Tuesday, February 16, 2016 in , , , ,

Confessions From the Makeup Counter - how dirty are most makeup testers?

How dirty and contaminated with bacteria are most makeup testers in stores?

Imagine one day you're wandering the aisles of your local natural health food store.  You've got your coconut water, Brussels sprouts, trail mix and a chocolate bar flavored with 3 different exotic fruits and sea salt .  In your journey of sight, sound, and snacks you happen to meander into the bodycare section and notice that, hooray, your local store has begun stocking makeup!  And as is the way with impulse purchases you remember that the tube of your favorite lip color in your purse is indeed getting low.  Your hand starts to move toward the line of testers which are conveniently left open for you to try.  You're thinking maybe you'll give that more intense red a try this time.... and PAUSE.

How much bacteria is present on makeup testers at retail stores?  Which kinds of makeup are most contaminated?  How dirty are makeup testers?

This scene could be played out with in your local beauty superstore (sans Brussels sprouts) or perhaps your cosmetic stomping ground is at the department store.  No matter which venue you shop the reality is that the testers in all these locations have been touched by dozens or potentially even hundreds of people.  Human hands are major sources of contamination and the skin of all the strangers that came before you may have been a harbor for microbes that could be problematic for your health.  Staph bacteria and even E. Coli could be tagging along for the ride.  These are pathogens that can create a serious skin or eye infection depending on each person's unique vulnerabilities, so it's worth it to consider how well the location you're at is sanitizing their testers, if they sanitize at all.  Many simply do nothing and in doing so they let the germy good times roll.  

We talk a lot about toxin buildup on this blog, but the makeup tester type of contamination is a whole other can of worms.  Most makeup has some level of preservatives in it, especially if it has any moisture content at all, but any preservative system (even the synthetic ones) can get overwhelmed in the right situation.  Having a preservative doesn't mean the product can kill anything.  It's made to hold up to normal, everyday use.  In most cases that would mean one person possibly touching it once a day, not the onslaught of dozens of users that a big store might bring on in a single day. 

In a 1994 study in the Journal of Industrial Microbiology a total of 3027 shared-use cosmetic product samples were collected from 171 retail establishments throughout the United States.  Their analysis showed significant contamination in 50% of the samples taken, with average densities of "2288, 1685 and 1088 CFU [per gram] for face and lip products, respectively."  The legal limit in the USA set by the FDA is 1000 Colony Forming Units per gram with a lower limit of 500 CFU per gram for eye area products.  Numbers alone are not enough to judge, though, and a product could be deemed contaminated beyond acceptable use if a dangerous pathogen may be present - in other words a microbe that could harm that particular area of the body.  The eyes are particularly sensitive areas, and eye infections are a very possible result of contaminated tester usage.  Pinkeye is not a cute color on anyone, and certainly not what you want to be sporting after a few mindless moments at the makeup counter.  The extensive testing quoted above shows the eye products were some of the most contaminated products.  

More than 60% of the microbes found on makeup testers were typical specimens of microflora from human skin, meaning the contamination was the direct result of being touched repeatedly.  The remainder were environmental microbes from the items sitting out for long periods of time.  The air can carry yeast, mold, and sneezes from the toddler who came along on the shopping trip.

Testers in beauty superstores are left open to the air.  60% of microbial populations on products came from human hands.  The remainder was mold, fungus, and other airborne microbes from being open to the air all the time.
The sad fact is that most mass market locations have no substantial sanitation practices.  Employees are busy stocking shelves, taking inventory, or occasionally helping with product selection.  Sanitation takes a big back seat, and in many cases it would be nearly impossible to keep up.  Of the 5 people browsing the makeup section at the superstore at any given time the service staff can only help one while the other shoppers may be dipping and smearing their way through the tester stock the entire time. 

How much bacteria is on makeup testers in stores?  How many germs are on makeup testers?

The contamination goes up the more people shop at that location, even if employees are scraping the tops of products and following good hygiene protocol such as at department stores where there are more staff devoted to dealing with the products.  They just can't fight the flood of customers coming through, and while they're tending to someone's makeover a thoughtless shopper is rubbing their fingers on the blush.  They may not see or have time to deal with it before the next person comes by and does the same.  In an article by Prevention magazine testing showed that on weekends, when stores have the heaviest traffic, up to 100% of the testers showed contamination.

Eyeshadows showed the highest average content of bacteria of any makeup testers in surveys, and are likely to pass on eye infections.

Your eyesight alone is not enough to be able to judge if an item is clean.  You see pretty colors that might look great on your next night out, but it takes a microscope to see microbial contamination.  An eyeshadow that looks like a crater may look visually unappetizing, but one that only looks a little smudged can be just as problematic from a bacterial standpoint.   

