Global Warming Effects Inside Our Own Bodies

Cosmetics with a Side of Infertility from the Toronto Star, December 27, 2007
People are applying a toxic stew of chemicals to their bodies daily, author declares, Heather Gehlert of
Carcinogens in cosmetics? Petro­chemicals in perfume? If only this were an urban legend. Unfortu­nately, it’s a toxic reality, and it’s showing up in our bodies.
In 2004, scientists found pesti­cides in the blood of newborn ba­bies. A year later, researchers dis­covered perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, in human breast milk. Today, people are testing posi­tive for a litany of hazardous sub­stances from flame retardants to phthalates to lead. In her new book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, Stacy Malkan exposes the toxic chemicals that lurk, often un­labelled, in the personal care prod­ucts millions of women, men and children use every day. AlterNet spoke with Malkan about these toxins and her five‑year Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to get the beauty industry to remove them from its products.

Question: There are so many envi­ronmental issues you could have written a book about, Why cosmet­ics?
Stacy Malkan: I think cosmetics are something that we’re all intimately connected to. They’re products that we use everyday, and so I think it’s a good first place to start asking questions. What kinds of products are we bringing into our homes? What kinds of companies are we giving our money to?

Q: It has something pretty interest­ing in common with global warm­ing, too.
SM: It does. I think of it as global poisoning. I think that the ubiqui­tous contamination of the human species with toxic chemicals is a symptom of the same problem (as global warming), which is an econ­omy that’s based on outdated tech­nologies of petrochemicals ‑ pe­troleum. So many of the products we’re applying to our faces and put­ting in our hair come from oil. They’re by‑products of oil.

Q: Many cosmetic products on the market right now claim they are pure, gentle, clean and healthy. But, as you reveal in this book, they’re far from it. Toxic chemicals in these products are showing up in people. What were some of the most sur­prising toxins you discovered in cosmetics?
SM: Lead in lipstick was pretty sur­prising. We (the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics) just released that re­port. Many personal care products have phthalates, which is a plasti­cizer and hormone disrupter. That’s‑ why we started the cosmet­ics campaign ‑‑ because we know that women have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies, and we thought that cosmetics might be a reason. There’s so much that we don’t know about these products. Many, many chemicals are hiding in fragrance. Companies aren’t re­quired to list the components of fragrance. Products also are contaminated with carcinogens like 1,4 dioxane and neurotoxins like lead that aren’t listed on the label.

Q: I just want to know what ingredi­ents to avoid, but you say protecting myself is not as simple as that. Why not?
SM: There are no standards or reg­ulations like there are in, for ex­ample, the food industry, where if you buy organic food or food labeled “natural,” there’s a set of standards and legal definitions that go behind those words. That’s not the case in the personal care prod­uct industry, where companies of­ten use wards like “organic” and “natural” to market products that are anything but.

Q: Generally spearing, risk assess­ment involves two factors: a hazard and people’s exposure to that haz­ard. Could you explain some of the unique challenges to assessing risks with cosmetics?
SM: Risk assessment is an extreme­ly oversimplified way of pretending we have enough information to know haw much chemicals we can tolerate in our bodies. A risk assess­ment equation will say, “How haz­ardous is a chemical, how much are we exposed to it from this one prod­uct, and. is that hate?” There’s a lot of information left out of that picture: studies that haven’t been done to determine impacts on fe­tuses, the feet that we’re exposed to so many of these chemicals in so many places every day, and the fact there have been no, or very few, studies about chemical mixtures.

Q: Do you think part of the problem with creating awareness around this issue is that the effects are toxins are often not that immedi­ate? People don’t say, “Oh, I’ve been to this toxic site and now I have a rash all over my body.”
SM: Right, and that’s what we hear from the cosmetics companies when they say, “Well, my product is safe if used as directed, and you can’t prove otherwise:” Which is true.

Q: Can you give me an idea of how many chemicals one product can contain?
SM: The average woman in the U .S. according to our survey uses 12 products a day with about 180 chemicals and men use about six products with 80 chemicals com­bined. But it depends on the prod­uct.

Q: What practical advice can you give to people wanting to clean up their cosmetics bags?
SM: My best advice is that simpler is better. Really, fewer ingredients, fewer products. For instance, hair colour and bubble bath are two things that I’ve given up. But there are a lot of good (non‑toxic) prod­ucts out there on the market and I would say start by switching out the ones that you use the most fre­quently like shampoo and deodor­ant that we’re putting by our breast tissue, experiment with different kinds of natural products and just make changes as you can. The onus at this point is on consumers to do our own research.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
SM: It’s really important to recog­nize that the beauty industry is all about profit and bottom‑line thinking. It’s not concerned about our health issues.

*To learn more and take action, visit Go to to find out what toxins are in your personal care products.
Heather Gehlert is a managing editor at

Zawadi African Tea

Sometimes shopping for Fair Trade items takes more time and effort. But there is way more satisfaction in knowing that your dollars are making a difference worldwide. Our dollars can be a gift – a gift with purchase! There’s something for everyone. I am so glad to have discovered this tea and its founder, Robert Kihanya. Please read on to learn more about this great venture, Zawadi African Tea.

