Dear Cover Girl: We Want Non-Toxic Products

By Stacy Malkan   |  35Comments|

I love to wear makeup, feel sexy and look my best—I just want to do it without rubbing cancer-causing chemicals on my body.

Does that make me a stick in the mud? Am I anti-beauty?

Cover Girl (by Procter & Gamble) seems to think so. The mega makeup brand has launched a new “Dare to be Beautiful” ad campaign, complete with $50,000 cash prize and a host of celebrities led by Drew Barrymore (see my Love Letter to Drew) who will “defend beauty’s honor” – apparently from environmentalists and feminists like me.

“Some people have tried to make beauty an ugly word. They say it’s cold, false, intimidating. We say: stand up to that! Stand up for beauty that makes you LAUGH, that makes you THINK, that makes you get out there and create some beauty of your own!” states the Cover Girl “Declaration Cloud.” (via Virginia’s beauty-schooled blog)

Instead, how about this: stand up for beauty that ISN’T TOXIC to our bodies and our souls; for beauty that is HONEST about what people really look like, and contains SAFE INGREDIENTS that won’t damage our health and our children.

Is that too much to ask of beauty?

Is it too much to ask Procter & Gamble to give it a rest with the patronizing ad campaigns, and take a look in the mirror? They might notice a few flaws that need fixing. For example:

P&G recently agreed to reformulate Herbal Essences shampoo to reduce 1,4 dioxane, a cancer-causing petrochemical. Good first step, but new product tests also found high levels of 1,4 dioxane in P&G laundry soaps Tide, Ivory Snow and Cheer.

Tests by the FDA and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found higher levels of lead in Cover Girl lipsticks than many other brands.

Cover Girl makeup is a leading user of quaternium 15, a known allergen and skin sensitizer that can release formaldehyde (a carcinogen) into products.

Considering the mind-boggling volume of P&G products—and their plans to add a billion new customers in the developing world—cleaning up these problems would go a long way toward reducing the planet’s toxic load.

It would go a long way toward protecting our health and defending beauty in the world. So what do you say, Cover Girl? Let’s rock it with some non-toxic products!

UPDATE: In my last blog, I wrote about the Axe craze and the lame NYT story that failed to mention concerns about hazardous chemicals in male body sprays. Well, the state of California is certainly concerned. Last month, they slapped Axe’s parent company, Unilever, with a $1.3 million fine for polluting the air with volatile organic compounds.

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35 responses to Dear Cover Girl: We Want Non-Toxic Products
  1. Great post Stacy! We need non-toxic products!! It is beyond absurd that health and beauty concerns apparently don’t go hand in hand in the eyes of these companies! Beauty yes, make-up yes, but clean please!

  2. Nic said on April 8, 2010

    This is a great resource for finding out what hazardous chemicals might be in your products – it has make-up, hair care, body wash, everything. You can also look up the safest cosmetics.

  3. Aargh, I just bought a bottle of Herbal Essences! Now I’m going to throw it out. P&G, I want my money back.

  4. Great post! We need to keep encouraging improvement in products like Cover Girl’s and keep making the information accessible for would-be customers. People generally just don’t know what’s in their products or about the potential hazards, but we often see that sometimes the information isn’t enough to make people reconsider what they are putting on their bodies. I don’t really get it. Is it just denial? Skepticism about how true the information is? Confusion from listening to conflicting sources? I wish it were a simpler problem and people were more willing to listen.

    Personally, I’m looking for a mineral make-up line that does not use titanium dioxide, since some questions have been raised about the safety of that ingredient found in most mineral make-ups. For now, I’m content to have given up most make-up — it has made my life simpler. :)

  5. Wannabe, you should call the Procter&Gamble customer service line about why you’re so turned off by their product. Don’t they have some sort of moneyback guarantee?

  6. sg said on April 8, 2010

    Great post! I have been slowly switching over to Josie Maran makeup – expensive but worth the peace of mind.

  7. Love this post!!! You are right, we need to stand up to these companies and let them know it’s not right!!

  8. What a fantastic post! I really don’t understand why it is so hard for major brands to reformulate their cosmetics to be safe for consumers, instead of just denying facts and distorting truths.

    Not only does P&G put toxins in their products, they torture and kill animals with unnecessary testing, and are major contributors to pollution and environmental degradation.

    I think we should stop giving our money to evil corporations that refuse to change with the rest of the world, and start spreading knowledge and supporting ethically sound companies!

    BTW.. “Not Just a Pretty Face” is one of my favorite reads of all time. It totally changed my viewpoint on beauty products and made me start to evaluate every single cosmetic I buy.(Sorry to be such a fangirl!)

  9. You are so right, Stacy, and thank you for the great blog post. The whole thing is insane & people still don’t know what is in these products. Keep on spreading the word!

  10. Hi,
    I’m trying to go chemical free for me and my family. I’ve found a good makeup with no titanium dioxide. It only contains sild and pearl powder. They also have eye makeup. Coming out soon with a cream. Look on the cosmetic database for it.

  11. Sorry, I forgot to tell that this makeup is put out by Everlast Innergy. They have a full line of beauty masks and natural vitamins as well.

  12. Thank you for this post and for reclaiming BEAUTY!

    Your book Not Just a Pretty Face literally changed my life. I went from slathering layers and layers of toxic makeup and products all over myself to choosing natural, cruelty-free products and even discovered the freedom and true beauty of going bare-faced now and then.

    It always shocks me to see celebrities that are known for their activism (like Ellen) being spokespeople for toxic cosmetics. Thank you for addressing this too!