When we opened Blissoma Botanical Beauty last fall and began stocking makeup I was happier than ever to have our Staff Esthetician Lauren on board to advise us about proper care of our testers.  She's fantastic with skin consultations, but she's also a former makeup counter employee and had a backstage view of the good and bad sanitation practices used in other environments.  With her we devised appropriate protocols for disinfection of testers and brushes after use to protect our clients.  Single use swabs are available throughout our space, and every client is assisted with testing products.  Since we are generally serving one client at a time we can supervise the and often apply products for the client, meaning no sneaky fingers in our testers.  That keeps everyone safe.

We use organic alcohol liberally in cleansing brushes and surfaces as needed, and are in a position to discard a tester if we feel it has become questionable.  Products in jars are sampled with a Q-tip, not with fingers, and any items meant for testing are stored closed to prevent infiltration by environmental contaminants such as airborne spores and germs from coughs and sneezes.  These measures make a low traffic, high service environment like ours that is staffed with trained professionals the best and safest place to test makeup. 

Lauren's attention to quality care for her clients is a big reason she fits in at Blissoma.  She wrote a bit for us about her experiences with sanitation and provided some tips on what you can do to keep yourself safe the next time you go shopping.

Lauren's Makeup Counter Memories 

Believe it or not there people who seek out a meticulous level of understanding of sanitation in the beauty industry.  These people want to ascertain everything from how long fingernail length should be to which direction you should wipe a cotton swab after extracting a blemish. (It’s down, by the way.)  These people are called estheticians and they spend months, some even years, studying skincare techniques, makeup application and the sanitation protocols for both.  Estheticians are also handy to have around when looking for more information on what procedures should be in place for a spa or retail boutique that sells makeup and skincare. 

I am currently a licensed esthetician but before I decided to pursue this career I got my start working at a makeup counter.  After working at the department store for about a year I decided that I wanted to learn more. I had gotten a glimpse of the makeup world through retail but I knew that if I wanted to take this seriously I would have to become certified. I set out for my esthetics license and passed my boards in 2011. It was in school I learned proper safety and sanitation procedures.  

Unfortunately I’ve also experienced several working environments where protocols start to lag.  With the busy pace of business staff can feel rushed, learn new habits, and pay less attention to the sanitation procedures they originally learned. In some cases employees may never have learned them in the first place. 

Cosmetics locations besides spas and salons may not hire people with an esthetics or cosmetology license to sell for them.That is not necessarily a bad thing if they still follow the same codes as licensed workers, but then as a consumer you are just leaving it up to good faith that they somehow have learned those codes from their place of employment.

At places like natural grocers that have makeup sections with testers and even at department store makeup counters there tends to be more foot traffic and more ways that germs and infections can spread through shared testers. Many of the retail workers I worked with at the department store cleaned the makeup brushes on a daily basis and tried as much as they could to discourage people sticking their fingers on and in products. Instead they would encouraged the use of disposable tools. On the other hand some makeup counters did not. The result is harmful to customers and to sales of products, as infections damages trust and causes customers to avoid trying the very products cosmetics companies are trying to demonstrate to them.  

Accidents and mistakes do happen but I am confident in my role here at Blissoma. Because we are independent we can spend more time with customers when they come in because there is no sales goal we have to hit hanging over our heads. We also have time to properly clean tools after consults, which makes a big difference in preventing the spread of microbes between makeup products and people.  

Brushes at a mass market beauty location that are obviously unclean.  Makeup brushes harbor bacteria when they are not sanitized properly.

The proper and frequent cleaning of brushes is a topic that all makeup artists should know well, and can be a problem area in some professional environments. I remember many times running out of brush cleaner at the department store and either going to other makeup counters and begging to use theirs or having to spray off a brush with water mixed with liquid soap and hope it got the job done. Makeup brush cleaner was treated like gold there. No one ever wanted to share it because it was rare to get more since each individual company was to supply their counter with their own. If the counter manager forgot to order more or the company decided that you get an allotted amount per a certain time period and then you run out before receiving more…well, it was up to us to figure it out. 

I really like that at the Blissoma store I have complete access to our makeup brush cleansers and can refill them whenever I need to. We use organic alcohol to disinfect brushes as a quick cleaning, and then wash brushes on a regular schedule or after any particularly heavy use.  

The type of makeup being sold can also have a big impact on whether or not testers may be contaminated. Mineral makeup composed simply of milled earth-mined pigments makes it harder for bacteria to flourish. There is no moisture or oil in a powder based mineral makeup, and that is the food on which microbes live. Pressed eyeshadows, blushes, and powders are much more likely to harbor pathogens because there is some type of binder always used to make the colors adhere into the pressed shape.  

