Toxic Beauty - 7 Ingredients to Avoid


Some beauty ingredients have surprising links to carcinogens

When it comes to putting things into our bodies, we tend to take careful consideration of the ingredients and their origin, but somehow this important moment of reflection often slips us by when it comes to what we’re putting onto them. And while it’s increasingly crucial to check our food labels, we also need to be more discerning when it comes to selecting skin and beauty products. As the largest and most exposed organ in the human body, our skin will absorb whatever we put on or around it, making it especially vulnerable to infiltration by unsafe chemicals. In fact, 60% of what we slather, pat or spray on our skin daily is absorbed into the bloodstream.

It's no secret that most cosmetics contain chemicals, although recognizing their degree of hazard may be as difficult as pronouncing the chemicals themselves. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman’s face is exposed to about 168 toxins from the 10-12 products she uses in her daily skincare and beauty regimen (men use about half as many products in their daily routine with an average of 85 toxic ingredients while kids get exposed to approximately 60 ingredients in a typical day). Horrified? So are we! But these alarming numbers can be significantly reduced if we became a little more mindful and educated about the substances we so freely use on our bodies.

To help you detox your beauty cabinet, we’ve compiled a list of seven harmful ingredients you should be wary of before buying your next lipstick, deodorant or face cream. 


Parabens are a class of widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast in creams, lotions, ointments, and other cosmetics, including deodorants. Sounds good, right? Not quite, there's more to the story. Parabens contain estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors. Alarmingly, you can also find these dangerous chemicals in food and pharmaceutical products.


Derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, toluene (you may see it on labels listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene), is a strong solvent that can dissolve paint and paint thinner. Commonly found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color and bleaching products, toluene is a petrochemical that can affect the respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage to the fetus. If you’re still unconvinced of its harmful impacts on your health, this potent chemical has been linked to immune system toxicity.


A colorless, flammable gas often used in cosmetics to help protect products against contamination by bacteria during storage and continued use. The two known categories of products with the most formaldehyde are hair straightening treatments and nail hardeners.

The most common side effect of formaldehyde in cosmetics is skin irritation, including scalp burns and hair loss. But the major concern is that formaldehyde causes cancer. The National Toxicology Program’s 2011 June report classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen under conditions of high or prolonged exposure—conditions typical for industrial workers and professional groups, including embalmers and even salon workers.

Synthetic colors

If you glance at your product label and notice FD&C or D&C, they represent artificial colors (F — representing food and D&C representing drug and cosmetics). These synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar source (lovely, isn’t it?). Banned by the European Union, synthetic colors are suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and have even been linked to ADHD in children.

Propylene glycol

Commonly used as a skin-conditioning agent, propylene glycol is a synthetic organic alcohol. It has been associated with causing dermatitis as well as hives in humans — sensitization effects can be manifested at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2 percent! Widely used because of its relatively low cost and versatile nature, it can be found in moisturizers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoo and hair sprays.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

This surfactant appears in more than 90 percent of personal care and cleaning products (think foaming products). SLS’s are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants. A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage. They can be found in shampoos, body washes, mascaras and acne treatments.


A group of chemicals used in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. The main phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products are dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions, and dimethyl phthalate in hair spray. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females. You can spot them in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers.

Finally, as a general tip try to always opt for products with as few ingredients as possible. That way, you can rest assured that you’re being exposed to fewer chemicals overall. While change is not always easy, it’s time to apply a more considered approach to our beauty regime. Nourish your skin as you do your body.

Green is beautiful

 – Written by Sofia Sosunov

Smiling Your Way to Wellbeing

 In the midst of hectic schedules, social stresses and the rushed lifestyle associated with modern urban living, it’s easy for negative thoughts to arise and accumulate on our faces. We sulk, scowl and frown to express irritation or frustration when things do not go our way. And while being told to cheer up is the curse of the downturned mouth, smiling amid the mayhem may not only make us appear more approachable but be the key to good health and longevity.

According to Taoism, "emotional intelligence" is the process of recognizing emotions by their effects on the body, and employing exercises that transform negative sentiments into positive life force, or Chi. The life force stems from the vibratory nature of phenomena: the flow and tremoring that is happening continuously at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels. One of the most ancient Taoist Inner Alchemy (Neidan) practices, is the "Inner Smile." Normally we think of a smile, as an expression of friendliness or benevolence directed towards other people. But with the Inner Smile meditation, we offer the smile to ourselves, directing it towards our major internal organs. According to the Tao, different physiological systems store different emotions, and therefore organs have different energies. The Inner Smile meditation focuses on five organ systems: the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the liver/gall bladder, and the stomach/spleen. Starting as a mere facial expression, the smile spreads to soften the whole body, dissolving malevolent energy and replacing it with gratitude and serenity, empowering us towards strength and restoration.

While you may be unconvinced of the merits of a simple smile, before you raise a sarcastic eyebrow or pull a frown, you may want to consider the implications. Prominent French physiologist, Dr, Israel Waynbaum, found that facial muscles used to express emotion activate specific brain neurotransmitters. His research shows that frowning triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline. Stress doesn't merely turn our moods a little sour, it spikes blood pressure, weakens our immune system, accelerates aging, increases our susceptibility to anxiety and can lead to weight gain (especially around the abdominal area). Meanwhile, the effortless act of smiling changes your brain chemistry. It signals the body to release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, which give us a natural high, and help to fight off depression, reduce pain and relax muscles. Smiling also releases immune-boosting T-cells, which defend the body against germs, viruses and bacteria and accelerates healing.

