towards a cruelty-free face: switching to products not tested on animals

I've begun changing my personal care products to cruelty-free: natural products from companies that are better for the environment and don't test on animals. I'm not sure how far I'll be able to go, but I've begun the process.

After a lifetime of using conventional products, I was moved to think more about this by a few different sources.

When I worked in the children's library, I often saw a book about animal cruelty. It was not the one I wrote about here, about dogs, but a book in a series called "Tough Issues," similar to the kind of series I used to contribute to. This "tough issue" asked the question, "Why do people harm animals?" It's a good book, one that successfully treads that very careful line separating honesty from the overly graphic. Even so, there was one image that burned in my brain. (I know this image would have been highly disturbing to me as a child. Considering I saw the image in a children's book, this is very bad.) And now that image from that book joins the panolpy of disturbing images that I will never be able to un-see.

Another source: I belong to the Humane Society International (or HSI Canada), and their excellent advocacy against animal testing has influenced me.

The rational case for using animals in medical research has ended: as one prominent researcher says, "Whatever you discover, you will have to re-discover using people, so not only do the animals suffer using these experiments, the first few patients using these novel treatments will suffer, too." Using animals to test cosmetics and personal-care products shouldn't even be controversial. It is absolutely cruel and unnecessary.
Eliminating animal testing of cosmetics is entirely feasible. In the past three decades scientists have developed many advanced alternatives to animal testing—methods that use human blood, cell lines, artificial skin or computer models to test the safety of products. And many multinational companies have embraced these alternative test methods, reducing and in some cases eliminating their dependence on animal testing. As a result, they cut costs and save time; animal testing is expensive, slow and, because animals are not people, not always predictive.

The movement to eliminate animal testing extends beyond the cosmetics industry. In 2007 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested for human health risks. Through a greater reliance on in vitro testing, researchers could evaluate the effects of chemicals on biological processes while using very few animals. Scientists would generate better data and test a greater number of chemicals more quickly and cheaply.
And then there are microbeads. Perhaps I was the last person in North America to learn about microbeads, but the news finally reached me.
Tiny particles of plastic have been added to possibly thousands of personal care products sold around the world. These microbeads, hardly visible to the naked eye, flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.
Although I used products that contain microbeads, I never asked, "What are the scrubbing particles in this product made of?" Indeed, I never even thought of it. But now I have learned that a few products I buy regularly contain these tiny plastic particles that go straight to our water supply and into animals. And so, microbeads became the final kick in the pants I needed.

I looked into cruelty-free products on line, mostly at Leaping Bunny and GoCrueltyFree.org, but I was quickly overwhelmed. There are so many products... where to begin? Then I remembered my dictum from other changes I've made: away from all-or-nothing thinking. This cheered me up.

I decided to start with two products: face cleanser and scrub, since these are most likely to contain microbeads. This would also allow me to stop buying products made by Procter & Gamble, a name found on boycott lists for decades.

The next time I was in Whole Foods, I talked to the person in the "Whole Body" department. She showed me several alternatives. I decided on products by Green Beaver, a Canadian company with an interesting genesis.
As young scientists, Karen was a biochemist with experience in the pesticide industry and Alain was a microbiologist working for the pharmaceutical industry. We were both appalled by the amount of chemicals found in kid’s shampoos, bubble baths and other products. Given our background, we decided to do something about it. We quit our jobs and left the chemical industry behind to create healthier, natural products for your family and ours. We wanted to make a difference, and this is our story.
The scrubbing particles in Green Beaver's grapefruit and aloe scrub are made from bits of bamboo.

Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and others who have written about the horrors of the industrial food chain often note that the only way we can live with such a disgusting and inhumane system is by purposely not knowing about it - by willful collective ignorance. (This is the same ignorance collectively employed about capital punishment in the US, now unraveling thanks to activists forcing people to see.) We don't want to know where our cheeseburger comes from. We don't want to know about the feed lot, the gestation crate, the chicken prison, the killing floor. Or the lab prison.

Most people want to avoid thinking about cruelty to animals. We don't want to know about it. We especially don't want to know that we're complicit in it! And our closed eyes allow it to continue.


James Redekop said...

This is a great goal, and it's good to see companies taking a more sustainable approach to such things but sentences like this are, I think, actually harmful:

We were both appalled by the amount of chemicals found in kid’s shampoos, bubble baths and other products.