  13. Great post Stacy!! I’m amazed by the celebrity endorsements for toxic products – these are the people who have the means to pay for premium toxin-free stuff and they plaster their name all over Cover Girl, Loreal, etc.

    I’ll stick to my coconut oil and mineral makeup.

  14. Great article. I’ve been saying the same thing in Europe! Makeup, beauty creams, soaps. We are not being nice to our bodies!

  15. Stacey, you are inspiring and I agree, beauty shouldn’t be dangerous. I saw PTFE in a well-known brand of mineral make-up the other day! As Julie said, celebrities endorse these toxic ‘beauty’ products! I think beauty needs to be genuinely natural & preferably certified organic.

  16. Thanks Stacy! I totally agree that BEAUTY should be HEALTHY not toxic. There is nothing beautiful about disease!!! It doesn’t matter what kind of disease or illness that is caused by the toxic burden and accumulation of chemical in our bodies. My wish, is that the celebrities that endorse the toxic filled products, will refuse to stand for this and start endorsing some of the companies that have “the peoples” best interest at heart. They really do have a powerful voice!

  17. Bravo, Stacy, for winning “Best of Green” award from Treehugger


    for Fashion and Beauty Book for “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry”

    You are The Best!!!

  18. Love this and thank you for the post. I will give my money to companies that take a stand on this issue. It is that simple.

  19. What I always tell people after I rant and rave about the dangers of beauty products is actually positive: there are SO many great products out there that are safe–and really good!

  20. Love this article Stacy!I have been phasing out every possible toxic beauty product that I use and replacing it with safer options. I use Skin Deep to verify safety ratings and make sure to read labels! Unfortunately, Cover Girl has been my make-up source for the past 20 years (YIKES!!!!!). Scary to think about the toxins I’ve exposed myself to over my lifetime. Hope that I can repair the damage. Thanks for all that you do!

  21. I feel like I’m trapped in a world that forces people to be full of toxins. Almost every label I turn over to read has toxins in it and it’s frustrating. We need a huge change!

  22. Oh please people, if you do your research you will see this P&G is not a great company for makeup and other products and do heavy-duty animal testing to boot. Try Bare Escentuals, Josie Maran, Desert Essence, Jurlique, Giovanni haircare. Be your own best advocate and I agree, check out to check out toxicity ratings.

  23. Posted this comment elsewhere, moving it here since MaryAnn suggested it might be helpful. It sounds like there is a campaign already…

    How about showing a pretty young lady cycling to the shop, selecting organic vegetables, and loading up on toxic beauty products (the narrator or caption describes toxic elements. One doesn’t eat the products but they go right on the skin, and then into the environment. Seems like an easy one page flyer, print ad, short commercial.

    Brands already on top of this can be encouraged to help fund a campaign that hits hard at the toxic competitors, which is fair game IMO.

  24. Also, an adbusters-style guerrilla campaign can deface toxic product billboards, but that’s breaking the law.

    You can make an actual anti-advertisement, but I’d seek legal counsel before trying that… or get adbusters to help.

  25. I shared this post via Google Reader and Buzz with this comment: Wish I could find a way to make people care about this. Beauty is skin hurt :(EditApr 9

  26. Thanks for all the great comments, and I love the ad idea Richard. Yes these big companies have a long way to go, especially P&G. I was just looking at P&G’s “future friendly” Earth Day pledge – the poster child of green-wash marketing (we should all save water by buying P&G products??) — Instead, I invite you all to take the P&G Free Pledge!


  27. Perhaps my ten year old self said it best in the following rhetorical question:
    What is Beauty?
    Something Useful.
    Like a Garbage Can.

  28. Well, this is where the internet really comes into it’s own. It gives wonderful people like yourself a voice that others can hear…..and gives independent manufacturers who actually make safe, envoromentally and humand friendly cosmetics and perfumes a place where people can buy their wares!
    Go WWW!!!!

  29. I KNOW of a SOYBASED Cosmetics line/non-toxic home care products. Safe for the environment & familes. Anyone interest? email

  30. Really – we do want non toxics. And we know how to do a lot of skin care on our own without manufacturers at all – think of the money a company will lose when people understand that.

    But – as far as toxic makeup – if it were just you, why would we care what you smear on your own body? Unfortunately, all that crap gets washed into OUR environment, too, so it’s hurting everyone.
    We need people to start educating themselves and others about what a threat toxins REALLY are. If you don’t know if it’s poison – don’t buy it until you find out for sure. Protect EVERYONE – educate yourself.

  31. ut – as far as toxic makeup – if it were just you, why would we care what you smear on your own body? Unfortunately, all that crap gets washed into OUR environment, too, so it’s hurting everyone.
    We need people to start educating themselves and others about what a threat toxins REALLY are. If you don’t know if it’s poison – don’t buy it until you find out for sure. Protect EVERYONE – educate yourself.

  32. my question would be why would all the celebrity folks line up like sheep to endorse a toxic product when it is well known that there are lots of natural cosmetic alternatives. Ellen has taken a lot of money from them for ads, and she seems like a caring person does she realize that she is taking money from a company that is using toxic chemicals in a lot of there products.

  33. Great post and I agree completely! I found the best online store that has non toxic products, no fillers, gluten free, kosher, from household products to makeup. All at great prices.. Eczema gone and vitamins have my skin looking great.. make up is a plus.. email me at if you would like the information to check it out yourself :)

  34. Chris I’d like to hear about this……