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  • Jen Bersch

The Ugly Side of the Beauty Biz

Originally written June 6th, 2006

If it's one thing I have learned in all my years of being a stylist it's that Women who take time to do nice things for themselves feel better. It could be a sassy new haircut, a new shade of eye shadow, a spendy mascara or simply a succulent new chap stick, but whatever our preference, when we choose a "vice" of personal improvement, we feel better. It is why the beauty products industry did roughly 35 billion dollars last year.

Every day we see a barrage of new technology and products. All guaranteeing one thing…and one thing only...You will look and feel better if you buy this item. What could possibly be wrong here you ask? We have certainly fought for our right to have free choice and we deserve to be able to pamper ourselves guilt free, to keep what we have left in "normal wear and tear" condition.

The least I can expect is to have the right to start out, shampooing myself into herbal ecstasy. Who would have known that the very products we choose as our pillar of strength, could be perhaps, inadvertently contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

I was troubled to find that less than 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer are from genetic predisposition. And with an estimated 211,240 women diagnosed with breast cancer last year, the odds are higher than ever. Sure, there are unavoidable contributors far beyond our control, exposure to ionizing radiation, environmental exposure to pesticides and the genetic manipulation of the food industry, but my eyeliner? My mandarin scented body wash? My fruit fusion conditioner? Unbeknownst to the general public, there are very few regulations in the beauty industry. Of the more than 10,500 ingredients used in beauty products today only 11% have actually been tested for safety, and 1/3 of all health and beauty aids contain one or more ingredients that are classified as possible human carcinogens.

In addition, the FDA issued a final written response to a cosmetic safety petition in June of 2004. They revealed their inability to protect the public health under the current laws. Notably, the FDA affirmed its inability to enforce a requirement that a warning label be posted on products that have not been substantiated for safety. They also noted that they cannot even impose a recall of harmful products- recalls are a voluntary company action.

So what is a girl to do you ask? Well, it is time for us to bring the beauty industry into the 21st Century. Cosmetics companies are innovative enough to make products that don't harm us. Since there are still toxic byproducts persisting in our environment from the "clean up" of these synthetic ingredients, eliminating the demand for them all together would save us immensely. It's time we collectively supported those companies that have taken the initiative to get informed and make the necessary changes.

I want to encourage you to check out They have an easy to use cross directory itemizing the most popular beauty items, with best to worst classifications, and breakdowns of what makes harmful products harmful and how to pick better ones. At press time, over 300 companies had signed the Compact for safe cosmetics, which is a pledge to make safer products.

It's true, most of our exposure is still provided free of charge courtesy of negligent EPA policy, non-existent FDA regulations and loopholes in testing and labeling laws, but the act of prevention still lies within the control of our consumer purchasing habits. We are the economy!

So, this year, start it out by "cleaning house"! We only get one body in this life, and we should all celebrate it! By changing our purchasing habits, we all make a difference. For more detailed information on what is currently being done to change the laws and the 10-point plan that is being implemented in this fight, visit

Jen Bersch is a hairdresser and holistic spa therapist in Anchorage.

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