Now, in no way am I trying to put down anyone who works at a makeup counter at a department store. This was one particular place at one mall in the state of Missouri. It was my experience and it was part of the reason that led me to wanting to learn more and become certified in what I do. There are many passionate makeup artists and skincare sales people out there that don't have a license and are still able to use common sense when it comes to sanitary practices and get the job done. I remain glad for my training, though, as it allows me to be confident that I am taking the best possible care of my clients. The bottom line will never come before being able to take some time out to properly sanitize my space before starting on my next makeup or skincare consult and that is good for me and for you! 
Tips to remember when testing makeup:
  1. Make sure whoever you are working with washes their hands or uses a hand sanitizer before touching you. If they don’t, you can always say you have just gotten over a cold and would like them to sanitize their hands before starting so you can avoid catching another while your immune system is sensitive.
  2. Look for accessible disposable tools like mascara wands, lip wands, q-tips, sponges and cotton balls - anything that can be thrown away after one use. Make sure they do not double dip with said disposable tool You cannot stop the general public from doing this but the person that is there to assist you should not re-use something made to be thrown away after one use. 
  3. Make sure they spray their non disposable tools with some type of brush cleanser before using on you. Typically I would trust there is something in there that will properly sanitize a brush after each use but if you feel inclined it is not odd to ask what they use to do this. Brushes should never look gunky, though sometimes, especially if it is during a busy day, you may see powder residue on some brushes but that should be easily wiped away by a spray on brush cleanser before use. Most places do wash their brushes with a gentle soap and water but this is typically done at the closing of the day because they don't dry fast enough to use again and need to dry over night. 
  4. Products packaged in bottles with pump dispensers or in squeeze tubes will be the least likely to be contaminated.  They do not sit open to the air and fingers are kept out.  You can feel much more confident about testing products in this type of packaging because the packaging itself protects the product.  Be far more careful about products in jars, pressed powders and eyeshadows, and, of course, lipsticks and glosses.
  5. In general always go with your gut feeling. If something looks used up, crusty or not well taken care of you can always pass on trying it. Never feel like you are being too picky. Many women have a hard time with this and don't want to ruffle anyone's feathers especially in a light hearted situation where you may find the person you are working with quite pleasant and don't want to offend them. In such a situation I would pull from my story above about the women who would not let me put the eye makeup on her. As soon as she told me she had a bad experience with an eye infection due to being in the exact same situation I immediately understood and did not push any further.
  6. If able, shop at a smaller business that staffs trained and optimally licensed beauty professionals.  The more personal their approach and the more training they have the more likely they are to follow proper sanitation procedures.  You can also observe the employees working before having any makeup applied.  If you observe them sterilizing tools, pencils, and other products before reuse you may feel more confident.
  7. If you do not have a cosmetics retailer near you that you feel you can trust then you can elect not to use store testers in your shopping process at all.  Simply inquire about the return policy for that store and purchase unopened product.  Save your receipt and return it in a timely fashion if you are dissatisfied. 
Good sanitation procedures never go out of style, these are some tips you can always use. If you feel inclined to question just do so. If there is nothing to hide people will be happy to explain what they use to make sure you are safe and feel comfortable. 

Note: All images for this post were taken at my local natural grocer and the beauty superstore in the shopping center nearby.  These are the real conditions of the makeup testers on display every day, and despite availability of employees in the aisles there was no routine maintenance or sanitation occurring in either location at the time of the visit despite shoppers actively interacting with testers.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 in , , , , ,

Another Silly Boy Blue (or The Death of David Bowie) - a tribute to living without fear

Another Silly Boy Blue (or the Death of David Bowie) a tribute to living fearlessly

There has been a ripple in collective consciousness with the passing of David Bowie this week, and this morning I felt the urge to take to my keyboard to try and capture some of what is pulsing through so many people.  I only write poetry occasionally but when I do I'm caught up in an insistent need to funnel a feeling into words.  Today was no different.  The opening phrases dance around in my head insistently, hinting at more to come.  I have learned not to ignore it because those words don't come back - it's a specific function of time, receptivity, and stimulus and it's then or never.  
As a college art student there were many discussions had about the role of the artist and art in society.  We pondered its purpose and effects.  Often it provokes, challenges, creates connection, and causes us to emote.  Sometimes it broaches a whole new idea.  Bowie did all those things, and his life itself was clearly a work of art.  My response is to create something in return.

For my own profession in natural and holistic beauty I do a lot of talking about living authentically and loving oneself radically and completely.  This is no small task.  The world is always full of messages that we should doubt ourselves.  I can't help feeling, though, that David Bowie had mastery in these practices.  The fact that he was able to live such a brazenly shameless life defying social norms and coloring outside the lines is a testament to his self assurance.  He knew what it means to be really free.   

