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Hair and skincare fatigue

Posted in Beauty, and Health

Graffiti by Anastasia Brennab
Graffiti by Anastasia Brennab

A couple of years ago, once I got home after a fundraising lunch, I looked in the goodie bag that had been left under my chair, and found a pair of attractive bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I had read about these products online, in passing – clearly a well orchestrated media campaign, if even I took notice.

The premise of Wen, the brand in question, was that they were natural, didn’t contain any of the chemicals that make shampoos lather and they would restore your hair to its lustrous health in a matter of weeks. The catch was that your hair would look limp and greasy for the first fortnight, until your hair adjusted to the new regimen.

The bottles sat in my shower for a week or so before I gave them a try – I immediately disliked their unctuosness, and washed it all off with proper shampoo. And promptly tossed them in the trash.

Fast forward two years later and I read in the NYT that Wen, the miracle product perfected by some fancy hairdresser and touted by celebrities, is being sued by over 100 people who lost most or all of their hair by using it. You read correctly – a shampoo that makes you bald. Upon investigation, the company has received over 20,000 complaints.

This story raises two points: 1. never believe the hype spread online 2. how is it possible that this happened to thousands of people and the FDA didn’t intervene? And, more importantly, how can we figure out what cosmetics are not harmful?

My excuse is that life is just too busy. I already spend so much time deciding what food to keep in my kitchen, and cooking it, that having to research every beauty product I use feels like an insurmountable task. But I also know we cannot rely on the governmental safeguards already in place. And then there are the urban myths that float around for years, such as the aluminum in deodorants being linked to cancer. What is one to do?

I try to buy products that are not tested on animals and, by and large, that information can be obtained on many sites, of which Peta is just the better known. I switched to shampoos that do not contain parabens, forcing me to remember my eyeglasses when I go to the market so I can read the miniature lists of ingredients. But there are endless lists to remember: what a sunscreen is supposed to contain; what shouldn’t be in your moisturizer etc, making the task of taking care of oneself ridiculously onerous.

The Wen family of haircare productsThe European Union is stricter in monitoring beauty products hence any formula made in Europe is more likely to be less damaging. Anything labelled “natural”, we now know has little meaning or veracity and I usually stay well away from it – there is a good chance natural hides something.

In the US, the FDA, that regulates food products, does not regulate cosmetics to the same extent. First of all, cosmetics companies are not required by law to report any adverse reaction consumers might have reported: not even death. So the FDA relies on consumers to directly contact the agency before an investigation can be opened. In the end, if any of the ingredients are not found to be contaminated or misbranded, there is not much the FDA can do.

In the case of Wen, the company has settled privately some of the lawsuits and the FDA has so far found nothing wrong with the shampoo ingredients.

Dianne Feinstein, the Senator from California, together with Senator Collins, have introduced a bill that would regulate the cosmetics industry a bit more tightly: companies would be required to report adverse effects and the FDA could order recalls of products found dangerous. The bill would force the collection of $20 million in fees annually, directly from beauty care companies. The American Cancer Society, Good Housekeeping, the Environmental Working Group all support it, as well as all the major beauty companies such Estee Lauder, Johnson and Johnson, Procter and Gamble (which account for so many brands such as Bobby Brown, Olay, La Mer etc). Many smaller companies are quietly lobbing against this: their main objection is to the fee collection and the forced recall.

For once, I find myself on the side of the behemoths who, often disparaged for not being “natural” enough”, wish for more clarity.

I often chastise my mother for her rebranding of the past: everything was better and easier when she was younger. I am not that sort of nostalgic but, in some instances, I am left to wonder if having fewer choices and less access to information was a blessing. I don’t really believe it but the work that is required of me as an average consumer can feel relentless!

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10 Comments

  1. As a long time skincare consultant that including shampoos and conditioners, I learned a lot about the FDA approval process. Sadly I think Madison Ave has a greater influence on beauty and even some health products than healthful ingredients. My rule is if I can’t pronounce it, I probably wouldn’t want to put it on (or in) my body. European standards are far superior in that regard.

    August 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Yours is a pretty good rule, one I have applied to food for a long time.

      August 24, 2016
      |Reply
  2. That’s shocking, that whole thing with Wen. Good thing you chucked yours out!
    And, yes, have to remember that there are a lot of poisons in nature too – “natural” is not always better.

    August 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Or, by slapping “natural” on a box, they hide the fact that certain ingredients occurring in nature are not necessarily good in large amounts – or processed to death…

      August 19, 2016
      |Reply
  3. When I started reading your post, my first thought was, “Great, Wen is basically marketing a No Poo (no shampoo) method without telling people exactly what it is; it won’t scare them, and they’ll have wonderful hair.” Then I cringed when you mentioned the baldness. What on earth is in those bottles?
    I don’t shampoo. I use shampoo bars that have only oils and no parabens or SLS, or alcohol. It’s just oils. I did go through an adjustment period but after that, I can now go up to a week without washing my hair (with shampoos that was only for two days at best). I’m glad I didn’t try Wen, I just went for good old fashioned simple soap bars…

    Now for the other problem you mention about cosmetics in the US: did you know that only 5 ingredients are banned from the industry? In Europe, it’s thousands. How can the disparity be this huge? It only tells me that US government is more interested in making money than it is protecting its consumers (incidentally, this is one of the things that makes me very fond of the Old Continent, and distrust American policies). I find that very scary.

    As for cruelty-free, it’s time America followed Europe and banned animal testing. What a medieval practice! I don’t like PETA so I prefer to look things up on Leaping Bunny. If you haven’t been to their website, they have a great database, particularly for US products.

    Finally, congratulations on not trusting the shampoo enough to keep using it! Baldness isn’t a ver “in” look this season 🙂

    August 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      The no soap/no shampoo movement is very active here which is why I was prepared to give it a shot. It doesn’t necessarily mean I would have lost my hair, most users didn’t, but I would have found it hard to get through the adjustment period. Although, had I gone bald, my non litigious nature would have reversed itself for sure….I have been using a hemp based shampoo that doesn’t quite lather but leaves my hair clean and soft.
      Yes, I am appalled at the lack of rules when it comes to cosmetics here – some States are better than others but it is just a confounding mess. (thanks for the Leaping Bunny tip).

      August 19, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Your mother certainly has a good point there.

    August 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Maybe. I can see how society and technology have changed by leaps and bounds during her lifetime but I don’t think it’s all for the worse. Or at least I try to keep this attitude so I don’t become an old fogey, always lamenting how, in my day, it was all so much better…

      August 19, 2016
      |Reply
  5. My frustration comes in finding something that works…..only to have it discontinued. I have used Dove soap since I was a teenager. Nothing else. Ever. I even travel with it.

    August 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I use Dove deodorant. Have used it for years and have the Italian version brought to me by anyone coming to visit..

      August 19, 2016
      |Reply

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