In this exclusive interview, I meet Dawn Mellowship, freelance journalist, and author of Toxic Beauty, a compelling look into the use of synthetic chemicals in every day beauty products.
Dawn, when you first started writing Toxic Beauty, what was your opinion of the cosmetics industry?
Prior to writing the book I purchased predominantly organic products and felt that the industry wasn’t paying enough attention to the risks involved in using cosmetics containing a myriad of synthetic chemicals.
Toxic Beauty is a real eye-opener for the consumer. I’m interested to know what kind of response has it received from the cosmetics industry?
I haven’t had much feedback from the industry to be honest. I contacted representatives while writing the book and they gave me the standard opinion of the industry that the chemicals are safe in the quantities used and adequately regulated.
I know from my experience of green/organic products that the purer, less chemically affected the product, the more expensive it is. Do you think this puts a lot of people off? What can be done about this, in your opinion?
Yes it does put people off, but the ingredients are more expensive for the manufacturers to purchase and they don’t have the same consumer base as mainstream manufacturers. Not all brands are extremely expensive.
Some consumers might choose to opt for store bought organic brands that contain less ingredients than mainstream brands, although not what I would consider to be ideal. In addition we use far more products than we need. An organic body lotion would serve equally well as a moisturiser and hair styling product (a make-up artist once told me she uses moisturiser on client’s hair to style it). So, it’s possible to cut back or choose a lesser evil if you cannot afford expensive products.
Since Toxic Beauty was published, have you seen any significant positive changes in cosmetics legislation in the UK, the EU, or the US?
Not in relation to my book no, but the EU has adopted more comprehensive chemicals legislation (REACH) and there are states in the US such as California that make more of an effort with cosmetics safety.
There’s a long way to go though. Synthetic chemicals are cheap and manufacturers aren’t in a hurry to sell organic products to consumers.
In Toxic Beauty, you discuss hundreds of different additives and chemicals – if you could name one that worried you the most, which would it be?
That’s too difficult, there are too many. I would probably say the toxic chemicals in hair dyes such as phenylenediamines as they have been linked to cancer in numerous studies and are left on the skin for a prolonged period of time. They also cause lots of allergic reactions.
I would also say phthalates, which disrupt the hormonal system. They are not so widely used in the EU but they are in the US and have been linked to birth defects in numerous studies.
If you could make one change to current legislation – thinking particularly about the UK -what would it be?
To test the chemicals in combination prior to going to market to see what happens when then these chemicals are combined, because the manufacturers test them in isolation and they really don’t know.
Finally – sometimes it seems like, everywhere you turn is a chemical laden product. You really have to hunt down alternatives. Which are your own favourite beauty brands?
MiEssence, Spiezia, Inika, Beyond Organic, Pai, Terressentials, Dr Bronners, Acure Organics, Organic Excellence, Nvey Eco.
Dawn’s book, Toxic Beauty, is available at all good retailers.
Visit Dawn’s Toxic Beauty website for comprehensive information on cosmetics ingredients and recommended brands.