Freedom is not to be confused with selfishness or myopia.  I've seen some Bowie quotes where he describes that his creative process is strongest when he is selfish and does what he wants rather than second guessing what the audience might want.  Some artists do have issues with being myopic or only self referential, but you can look inward and be tuned into others at the same time.  In fact the most pure life and creative direction I've ever gotten has come from that insistent voice inside myself.  The second guessing is just nagging doubt or a lack of steadiness.  When you have a creative vision, or are even just living your life as a regular person that doubt can interfere like radio static with you being tuned into your purpose.  

The magic and freedom and that people are ascribing to David Bowie is really something that belongs to us all.  We just forget it for a lot of reasons.  Some secrets of life aren't complicated.  Remember to be you, have confidence, show the world what you've got...  All basic, but they get murky amid the chaos of life sometimes.  Other people's insecurities can do a fantastic job of casting shadow on the rest of us, which is a real shame.  Bowie did a fantastic job of reminding us of our true formless, rainbow, space-cadet, unique nature by simply being himself.  His freedom empowered us all.

I wish I could say that I don't experience doubt, or that I don't ever dim my light for the sake of trying to get along or not make waves, but unfortunately that would be untrue.  I absolutely let doubt get the better of me and occasionally still minimize myself.  That has got to stop.  It's important for my work and more importantly for the fact that I have this one chance to be free.  I want to live it with the brightness knob turned up all the way.  So from now on anytime I start to worry too much about what other people will think or feel myself tamping down on my spirit of provocative play inside I'm going to remember Bowie and if I'm authentically feeling something I'm going to go for it.  My inner guides will steer my ship, not other people's hangups.  That's a promise.

This poem is not historical, obviously.  Half the work is purely imaginative.  But I'd like to think that with all the characters that Bowie created he might not mind another riff on his theme.  In fact I hit closer to the mark than I even knew when the idea happened upon me, as I saw this article on how David Bowie nearly committed himself to becoming a Buddhist monk only just this afternoon.  Previously I had never heard of that happening in his life, so it's extra interesting to me that the following is the way I felt and portrayed his character. 

Another Silly Boy Blue
by Julie Longyear

She had spent several lifetimes already
Living alone at high altitude
Amid the stark quiet
And unyielding surfaces
That marked geologic time
Instead of the soft, bruising years of flesh.
It was alright really.

She spoke mostly to herself,
Enjoying the way she could echo
Into the recesses of her rocky home
Or tell inside jokes to the wind
And know the eagles nearby would giggle
From their perch on a nearby peak.
Visitors were rare,
As might be expected.
Living at 16,000 feet is not exactly

Like laying out a Welcome mat.
Every day she watched the sky paint itself,
Playing shamelessly with every color.
The hotshot heavens and the spunky feathers
of rollicking flocks of airborne friends
Pressed themselves like paint
Into her insides, which she had emptied out
With generations of meditation.
And at the end of that life she found
That she was brim-full of fantastic visions
And the quiet had taught her
A hundred songs that no one else knew
She longed to hear them sung by
A thousand voices that never knew
They could sing together so well,
A spontaneous choir spread across time and space.
Besides, living in caves had become trite
And people had become busy
With so many cacophonous distractions down below
That they weren't listening to the wind
Or looking at the sky like they used to
When their ancestors foretold more than just
The Weather from the clouds and stars.
So as she drew her last breath she bade

Goodbye to the crystal-built rocks,
The shiver-crisp air,
And solitude.

It was time to go back to Earth.

Not long was spent inbetween
Moving directly like current in wire
Spirit infused its sparkled-song-electron-attraction,
Meeting flesh in the warm dark of wombly dreams
And when he awoke the Inter-Body Express
Had erased most of what had come before.
(it's part of the price of the ticket)
And he found he wore
An unremarkable name
That cloaked him to walk amongst those
Who had never had eagles for friends.
He had forgotten words
And the doings of previous days,
But he found that he was so full
Of colors doing sunset dances behind his eyes
That he longed to show them
On his skin.
And the songs that had sprung up
From the barren rocks and air
Like tenacious flowers still clung
Around him like his pores
Oozed unrelenting perfume.
But people no longer sat around fires
To tell stories and sing.
Instead they gathered around boxes
To broadcast sound and light.
And the stars they knew
Were no longer in the sky.
Even in his time-travel amnesia the guru knew
There were many things to do.

