningful way. Up to 60%. Some bioaccumulate, meaning they don’t leave the body (like heavy metals), others get lodged in tissue for long periods of time, and certain ingredients get processed out faster, but end up in our urine (and our water system). Our skin is not a raincoat—just ask anyone who’s tried the nicotine patch to quit smoking.
LKis: We all use so many products every day that this information can be overwhelming. Your book gives easy to use lists of products (by body-part) that should be avoided. What are the two most dangerous, but least suspected beauty products out there on the North American market?
AS: It’s actually really hard to say anything is most dangerous. The latest reports on phthalates are pretty disturbing. These suspected hormone disruptors are associated with genital defects in baby boys (among other things), but they are prevalent across many product categories. I think what’s extremely shocking is that these as well other suspected hormone disruptors and known carcinogens are actually in baby care products. Talk about least suspected.
LKis: Eeps. That freaks me out! But, does one have to give up, say, their favorite mascara even if it isn’t the safest? And what beauty product was the hardest for you to give up after discovering it wasn’t good for you?
AS: Funny you should ask. Mascara was actually the trickiest for me. I think Siobhan would go with a good deodorant since she was a bit less of a makeup fiend. But you know what, I still wear waterproof mascara sometimes (I happen to love mascara on both my top and bottom lashes, but unless it’s waterproof it runs!). For daily use though I stick with a natural mascara, or no mascara at all (and a bold lip instead). We’re not advocating that women get rid of their most favorite products—it’s a give and take. If you’re using something every day though, we obviously think you should choose products you can be sure are safe.
LKis: In your book, you give the reader tips on homemade replacements that provide natural and good-for-you alternatives to mass-market toxic cosmetics. Which recipe is your favorite and which do you use most often?
AS: I love my DIY perfume. It’s so simple: one part vanilla extract to one part your favorite essential oil (mine is cedar). It’s woodsy but sweet.
LKis: Sounds easy and awesome. So, now that you have revolutionized how we see the cosmetic industry, what is next for you?
AS: Oh, I think (slash hope) that we’re just at the beginning of a shift in awareness around beauty products, and we want to keep being in that conversation. Right now we’re putting a lot of time into our blog (nomoredirtylooks.com) and our GOOD series ( http://www.good.is/series/no-more-dirty-looks/) just trying to spread awareness.
LKis: I am all about personal style – Here are some questions I just neeeeed to know:
1. What is your favourite accessory?
AS: The watch my boyfriend gave me.
2. If your closet was on fire what three things would you run in and save?
A pair of Acne jeans, my favorite men’s shirt and as many shoes as I could carry.
3. What style icon’s closet would you love to raid?
Maybe Jane Birkin’s or Charlotte Rampling’s closet in the 70s. Such great style.
4. What is your biggest fashion pet-peeve?
High wedges. They just make girls walk in this uncomfortable way that makes me think of foot binding.
5. What is your best kept beauty secret?
That I never wash my hair. It’s actually not a secret—but it should be.
6. What store never fails you?
Edith the Machinist on the Lower East Side.
7. Jeans and Converse or LBD and Louboutins:
Bit of both, it just depends on the day. Is there a bathrobe and moccasins option?
8. Keep and Save or Wear and Toss:
Keep and Save and then once a year force myself to Goodwill because I’ve run out of room in my closet. And thus the cycle begins again…
9. Brand or Trend:
Neither really. I’ve kind of been dressing the same way since I was 15. I’ll wear brands and trendy stuff, it’s just not what dictates if that makes sense.
10. NYC or LA:
11. Only reality or a bit of illusion:
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