Greenwashing: Beaute de Maman not so beautiful. Or particularly natural.

Polyetheylene plastic beads

I just don’t get the popularity of Beaute de Maman. Or why the line won an Editor’s Choice Award from Pregnancy Magazine in December of last year.

I really don’t get it.

The line is expensive.

But people like it because it is natural. I’ve found it in very upscale boutiques, with sales people touting its benefits.

But, the line is guilty of greenwashing.

 The product advertising states that

Beaute de Maman was conceived by Dr. Brown, an obstetrician whose ongoing mission is to provide safe and effective remedies for the common problems women face during pregnancy. Her fine line of skincare products has been extensively studied and evaluated, as well as allergy and obstetrician tested. The entire line contains only natural and herbal ingredients proven safe for the mother-to-be, the fetus and the breastfeeding baby. 

Those natural claims are repeated in the Connecticut Post and other press about Beaute De Maman.

And therein is my problem. The entire line is supposed to contain “only natural and herbal ingredients” but that isn’t true. Well, at least by my definition of natural.

Let’s take the first product – the facial scrub. The ingredients are:

Water (Purified), Glycerol Stearate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Laureth Sulfocucinate, Sodium Cocoyl, Methyl Taurate, Polyethylene, PEG-100 stearate, Myristyl Myristate, Tridecyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Phenoxyethanol, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, DMDM Hydantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Triethanolamine, Iodopropynyl Butycarbamate

Okay, now realize that polyethylene is a plastic derived from petroleum. That means that this allegedly all natural and herbal facial scrub has tiny microbeads of plastic that pollute our oceans.

Guess what? Lots of the other ingredients are very, very far from “natural.” Take butylene glycol. It is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. In other words, saturated petroleum hydrocarbons are broken down into small hydrocarbons. Or take triethanolamine. Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with ammonia. In turn, ethylene oxide comes from ethylene and oxygen, and ethylene is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking.

Okay, how are those natural? Or herbal?

Last year, I tried to speak with Beaute de Maman about its products. I was specifically interested in the natural claim and also contaminants being present in ceretain ingredients. And I got a fairly snotty response from Laureen Schroeder, VP of Marketing, that kept emphasizing how the company has access to research not available to the rest of us.

First, and most importantly, she said that “we do not claim to be 100% natural – as we could not be effective.” Huh? Isn’t that at odds with the advertising?

She also said:

Our products have been researched using databases and reproduction toxicity reports available only to physicians. . . . According to Reprotox, which are physician only databases  . . .”

Okay Ms. Schroeder, hate to tell you, but Reprotox is a subscription service available to physicians and consumers. So, yes, I use the same databases that you do.

So, many of the ingredients in the facial scrub peaked my interest. Ethylhexyl palmitate, for example, is an irritant, and the CIR panel warns against using in products for use around the eyes or on the skin above a certain concentration. Butylene glycol has the same problem. Several ingredients are ethoxylated and can have the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane as a contaminant, including disodium laureth sulfocucinate and PEG-100 stearate. Phenoxyethanol is phenol reacted with ethylene oxide, which again is petroleum derived.

Now, Ms. Schroeder states that the “facial scrub has no dioxane or carcinogenic compounds. All ingredients used are pure with no contaminants. Again, Intertek, or the FDA of England, did extensive testing of all products and determined that repeated exposure to the ingredients will not cause skin irritation, even with prolonged or repeated use. The ingredients used are well known and present at typical concenetrations where they will not cause irritation or allergy and are deemed safe. There is no formaldehyde or carcinogenic ingredients.”

Okay, so it seems that perhaps the ethoxylated ingredients are vacuum stripped to eliminate the 1,4 dioxane. But when I asked about the detection level used (and we know that is important after the SIGG debacle), I didn’t get a response.

Obviously, formaldehyde isn’t an ingredient. But her statement that there is no formaldehyde doesn’t address whether there are formaldehyde donors. The thing is about formaldehyde donors is that they work by releasing small quantities of formaldehyde to make the environment – the product – less favorable to microorganisms. So how can she claim that there is no formaldehyde produced? I get it that the levels may be very small, but still. Formaldehyde, by the way, is a carcinogen. It also causes contact dermantitis. DMDM Hydantoin, for example, is a formaldehyde donor. Setting asside the whole formaldehyde issue, DMDM Hydantoin is also an irritant, a known human immune system toxicant, and is a human skin toxicant. It is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan. It gets a 7 to 9 (depending on use) in Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Safety Database.