He painted his face and wrote poems,
Which really all gurus riddle and rhyme
Because it's against the rules to just
Hand out the answers.
And his songs spun themselves, shimmering
From his lips, throat, and chest
Entwined with secrets of being
And smacking of the strangeness
That living alone in open spaces 
Tends to impart.
And when those more earthbound
Would see him
They felt suddenly, uncommonly free,
Intoxicated by the peculiar lightning bolt brother
That electrified their cells with epicine energy
And caused them to erupt into
Sudden colored-cloud, secret-joke joy.
He lured them to lessons
Where dancing their own way
Was the master class
And the only way to fail was to
Follow someone else.
And he shined up his plain name
With a plucky new one
And then took a few more names besides
Because just one wasn't enough
To fit the whole of himself into
Alongside every he and she that had come before.

It's not easy to teach
How the light of the stars isn't steady
And is made of ever-burning cataclysmic pulses
And that even subatomic particles
Prance with one another
To music we are too distracted to hear.
But for those that were listening
He sang and woke sleeping cells in their bones
That still remembered being space rocks.
It wasn't equations
It was strange experience
Infused from soul to soul
And carried as if by solar wind,
Circuits overloaded with sudden brightness
And a deep, discerning sense of self.

Prophets don't preach 
Like they used to and you know
That anyone too loud about themselves
Has something to hide.
And so when he knew
That his song and dance was ending
He orchestrated it with quiet determination.
One last lesson
On how to live
And how to die.
This time instead of leaving for one life
His soul sent transmissions
Outward like a noble supernova
Planting spark-bright seeds
and shining his prism-split colors
Wherever they landed,

Like breath for hungry lungs,
Leading us to live fearlessly
And authentically
As ourselves.

Thursday, December 3, 2015 in , , , , ,

"Play" beauty products for kids - a gift with hidden health problems.

Little girls love to play with makeup and nail polish, but there is a more serious side to this issue than your favorite lipstick getting smushed.  (Though yes, I agree, that is a minor tragedy)

Littles love to do what mom does, and if mom is using color cosmetics they'll want to as well.  In order to prevent the toddler or tween tornado from twisting through your stash it may seem like a great idea to get them some stuff of their own.  They'll feel special, and the items even come marketed for the younger crowd so they know it's just for them.  Problem solved!  Your products are safe and the kiddos are happy.... but....

Unfortunately most people are buying their daughters, nieces, fabulous little boys and grandbabies very cheaply made products packed with hormone disrupting chemicals, synthetic colorants, petroleum compounds, and synthetic preservatives.  Even worse, the additional chemical load can affect kids even more than a fully grown adult.  Their systems are developing and changing quickly, and genes are being turned "on" and "off" by their environment and experiences.  Anything that can alter that is something to consider carefully.

Hormones especially are subtle compounds, and a little this way or that can cause a lot of change.  That is why hormone disrupting chemicals should have you acting like the bouncer at an exclusive nightclub keeping their skeezy selves out.  They'll ruin the party, if not right away then later as they try and pair up with all the pretty estrogen receptors.

Image credit: National Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences
Endocrine disruptors act as hormone mimics and blockers depending on the situation and the compound.  They can sit in the estrogen receptors and other hormone reaction sites and block hormones from chemically matching with where they need to be.  They can also turn hormonal functions on and off sometimes too.  This is big trouble for the littles.

The earlier in life that the human body is exposed to especially hormone disruptors like pthalates the greater the long term damage can be.  Eventual results with habitual exposure can include abnormal hormonal development, fertility problems, and eventually even cancers of the endocrine system.

(Want more details?  Read this in-depth article from Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just A Pretty Face, who has done all the research for you)

A future of chronic disease and pervasive hormonal dysfunction is not the kind of gift you want to bestow on the next generation.

Instead we highly recommend that you skip the toxin-laden "play" makeup and head straight for cleaner, endocrine disruption-free, natural options.  Get them products to play with, but give them something good quality.  That way when their face is smeared with it, or they are doing their nails for the third time that day you can simply say, "that looks great!" without worries about everything that might be leaching into their system

Nail polish is one of those products that little girls adore, and yet is the most insidiously harmful for health, as it has for generations been made up of solvents that otherwise would come with a litany of warnings.  Just as a sample let's review how Toluene, a solvent in conventional nail polish, would generally be labeled.

Toluene safety label text:
"Highly flammable liquid and vapor. Causes skin irritation. May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways. May cause drowsiness or dizziness. May cause genetic defects. Suspects of damaging the unborn child by inhalation. May cause damage to the central nervous system by inhalation."

My daughter has far more time to paint her nails than I do.  That means a lot more chemical exposure.

For your little ladies (or any polish lovers) we are delighted to share an upgrade that will let the kids feel pretty and you feel like they are protected.

AILA Cosmetics
a Physician-Formulated collection of nail colors, base and top coats, and natural, fume-free soy based remover.  They sell online and through stores like Blissoma Botanical Beauty.

AILA offers a lovely range of more than 25 colors in shades from reserved to rowdy that will make all ages happy.

