Margo Marrone began her career as a pharmacist. In the course of her research she was shocked to find how many toxic ingredients lurk in the cosmetics that we use every day. Margo founded The Organic Pharmacy with her husband Franco in 2002. The Organic Pharmacy and their make-up range Organic Glam have become trailblazers in covetable, natural skincare. We ask her some questions about cosmetics and cancer.
CCP: For a long time I was vaguely aware that many of my cosmetics contained questionable substances but, like most people, I had neither the time nor the inclination to find out exactly what the problems were.
MM: That’s why it is fantastic that so many small companies are now developing natural and organic ranges. If you know you can trust the brand you don’t have to take a PHD in chemistry to avoid the problematic products.
CCP: But are some of the toxic ingredients necessary to create effective products?
MM: I can tell you categorically – no.
CCP: When I’m actually in the shop buying my moisturiser how do I find out what’s in it?
MM: My advice would be to really ask questions! Go into the shop and say “Right, I need to know what’s in that product before I put it on my face.” If the sales staff seem vague or ill-informed just ask: “Could I have a look at the packaging please?” Read the ingredients for yourself and you will see what is in the product. The sales people don’t necessarily want to be deceiving but often they just do not know what they are selling.
CCP: So your first vital tool is a pair of spectacles.
MM: Yes! A pair of spectacles and a list.
CCP: What are the main ingredients to avoid?
MM: OK, you’ve got a whole series of ingredients, the first ones being the parabens. Most people are aware that parabens are not good but they don’t know why. Parabens mimic oestrogen in the body and thus may promote the growth of certain cancers – notably breast and prostate cancers. There has been a lot of quality research in this area. As far as I’m concerned, parabens are a no-go.
You really have to be uber-careful because there are brands that promote themselves with the headline ‘paraben-free’, but they refer to one product in their range – and other products in the range still contain parabens. You can advertise one product in the window as ‘paraben-free’ and that product is paraben-free, but the public assumes that everything else in the range is ok.
The second substance to avoid is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. You’ll be surprised at what you find formaldehyde in. The common one that we know of is nail-varnish. But I’ve also found it recently in washing-up liquid. Many cosmetics contain formaldehyde-releasing chemicals. Those ingredients are not listed as formaldehyde. They are what are known as formaldehyde precursors: they break down to release formaldehyde into the product. You can see a list of the substances on our website.
Formaldehyde is a lurker. Recently I’ve found it when my son was getting ready for Hallowe’en. It was in the glue that you stick the teeth on with.
CCP: So we’re putting formaldehyde into the mouths of little kids?
MM: Not just little kids – actors, models and anyone who works with special make-up. Formaldehyde is an ingredient in the glue. False eyelashes all use formaldehyde glue.
Other baddies to look out for are polycyclic musks that are used in fragrances. They’re generally not listed separately so my advice would be to avoid all artificial fragrances. When it comes to fragrance look for the words ‘100% natural fragrance’ or ‘100% naturally derived fragrance’ or even ‘cyclic musk free.’
Phthalates are known hormone disruptors. You won’t generally find phthalates in a product list because they are deemed to be inert. The main sources of phthalates are anything that’s plasticky: nail varnish, hairspray, hair-gel. In fragrances they’re used to fix the fragrance onto the skin. So again artificial fragrances and perfumes are best avoided. Phthalates are also found in glitter.
CCP: Glitter eye make-up?
MM: The ones with big pieces of glitter. You won’t know they contain phthalates because they won’t be mentioned on the product ingredient list.
CCP: But many manufacturers say that the amounts of these toxic ingredients in their products are so small that the effects are negligible.
MM: Our bodies are designed to clean themselves. Our organs break down harmful chemicals and get rid of them. When we get food poisoning, for example, that’s exactly what is going on. We take the harmful chemical, make it inert and throw it out of our system. Our bodies can cope really well with that.
But imagine that you had low-dose food poisoning every day for twenty years. Our bodies are not able to cope with a constant low-level assault through multiple channels.
If you use your leaded lipstick once, that’s fine – your body can cope with it. But think about the list of products that you use every day: toothpaste; moisturiser; lip balm; shampoo; conditioner; body wash; deodorant – we’re already on seven and that’s for somebody who doesn’t have a complicated routine.
Maybe you want to incorporate anti-ageing creams into your routine and wear make-up that you leave on your skin all day. We start as babies, with baby wash and baby lotion. We’re receiving a low dose constant assault for twenty or thirty years. Eventually the damage becomes too great. That is when cancers and other malfunctions can occur.
CCP: So I should take simple steps to replace as many harmful products as I can?
MM: Exactly. Start with your body lotion because you put that all over your body, your biggest surface area. Next, your lipstick. Lipstick goes on your mouth. You eat it. Next, replace your leave-on products like face moisturiser. It’s sort of a logical process.
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