I’m also completely unconvinced by the reliance upon Reprotox. Beaute de Maman banks on its claims that the products are safe for pregnant women. (I have some questions about the specific claims because, well, they seem to cross into the product being a drug, not a cosmetic, but that is for the FDA. And the FTC.) But the thing is, we know that there have not be adequate toxicology reviews of most of the chemicals we use. Looking at the Reprotox entry for DMDM Hydantoin, for example, there is no information in Reprotox other than the CIR’s assessment from 1988. Hello? There has been more information since the industry-funded panel looked at it – and the CIR only considers irritant/allergen type responses for the most part, not developmental toxicity.

And, by the way, Beaute de Maman claims that “these products, cosmeceuticals, have medicinal propertiers in their ingredients ensuring the safety of both mother-to-be and baby.” That certainly sounds like they are super special, right? Just so you know, the FDA does not recognize any such category as “cosmeceutical”, as Beaute de Maman asserts that the products are. A product is a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

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Comments

  1. Wow! Excellent information, Jennifer. I’m going to post about this on my website, PlanetHabit.com. I truly appreciate all the research you’ve done. Thanks~

  2. Anasthasia says:

    I believe that most of society isn’t ready to truly go green.
    People don’t take the time (make the time nor have the time)
    to do their homework. Everyone is looking for the quick cure.
    The beauty in a capsule tied up in a bow and labeled green or organic.
    I spent my whole life falling for that stuff until just the past few years
    thanks to the internet I’ve learned so much….one thing lead to another.
    I’ve also been disappointed to buy magazines that look like empowering
    and/or green magazines only to find advertisements that contradict everything the magazine seems to be about. For example, there is a magazine that is aimed at older women; it has wonderful articles exclaiming women are ok as they age. However there are ads and more ads in the magazine with potions and lotions to make you look younger. Capitalism I guess.

  3. Lynn from OrganicMania.com says:

    Jennifer, thanks for such an informative post. It burns me up that salaried editors at the beauty and pregnancy pubs repeat these claims. While few have the technical acumen you possess, an educated consumer can tell there are many ingredients that are far from natural. And this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many high priced “natural and organic” products that are full of similar ingredients to those you called out in this post.

  4. What a great resource!

  5. wow…love the info, and i definitely am as you are, so tired of false claims. thanks for taking the time to research and report.

  6. I guess the lesson here is “don’t trust the hype” And carefully read the ingrediant list. Thanks for taking the time to talk to these charletons

  7. I guess this means that just because a company puts out a product that receives a lot of popular press, you need to do your own independent research to confirm the product isn’t harmful. Products sell based on the amount of publicity they receive, and this is an example of a product that you shouldn’t buy even though the product has been endorsed by some well known entities. It’s amazing what you find out once you start drilling into the ingredients.

  8. Hey! I simply wanted to say your blog is one of the nicely laid out, most inspirational I’ve come across in quite a while. Thx! 🙂

  9. this post is very usefull thx!

  10. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  11. Thanks for sharing this post and I would like to say this is one of the best and most well presented blog designs I have seen.

  12. wow, you know your stuff. wish i had all this knowledge about chemicals, and ingredients, its so confusing… What are your top beauty brands for creams and makeup- scared to ask but what about the ‘natural’ Jurlique, Korres, Tarte, Aubrey Organics and Suki (my faves)?

  13. What a great post. On my blog, Organic Orgy, we discuss greenwashing vis a vis green and natural cosmetics. Plastic beads in skin scrubs are indeed a problem as they are washed into our waterways once they go down the drain. These tiny plastic bits endanger wildlife and contaminate our water supplies. Good looking out! -Kitty.

  14. Hi LivLuna,n Please see my comment above, and visit Organic Orgy:http://organicorgy.blogspot.com, where we discuss the brands you mentioned and more. Suki, in my opinion is great! You can also look at the Skin Deep website to see particular products’ ratings. Peace, Kitty.

  15. Thanks for taking the time to post this report – it brings to light some important issues.

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