In one litre of shampoo, there is one litre of chemicals, no matter what it is made of. Chemicals are not bad. Water is a chemical; air is a mixture of chemicals. The purest apple on the more pristine apple tree consists of thousands of chemicals. Unfortunately, the word "chemical" has come to be synonymous with "harmful synthetic chemical" to the general public, and as a result of fear-mongering over "chemicals" (with no consideration of their actual nature other than the fact that they're "chemicals") we have things like the anti-vax movement, which has resulted in a number of outbreaks of otherwise preventable diseases.

We definitely should work to minimize our exposure to harmful chemicals (both synthetic and natural) -- but we need to remember that "chemical" doesn't mean "harmful".

impudent strumpet said...

Did you happen to find anything in your research about whether microbeads would enter the ecosystem if you throw out the products you already own?

I learned about microbeads shortly after stocking up on a scrub that contains them, so I still have several bottles of it in my bathroom cupboard. On one hand, throwing it out in the closed bottle seems like it would keep it secure. On the other hand, they always talk about plastic bags escaping from the waste system and cluttering up the ocean, so it seems like microbeads would be able to leech out too.

If it's going to end up in the ecosystem anyway, I'd much rather use up the product I've paid for (especially since I like it better than the other things I've tried since). But obviously I don't want to release microbeads that would otherwise stay out of the ecosystem just for the sake of unclogging one or two extra pores.

laura k said...

James, a sloppy shorthand, for sure, and a common one.

laura k said...

Imp, I have the same question about my own products. I didn't stock up, but I don't know if I should finish what I have or trash it.

I haven't specifically looked for that yet. I will do soon and I'll report back.

James Redekop said...

I wouldn't mind the sloppy shorthand so much if people realized it was shorthand, but a lot of people really do believe that "chemical" means "bad". Look at the nonsense "The Food Babe" is disseminating, for example. Or look at the profits going to companies which dishonestly promote their products as "chemical-free".

By the way, microbeads also appear in another common form: "biodegradable" plastic bags are often made of microbeads suspended in a degradable matrix. The beads provide the structural strength that the matrix on its own doesn't have.

The upshot of this is that the only part of the bag that actually biodegrades is the matrix, and the bags end up leaving the microbeads behind. It looks like the bags are gone, but the beads remain.

This doesn't mean that biodegradable plastic bags aren't better than the standard bags, but it does mean that they aren't a panacea.

Animals often choke on plastic bags, or suffer because they ingest bags and the bags clog up their digestive tract -- this problem is largely eliminated with biodegradable bags. However, micro-organisms can "choke" on microbeads, which can cause problems for the food chain.

I don't know if this applies to all types of "biodegradable" bags -- I haven't done the research, I just came across a discussion of this problem in an article on plastic waste. But IIRC many popular brands of biodegradable dog clean-up bags do use microbead-based materials.

laura k said...

All the dog people who collect poop in biodegradable bags... ultimately those release microbeads into the environment? Oh holy shit.

I've wondered and doubted whether our supposedly biodegradable bags actually ever have the opportunity to degrade. As I understand it, they would biodegrade under ideal conditions, exposed to oxygen. But if they're thrown into trash that goes to landfill, those conditions don't exist and they don't degrade. (?)

That's what I've seen, but I don't know how and when it applies.

laura k said...

Re chemical, I think it's one of the many words that have different meanings in different contexts. If I say I don't want to eat processed food because "it's full of chemicals," most people understand the intention of the sentence, even if you would point out that it's incorrect. I think it's an accepted useage of the word chemical, different from a technical useage.

James Redekop said...

Maybe -- but, as I mentioned, there are people like the current anti-vaccination which exploit the idea that "chemical" == "bad". Jenny McCarthy's "safe vaccines" notion is based entirely on that idea: there's formaldehyde in vaccines! Of course, everyone has formaldehyde in them, because it's a natural product of metabolism. But that gets ignored, because scary chemicals with complicated Latin names.

"The Food Babe" even promotes the idea that "When you look at the ingredients [in food], if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it."

My favourite rebuttal to that approach is this image.

laura k said...

Unprounceable ingredients is common lingo in the food movement. I learned it from Michael Pollan.

I don't know The Food Babe, but in general "unprounceable ingredients" isn't meant to be taken literally in terms of what we can manage to say or spell. It's meant to help people sort out processed food vs. whole foods. To use as a shorthand guide, to help us choose food that has as few ingredients as possible. Potato. Chicken. Kale. Peanuts. Wheat, yeast, water. The fewer ingredients a food has, the closer to a whole food it is.

The presence of long, complicated chemical names in an ingredient list is a clue that you are eating highly processed food. Perhaps there are exceptions to this, but it's a helpful hint for many people - easy to remember, and applicable most of the time.

