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The cosmetic industry historical and background information in Epstein's "Toxic Beauty" book may be of interest to some, but it's a shame that this book wasn't researched more thoroughly as it contains some information that is innacurate or inconsistent and/or confusing for the reader. This book is not a helpful guide to finding the best truly all natural or authentic organic personal care products. The book contains a two-page chart of supposedly organic companies, but it appears that the author doesn't fully understand the USDA National Organic Program regulations as the chart is presented in a confusing manner. (see the issues outlined below.)
Interestingly, there is another new book with the same "Toxic Beauty" title, also published in 2009, that provides an excellent overview and intriguing insider view of the USA's cosmetic/personal care products industry, and the shocking international "organic" personal care labeling controversy. UK researcher Dawn Mellowship, the author of "Toxic Beauty," scrutinized countless journals, scientific studies, academic works and product labels to bring us a wealth of extremely well-researched scientific background material on personal care product ingredients and their health and environmental effects. Like a jolt of strong black coffee, the data presented is eye-opening and, at times, disturbing, but the book is woven in a logical stream into a well-organized and easy-to-read work with excellent citations. The book has a helpful personal care product ingredients dictionary and, for those who want to know how to find the best certified organic products, Ms. Mellowship's "Toxic Beauty" also contains many useful recommendations for genuine all natural and organic personal care products and companies, including a listing of the top ten certified organic companies. This alternative book is the top choice for anyone wishing to learn more about the USA's natural personal care industry. While the cover may not be as glossy and colorful as Epstein's book, don't let that deter you. This is a book that's definitely worth reading (and waiting for!). An additional plus is that this book contains more information and costs less.
Following are some issues with Epstein's "Toxic Beauty" book:
1. A shampoo that the author identifies as "safe" incorrectly lists only four of the product's ingredients -- none of which are foaming agents. When looking up the shampoo product's complete ingredients listing on several different internet retailer's web sites, one can see that the shampoo does contain additional ingredients, including several synthetic chemicals and preservatives. A red flag ingredient in the shampoo is an ethoxylated ingredient (the shampoo ingredient has an "-eth" suffix that, according to the author, is the indicator of an ethoxylated ingredient), an ingredient category that the author recommends avoiding in one chapter in which he reports that such ethoxylated ingredients can contain the toxic contaminant dioxane, a carcinogen.
2. Baby and adult products are recommended and, in the manner in which certain products are described, it appears that all of the ingredients are "organic" when they are not. Additionally, companies are identified as "organic" when the products that they make are not all USDA certified organic, and some have products that are not certified to any standard at all.
3. In one chapter, the author discusses the toxic potential of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (formaldehyde donors). However, in another chapter, products identified by the author as "safe" contain the preservative (sodium) hydroxymthlglycinate (sic) [proper spelling: sodium hydroxymethylglycinate] a known formaldehyde releaser.
4. The toxicity of a few DEA (diethanolamine) compounded ingredients are discussed in one section of the book, yet, strangely, the author recommends a product containing a DEA ingredient.
5. One paragraph in the book discusses chemical contamination problems with the ingredient called "grapefruit seed extract" (a supposed preservative) for which the author references a reputable scientific study, and the author reports "but the preservative action is actually due to contamination by the highly toxic hormone disruptor triclosan, or sometimes by the less toxic benzethonium chloride. Pure grapefruit seed extract has no preservative action whatsoever." However, confusingly, the author goes on to recommend several products as "safe" that contain this ingredient.
6. A cosmetic product is recommended as "safe" that contains carbomer, a synthetic thickener that is a petrochemically-reacted ingredient that may contain benzene (a carcinogen) residues as a result of its petrochemical manufacturing process.
7. Perhaps the most confusing and misleading section is the chart titled "Certified Organic Product Companies" in which numerous companies are listed that are not USDA certified organic and/or that may only make ONE or NO actual certified organic products. The author's chart confuses organic certifiers/inspectors with foreign organic standards and, perhaps most egregiously, confuses the USDA National Organic Program law -- the international gold standard -- with certifying inspection companies and industry-created "natural" standards (created by foreign trade groups) for so-called "natural" products/ingredients.
For anyone who is truly concerned about finding personal care products that are better options for you and your family and for the environment, look for products that bear the green USDA Organic seal on the front label of each container. Only products that have been certified to the USDA National Organic Program are permitted to use the seal on the front label of each bottle. If a product doesn't have the green USDA Organic seal on the front label, then that product is not a genuine certified organic product in compliance with our US national organic law. Don't let companies mislead you with their use of the words "organic," "organics," or "certified organic." Just remember -- if the product doesn't have the USDA seal, it is NOT an authentic certified organic product.