Even their polish remover is nontoxic and healthy for nails.  It is completely odorless and made with soybean esters that gently remove polish from the nail and leave it nicely moisturized.

The big baddies in many widely sold nail polishes are:

- Toluene (industrial solvent and nervous system toxin)

- Dibutyl Pthalate (plasticizer and hormone disruptor)

- Formaldehyde (carcinogen)

- Formaldehyde Resin (allergen)

- Camphor (poisonous and causes yellow staining of the nail)

AILA is also free of:
- TPHP, another endocrine disrupting compound science has just been identified that is in even many 5-free polishes.  The lack of TPHP makes AILA unique in the nontoxic polish world.

How do all the junky chemicals get from the bottle into our bodies anyway? 
Your fingernails are not impervious surfaces.  You are not Lady Deathstrike and they are not made of adamantium, though I'm sure that we all often pretend like they are when attempting to perform tasks such as trying to use a fingernail as a screwdriver because despite having purchased an entire set none are anywhere to be found at times of need. (or is that just me?)  Fingernails are porous and can absorb chemicals that are put on them.  You also inhale the vapors during application - that characteristic smell is the aroma of nervous system damage.  OSHA even has a special mention on the health hazards that nail techs experience as part of their jobs being exposed to glues, polishes, removers and more. "Workers exposed to chemicals found in glues, polishes, removers, emollients and other salon products may experience negative health effects such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses, skin disorders (e.g. allergic contact dermatitis), liver disease, reproductive loss, and cancer."

Uh, yeah.  So tell me again why we are letting our kids fool around with cancerous solvents?  I'm thinking "because it's pretty and that color is in season" is just not enough.  

Some polishes available at larger chain stores like Essie and even Sally Hansen have gone "3 Free" which means they are free of Toluene, Dibutyl Pthalate, and Formaldehyde.  That's better than nothing, but we were super excited to find a line like AILA that was brought to life specifically to bring us the fun of polish without the risks of the additional chemicals.  As well, when big lines eliminate chemicals that are getting bad press sometimes they do so without adequate research and care, which makes the attention that Dr. Cary, the AILA founder, has given her work extra special.

Note: It is not news to me as a formulator and chemistry-lover that there can be problems with some "replacement chemicals" that are quickly substituted into conventional beauty products without adequate research.  Firstly industry wants a fast replacement, and if there is no research there can be no direct harm proven, so they stick something in that isn't the old stuff.  Zippity-doo-da, it's new and improved!  The new compound may be a mimic of the old one and just go by another name, or it may be a totally new can of worms. 
This has been an issue as many mainstream brands have tried to go "paraben free".  They stick in a new ingredient like methylisothiazolinone which isn't a paraben, but is a serious skin irritant.  People then have rashes popping up and don't know why, but it's because the choice of preservative wasn't made with health in mind, but rather mass production

If you're buying a beauty gift for a little one this holiday season or anytime we want to ask you to please buy clean, natural, nontoxic beauty products.  Look for declarations like "5-free" on nail polishes for the cleaner options, or even better look for brands that declare TPHP-free (there aren't many yet besides AILA).  For makeup please look for plant-based recipes and no FD&C colorants.  A line that specifically declares their colors are solely mineral based is best.

And skip all the synthetically perfumed lotions, shower gels, and spritzy stuff (whether cheap or designer).  Synthetic fragrances are like taking a bath in Pthalates, one of the worst types of endocrine disruptors.  While nail polish companies have been working to remove it the fragrance industry hasn't budged much.  Pthalates allow them to make fragrances seem stronger and last longer, and it seriously screws with their product structure to eliminate it.  Pthalates do absorb through skin and should be avoided as much as humanly possible.  Drop the freesia body spray like it's hot.

Yes, cleaner products sometimes cost a little bit more and you will almost assuredly not find them at the mall, but the peace of mind they buy is priceless.  When the wrapping paper is off, the bottles are empty, and your children are grown you'll know that they didn't get left with nagging health problems as a result of prettying up.  Health and wellness is the best gift of all.

Sunday, November 29, 2015 in , , , , , , , , ,

Great leaps and Gratitude - Blissoma Botanical Beauty is open

For 5 months my life has been a whirlwind of soapy water, paint, wood dust, stain, polyurethane, glue, nails, screws and everything construction-related as I renovated the space that now holds the Blissoma Botanical Beauty Boutique.  I took possession on July 1 and quite literally right away I dove in headfirst to the work that needed doing.  I barely came up for air.  I've worked from home for years, and the immersion at the new location was complete.  I basically came home only to eat dinner, shower, and sleep most days.  My family was informed that I was essentially unavailable, given apologies, and asked to be patient for a bit with the greater good in mind.