It's also a reminder to read ingredient lists, as opposed to marketing concepts.

laura k said...

My favourite rebuttal to that approach is this image.

That is a good rebuttal to the idea that chemicals are bad. But in terms of ingredients, it's the perfect example.

That banana has one ingredient: banana. Banana-flavoured candy, if such a thing exists, would have many many more ingredients, most of them what are half-jokingly called unpronounceable, or another expression you may hate, "not found in nature".

laura k said...

I just checked out Food Babe. I have to say, she looks pretty great.

It's not to my taste for reading, but it's great to see someone combine food-movement philosophy with the popular kind of style usually found on cooking shows or celebrity talk shows.

That easy-breezy, stylish concept has broader appeal than the sources that appeal to me.

laura k said...

Imp Strump and others: I found this post with three suggestions of how to handle already-purchased products containing microbeads. I suspect the third choice is the only good option.

I'll tweet the post, too.

James Redekop said...

The problem with the Food Babe is, just about everything she tells you about "this chemical is bad" is incorrect.

For example, she recently wrote about "antifreeze in beer", because there's propylene glycol alginate in beer, and there's propylene glycol in antifreeze.

There are a lot of problems with this: just because it's found in antifreeze doesn't make propylene glycol dangerous (there's water in antifreeze, after all) -- and even if it were, just because "propylene glycol" is part of the name of "propylene glycol alginate" doesn't mean that they have anything like similar chemical properties (the name just reflects the structure of the molecules, not their behaviour).

Her recent campaign against Subway over azodicarbonamide is another example of using ignorance to argue a point. Azodicarbonamide is a bleaching agent for bread, but is also used in manufacturing rubber, plastic, and sealants. Therefore, says the Food Babe, Subway bread is made out of yoga mats!

The closest she comes to actually having an arguable point is that azodicarbonamide has been found to be dangerous -- if inhaled in large quantities, as can happen in factories that use it as a blowing agent. But unless you're aerosolizing and inhaling your bread (in vast quantities), this isn't an issue -- and you'd run into problems from breathing in all that aerosolized wheat first.

I'm all for making food better -- go Michael Pollan! -- but not through misinformation. I'm willing to give the Food Babe the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's fear-mongering through ignorance and can't be bothered to actually do any research, rather than knowingly lying about these subjects, but that's still not an acceptable way of educating the public.

James Redekop said...

I also meant to point out: the biggest reason why processed food isn't great for you is not that it contains stuff like propylene glycol alginate and azodicarbonamide -- those are harmless. The real problem with processed foods is that they have too much sugar, salt, and fat, and not enough essential nutrients (most of which, ironically, have complicated, hard to spell names). You could make frozen meals without any "unnatural" chemicals and they'd be just as unhealthy as the "bad" ones -- just more expensive.

laura k said...

Thanks for that info about Food Babe. I only looked quickly, and wouldn't have known any of that.

I know what you mean about campaigns like the Subway bread-bleaching agent. There's a guy online who rails against canola oil, made from rapeseed... renamed because rapeseed sounds bad. Unprocessed rape seed in large quantities is poisonous, therefore canola oil is poisonous. IIRC that was the gist of his argument, and it's obviously not true.

It's a shame that she's not more reliable and well-researched, because the cause is good and her style is appealing. And the appealing style makes her unrealiability even worse.

johngoldfine said...

Unprocessed rape seed in large quantities is poisonous, therefore canola oil is poisonous.

I hear the same sort of silly babble about tomatoes and potatoes from local food co-op types. Did you know they are related to DEADLY NIGHTSHADE! MUST NOT EAT!

laura k said...

Did you know they are related to DEADLY NIGHTSHADE! MUST NOT EAT!

See me eating. Yum, yum. See me not die?

Tangent... I sometimes marvel at how indigenous cultures must have learned by painful trial and error, not only what was poisonous, but through what processes poisonous substances could be rendered edible. Manioc or yuca or cassava (it goes by a bunch of other names too) is a staple of many diets - but it's highly toxic in certain forms. People had to figure that out for themselves and pass it on through the generations.

impudent strumpet said...

One thing I find useful when looking at these chemistry things in situations where I don't have the knowledge or the patience to figure out the actual chemistry is to see if the same information would also support the reverse argument.

For example, could the information suggesting that there's yoga mats in bread also be used to prove that there's bread in yoga mats? Is there antifreeze in beer, or is there beer in antifreeze? If there's nothing in the data provided to stop the argument from being flipped around, it's probably not sound.