But what if we don’t feel like smiling? Can we fake it until we make it? Although a genuine smile has a deeper impact, a surface smile tricks the brain into producing the same chemicals. And scientific studies have shown that the more we smile, the more we want to smile. As Buddhist monk and global spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

For a detailed guide to the Inner Smile Meditation see:

 – Written by Sofia Sosunov

When Do You Feel Most Beautiful?

As we brave the chilly Dumbo wind and get ready for holiday parties and makeup, we took a moment to reflect on the elements of beauty, and interviewed some of our favorite women about when they felt most beautiful.  Interestingly, not a single one mentioned a specific lipstick, purchase or outfit.  

So, in direct defiance of the $60B+ beauty industry, of which we are a tiny sliver, it seems that beauty is an internal state after all.  Here are snippets from our conversations.  Enjoy... 


The incredibly beautiful but still down to earth green beauty and holistic living advocate, Laura, from Laura's Natural Life.  Laura's blog is full of thought-provoking articles about things beyond beauty like chemicals used for home construction, women's health issues, etc. and she has a superb YouTube channel:

"Probably on vacation, with a little bit of a tan, minimal makeup and windswept hair!"


Ashley Neese is another of our favorites, a writer, breathwork healer, and multi-talented empath who works with women on complex emotional issues.  A snippet of her philosophy can be found here:  "I am here to hold your hand, not because you are broken, but because I really see you."  She can be found at Ashley Neese.

"I feel most beautiful when I am laughing with loved ones."


The beautiful Lily, fashionista and creator of the Hello Darling Blog:

"Being a fashion blogger, you would think that getting dolled up for a shoot makes me feel the most beautiful, but honestly I just love taking off my face and getting into an oversize tee, hair up, comfy at home. This is where I'm in my element and get the most work done. It's not the most fabulous look, but it's where I'm the most productive, and to me, that's what makes me feel beautiful."


The gorgeous Melissa Tsai is a Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist, as well as the woman behind the meticulously researched The Guide to Wellness.  Her philosophy on beauty is holistic:  "clean beauty isn’t only about the products you can put on your skin, but also what you ingest and the positive thoughts you carry in your heart."

"I feel the most beautiful when I take care of myself or spend time on myself. For instance, after taking the time to wash my face and then applying my skincare or when I do a mask. I also feel really beautiful when I dress up and take the time to look nice. I also feel beautiful when I have nice clean skin and no makeup! I think the focus is when it is about spending those moments to love myself. Which I do every day as a routine and because its fun!"


Tricia Savino is a writer based in NYC although her writing focuses on beauty around the world.  Lovely and multilingual, she has lived on several continents; you can read more at the fabulous Ni Hao New York.

"I recently attended Rebecca Casciano's Sacred Beauty Salon series at The W.E.L.L. Summit, and I love what she said about using makeup not to hide who we are but as a tool for self-expression. I feel most beautiful when I root myself in my identity as a creation of worth and purpose, and this can be in the morning right after I've mindfully applied makeup to highlight my features or when I am bare-faced after my evening self-care routine."


Lovely Kimberly Loc is one of the most respected writers and journalists focusing on the green beauty space.  She publishes her superbly informative Kimberly Loc blog and is a media content strategist.

"I feel most beautiful after a great workout. Whether it's yoga, weights or even a simple walk, my beauty comes alive when I'm active."


Gorgeous Stephanie Bishop writes with a lot of heart about beauty and motherhood at Mrs. Bishop.  Her quote below made us cry.

"When have I felt most beautiful? I have 2 times in particular that really stand out to me. The first time would be my wedding day. And it's kind of funny, because looking back- my hair hadn't turned out as I had planned because we ran out of time. I was only 20 and did my own makeup. I wasn't nearly as skilled in cosmetics as I am now. But, I felt radiant as I was walking down the aisle to my Husband. The look on his face told me that I was the most beautiful woman in the room- the entire world- to him at the moment. The next time would be when I held my baby boy for the first time. I was exhausted and swollen and sweaty. My best friend even told me I wasn't looking too hot. But, when I look back at photos I see my smile and the sheer bliss on my face. Holding that sweet bundle after years of infertility and loss, I look strong and magnificent. Powerful, even though I felt physically weak.
It feels like sometimes we feel the most beautiful when we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of someone that we love."


The lovely and kind Emery Bryant is one of our yoga inspirations.  She can often be found standing on her hands at Emery Bryant.  

"I feel most beautiful when I'm relaxed and happy. When life gets too busy and stressful I feel like the strain shows on my face and in my body. In contrast, when I'm relaxed and happy I can't help but smile at even the littlest things. :)"


The beautiful Janet Valenza is the enterprising woman behind GoGoGracious, a unique fashion pop up experience.  

"I feel the most beautiful when I am rested, serene, well fed and hydrated, loosened up from exercise and most of all, dressed in a way I am comfortable. For me that means the right clothes for the occasion and the weather that fit well, flatter me color-wise and express my personality!"


The lovely Keri, creator of The Greenly Guide told us the following, which did not include a single make up item:

"I think the answer that comes to mind first, may be cliche, but I feel most beautiful every day being a Mom. Feeling beautiful to me is a feeling of confidence, and i feel most confident when I am caring for my daughter. She is the absolute greatest source of joy in my life and every single smile & 'I love you mama' from my sweet girl leaves me feeling on top of the world. Being a mom isn't always glamorous, but it makes me feel more beautiful than makeup could any day! :)"



How about you? :-)