This week the store finally opened after construction delays galore and slogging through all manner of unexpected problems including a basement full of smoke (turns out decades-old electrical circuits don't love being messed with), and staff having personal emergencies that took us down by one member.  Nothing about the second half of 2015 has been easy.  Having completed our first week open for business I feel more like I can reflect properly and meditate on the gratitude I feel. 

In 10 years in business I've watched dozens of small businesses (especially retail) start up and then really struggle and often fail for a wide variety of reasons. I have even seen it happen to friends, and it has been a cautionary tale for me. The cost of renting and running any kind of space capable of retail is high and so is all the pressure that puts on the business. It's a very real "sink or swim" test and you have to be ready for that level of intensity. Some people get into retail without really knowing what it will be like. I did not. 

I got in full well knowing the commitment of time, energy and money it would require after seeing the process many times over with friends and acquaintances. All those factors were reasons that I stayed incubated in my residential space for as long as practically possible. It was only when we were literally bursting at the seams and could not even store the supplies we needed to process the orders we were getting that I was ready to make this leap for our production and sales needs.

Even with an existing sales base, reasonably reliable cash flow (for our size) and a talented staff the growth step we've taken is still a major risk. Everything I have done since around 6/1/15 (when the lease was signed) and through at least that time in 2016 is important. I have to be on my game at every moment, operate efficiently, and use my time and energy wisely. There is no room for serious errors. I can't afford to take my eyes and intention off my vision.

Even with the fact that I know for sure that we are offering products and services that people truly need one still has moments of dire doubt. It did my soul so much good to see so many friendly faces walk through our doors this week. Some were my dearest friends who have helped support me and talk me through moments of crisis, big and small. Some were people that I've never seen in person but have followed us online, and some were totally new clients that discovered us for the first time. All of these gave me so much hope and truly refilled my emotional tank, and their consciously spent financial resources will contribute towards our practical survival. Both of these things were necessary right now, and I feel extremely grateful and lucky for both.

Despite the fact that sales is a totally learned skill for me I have sold products in many environments. I spent years doing demos in natural foods stores, which in general was just painful for me and also not the greatest energetic interaction with clients (though that had nothing to do with what I put into it!). Even if you have something great to offer people you still have to offer it in the right way and at the right time. The recipient has to be ready or defenses go up and they will likely reject it.

Seeing products sell in another dear friend's natural beauty store several years ago was one of the key things that helped convince me that there was a better way to sell my type of product - better for me and for the client. It is so much more effective to give people the space they need to desire an interaction, and to willingly enter into it. Prioritizing service and education helps people choose for themselves rather than having something shoved at them. It was a beautiful thing seeing so many people thoroughly embrace clean self-care and health sustaining products this week through our gentle and respectful sales process.

People left our store feeling better about their appearance, more like the version of themselves they are delighted to present to the world, and like they knew what to do with what they purchased to positively impact their daily lives. I am truly honored to be instrumental in helping create that feeling for our clients. As much as I'm happy about seeing my business grow and flourish, this impact on people is the thing about which I feel best.

Many small businesses would not have had the blessing of such a solid first week of sales. I know this is partly good planning on my part, but it is also partly good fortune and the goodwill of our community. It gives us the chance to keep going and to do much more.

I am thankful to so many people for putting up with me through what has arguably been one of the most important and stressful 6 months of my life. It has not been an easy ride, and I wouldn't have made it through without each of the people that spent time and energy helping make it happen. I did a lot, but I'm more aware than ever of how much I need everyone around me to be the best version of me that I can be. To my family, my friends, and my clients I continue to owe my absolute best. I will continue to give it.

Blissoma Botanical Beauty is located at 2730 LaSalle Street, St. Louis, MO 63104 in historic Flower Row.  We are open 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday and 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday currently.

Our skincare pros and makeup artists are available for consultations, color matching, and assistance creating your unique look with nontoxic, healthy beauty products every day.  Please come visit us

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 in , , , ,

The Ugly .01% Secret of Active Ingredients in Skincare

Unless you hold a chemistry degree shopping for skincare can be confusing.  Consumer labeling standards have at least helped to clarify what is actually in each mysterious bottle of lotion or potion.  You can always check the ingredients panel to try and discern if the sales pitch matches the pith of the product, but even this area is a place that manufacturers play games.  They know many shoppers will breeze past grand claims of transformation and head straight to see what active ingredients are included in the nitty gritty, detailed list.  Some legal standards apply, but there's still plenty of room to manipulate. 

The ingredients list can both reveal and conceal.  In many cases the ingredients list itself is a smokescreen, obscuring that most skincare products don't have optimal, effective concentrations of the ingredients they claim are in each bottle. 

The reality is when you buy most drugstore and even many department store skincare products what you're buying is mostly emulsifiers, solvents, and water even when trendy actives appear in the ingredients list. 

