The Beauty Industry’s Ugliness Revealed by “Not Just a Pretty Face”

stacy malkan

The other day while washing my hands in a public restroom, I could not help but notice a young girl putting on make-up and spraying her hair with some sort of hair spray. As she primped and checked herself and sprayed a little more hair spray, I wanted to reach over and stop her.  How could I explain that she was exposing herself to chemicals such as formaldehyde, heavy metals such as chromium and neodymium, toluene, phthlates, and acetone?  Like most teenagers, she probably would have rolled her eyes and thought I was a crazy woman.

The beauty industry promises us youthfulness and glamor but the ugly side is those same products are depriving you of your health.  Stacy Malkan’s book, Not Just A Pretty Face, chronicles the story of those women and men who sought to change the beauty industry to make cosmetics safer.

These brave people created the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, signed by companies that adhere to or exceed the European Union’s formulation standards, and the Skin Deep database, which provide detail information about the toxicity of 25,000 plus products.

As Malkan weaves us through the story of how “David” took on the Beauty giants, she sprinkles the book with anecdotal stories about women whose own lives were changed by illness that they feel were caused by the cosmetics they used. Each story bring the issue closer to home and makes us rethink is buying that new shiny red lipstick from a cosmetic company who has not signed the Compact worth our health?

Without giving away too many details of the book, one of the most disturbing elements that I found in the book is that the cosmetic industry is not regulated by the FDA. Instead, it is regulated by its own review panel and there seems to be no enforcement rights given to the panel.

For example, in the case of skin whitening cream, which contains hydroquinone used in Asian markets, the panel warned that this chemical is unsafe if left on the skin. Despite this warning, US companies continue to make this product. Moreover, according to the Skin Deep database, this chemical is a known animal carcinogen and is toxic to the skin, brain, immune system, and reproductive system. This chemical is banned in Europe but still sold in US products in concentrations up to 2% and in the Philippines, where the concentrations are unlimited, the product may contain up to 4%. Since the book went to print, this may have changed, but the beauty industry sounds like the wild, wild west to me.

In addition, I was disturbed by the higher rates of breast cancer among African American women. According to the book, African women use a higher percentage of beauty product compared with the general female population. Some of those products such as hair relaxers and placenta products contain toxic ingredients. Placenta products are used to make the hair stronger and more manageable. However, they contain an estrogenic hormone that is linked to early puberty and breast cancer. Why is this permitted?

As I delved further into the book I became more and more outraged by the cosmetic industry. How could they sell us products that contains ingredients that are toxic and hide behind the promise of making us beautiful? Malkan clearly portrays the cosmetic industry as the other inconvenient truth. Our quest for youthfulness and acceptance based upon how we look may be the bane of our existence. The chemicals in your moisturizer, lipstick or after shave could be making you sick.

This book is a must read for you as well as everyone you love.  Purchase the book here.  You will never look at your make-up drawer the same way again. Why? Most of it will be in the garbage where it belongs.

Photo via Amazon.  Check out the 50+ excellent reviews of this book.

Note: Purchases of this book via the GT store helps to keep the site going!  Help Green Talk and your health.  

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    This topic is just one of many that I struggle with as a professional hairstylist. We need to be reminded of the impact products have on our bodies. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. 4

    Green Talk says


    Is there a regulatory process for the FDA? (LOL) Fran’s book sound fascinating. Readers, read Jennifer’s last blog post about federal lawmakers agreeing to ban lead…in children’s toys and products. For my loyal readers, remember when I wrote about the Toy Database established in response to testing of toys by the Ecology Center, Washington Toxics Coalition, and others? See Obviously, their findings had impact. Anna

  3. 5

    Green Talk says


    I will be writing about a safer hair color later that you might be interested in. I am a human ginea pig for this hair color since I started turning gray when I was in my early twenties. Anna

  4. 8


    I am alwasys suspicouls of cosmetic companies, there seems to be a new chemical / magic ingredient released every week, and occasionally someone gets burned or has their hair turned green!

    I try to stick to natural products wherever possible and avoid new products, instead waiting until they have been on the market for a while.

    I dont think this industry is regulated well enough.

    Ahmed Ghds last blog post..GHD Limited Edition Dark

  5. 10


    Ya definitely….most of the teenagers are not aware of the harmful effects of various cosmetics,but really they have bad effects,i feel glad to visit this website and keeping all of us aware of those harmful effects.Thanks!!


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