Shortly after my return from East Africa, in 2006, I was doing my usual grocery shopping at Vallergas, a locally owned store in Napa. I was browsing the tea isle with my new awareness of Fair Trade products. In Kenya our group visited the Kimlea School for Girls and I had met these smart, clever, industrious girls and learned that most of their families made a living from picking tea in the Kenya plantations for $3.00 a day. A day.Now, back home in my cool, abundant American grocery store, I looked over all the beautifully colored packages of tea from all over the world. I narrowed my search for Kenya tea, and Fair Trade. On the bottom shelf there was a simple brown box with a black tea leaf and hand logo; Zawadi African Tea. I picked it up and sniffed through the cellophane wrap.
In my mind I was instantly transported back to Kenya – flashes of the dirt roads, the bright cloth, simmering stews, leather and beaded belts, and the wide, wide sky. “Wow!” I thought. “Who makes this? How come it’s so much like Kenya?” On the box I read: Zawadi means Gift in the Swahili language. The box told short stories of “Kenya family farmers” and “The Zawadi Gift” of giving a portion of the proceeds as a donation to the Kenya AIDS Intervention/Prevention Project Group,
I had to know more and researched the company’s website, I was delighted to discover that the founder and his company were right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wanted to know more about this project and I knew I wanted to contribute to it somehow. Longer story shorter…I am now working with Robert Kihanya and Zawadi African Tea as an Account Manager for Sales and Distribution. Who knew?!

When and why did you create the project of Zawadi African Tea?
I came from Kenya in the mid-1980’s and went to college in Texas. In the summer of 2002, I was visiting Kenya and I saw a lot of kids without a place to stay, orphaned by the AIDs virus. When I got back to the United States I wanted to create something to help. I wanted to create a project where people could buy a product that is essential to them and the proceeds would give back to the community. In Kenya I met a lot of members of the Kamuchege tea co-op. Kamuchege is the village in Kenya where I grew up. They asked for my help to look for a market for their product. Their problem is there are a lot of agents to buy the tea but the system is divided up among so many “hands” that it reduces their profit.

Is it a non-profit project? How is it funded?
Not a non-profit, but part of the proceeds go to the Kenya Aids Intervention/Prevention Project Group ( to help the orphans. Janet Feldman, Director and Founder of the organization reports to me on what the money is used for; for example, blankets for the children. Zawadi African Tea is a licensed, sole proprietorship and I am the President and Founder. In the beginning I funded the company with a loan from my 401k plan. This went to purchase the tea, shipping and to hire people in Kenya to get the product here. I also needed to fund the website design, packaging and marketing. My former girlfriend worked with me on the marketing and distribution. Now it is myself and two distributors. I also had help from friends and an intern from Golden Gate University majoring in Computer Science and Website Design. By the beginning of 2003 we had the samples and started marketing to stores and restaurants. Our first sale was in June of 2003 to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. They are still a steady customer for us.

What is your vision for the Zawadi African Tea business?
The entire project, Zawadi African Tea includes other items such as gift baskets with African art objects. The vision is to promote African products worldwide and for the business to grow and become self-sustaining. My goal is to quit my job and work this full-time, with staffing and partners and that it provides an efficient, sustainable source for the children in Kenya. I envision an annual income that would cover all the expenses and sustain substantial growth. The vision goes beyond the tea. It is to promote all kinds of African products, Fair Trade and organic products to support small farmers and artisans. And I have a vision for a future Zawadi African Tea Shop!

What are your biggest challenges in keeping the project going?
Advertising and sharing the products and getting customers. Tea has become a very competitive product on the shelf; it’s a challenge to stand out. We need to do demonstrations and tell the story. I look for committed partners to run with the project; people who have a passion for the story and the purpose and not just the tea. People who are supporting the project are consumers of Zawadi African Tea as well as well as business partners; not just looking for a job but enrolled in all aspects of the project.

What would be the best support, right away, that someone could do for Zawadi African Tea?
Buy the tea, drink the tea, learn about the story and then contact a store manager and ask them to stock Zawadi African Tea. Be an advocate for the whole project of Zawadi African Tea and Fair Trade and share this with their friends and community. If there is a store or retail outlet that someone has in mind, they can contact us by email: Robert Kihanya,; Arvis Northrop,

Alrighty then, let’s get started

I was going to call this blog “A Woman of the Middle Ages”, because that would be me and I thought my musings and trips and tumbles now at 50-something would be of infinite interest to many. Maybe…

But mostly I want to keep yakking and prodding about my advocacy for responsible travel and Fair Trade. I’m not perfect, I still shop at a big box now and then; but I spend extra time reading labels and browsing websites of products and companies to make sure I’m not contributing to ugly, unfair practices. And I want to include my brilliant friends and colleagues to contribute their passions and expertise on who knows how many subjects!

So this is the intro post. I haven’t even had breakfast yet; so I’ll be back….
(this is a short post, forget the “read more”…that’s a Blogger thing)