The skincare and cosmetics industry is largely powered by marketing. Most companies spend far more on their promotion, advertising, and the perfect sales pitch than they do on the actual ingredients in the product they are selling to you. They capitalize on vanity, fear, and the customers’ lack of knowledge about chemistry. They prey on the fact that many people will pay dearly and believe marketing pitches that sound more like fairy stories than like chemistry.  While I love a good fantasy tale I'm not looking for one in my facial products.  Stories of rare and exotic ingredients create fervor and a mystic quality to a cream or serum… Sadly the story is often all they are actually selling, as the product inside is but a pale shadow of what is advertised. 

One of the ugliest, dirtiest secrets of the skincare world is that mass market formulators are actually *taught* how to basically defraud customers in designing recipes. Experts teach how to use the minimum quantity of an herbal or "active" ingredient in a formulation just to be able to put that ingredient on the label for marketing purposes. That means that even though you may see "Coenzyme Q10" or a list of fancy extracts on the label the dilution is taken so far as to render them completely ineffective. In chemistry and biology it often takes an optimal concentration of a compound before any noticeable effect is achieved, so this deliberate limiting of actives strips all the benefits from products. Well, at least all the benefits to the client’s skin. 

The cost savings from putting in the minimum of actives means bigger profit margins for brand owners. Actives are often the most expensive part of a recipe and also the most desirable to clients because of their benefits. If a product appears to have valuable actives in it then it will command a higher price and likely sell better, especially if the active ingredient is trendy. The combination of higher retail price and lower production cost is a set of practical, profitable business assets that many company owners find it hard to ignore. When profits are more important than people many ugly decisions are made in the name of “beauty”. 

Sometimes the skincare entrepreneur doesn't even know the optimal concentrations of ingredients.  The prevalence of contract packaging firms means many beauty company owners are far removed from the actual design of their recipes.  It's really rare that the company owner is actually the chemist.  Generally a chemistry buff and a marketing brain don't exist simultaneously in the same skull.  The beauty entrepreneur may select a base emulsion and then instruct the contract manufacturer to add several botanicals or extracts because they know those ingredients are "hot", but they've never actually researched what concentrations will provide true benefits.  The disconnect in this situation is immense, and only serves to create further confusion for customers.

Here is actual advice given by a mass market cosmetics formulation "expert" from a skincare industry group, paraphrased by one of the chemists who partook in the lecture: 

"* since your customer doesn't distinguish whether there is any extract (expensive ingredients used only for claims) in the product or not, you can reduce its concentration to the lowest possible concentration, let's say 0.01%, just to mention it on the label but you don't need higher concentrations that would unnecessarily increase the costs of the product without any function 

** increase the solvent concentration and reduce the active ingredients concentration to reduce the costs: water concentration in water based products MINERAL OIL or PG in non-aqueous product" 

This is the reality of the majority of products available through mass market sales venues.  Promises are peddled and broken on a daily basis, with profits continuing to flow into the pockets of duplicitous companies.  

In addition filler ingredients are not "neutral" for many people.  Many will likely cause skin irritation for many customers, prompting the inflammation, acne, and other problems the item was purchased to fix.  Silicones often cause breakouts as they form a film over pores. Petroleum fillers and synthetic emulsifiers can confuse and clog skin, damaging its protective barrier and microbiome. And water? You can get that from the tap for free.

You deserve so much better.

That is why the staff of Blissoma gets up every single day to make potent, authentically plant-based skincare. We don't put in the minimum of active ingredients. We put in the maximum. Every single recipe is absolutely packed to a point where we can't even fit anymore extracts, healing oils, and vitamins in without the emulsion coming apart or actives not staying in solution. Our potency is why our products heal, brighten, firm, hydrate and truly rejuvenate skin. 

Our potency is egalitarian. We pack in the actives because we believe everyone deserves to feel and look their very best. Good skin nutrition is key to achieving that end. Nutrients yield results so we make sure that our products are like a gourmet, whole food, herbal supplement for your skin. We’re gorgeously genuine and radically respectful of our clients. We don’t tell slick stories. We just want you to have a real daily romance with powerful plants. 

In our new store opening Fall 2015 in St. Louis we’ll be able to proudly show people our uniquely concentrated herbs extracting in jars, the pure, nutritious seed oils awaiting blending, and all the other healing ingredients we keep on hand. Our production area will be available to view so clients can get an intimate peek at what we do each day to earn your trust. Blissoma’s “put in the maximum” philosophy will be on display every day. 

Don’t be sucked in by the .01% secret. You are more than a number, more than a profit margin to the team at Blissoma. Get into a real relationship with your skincare brand and make sure you’re getting the actives and the results you deserve.

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