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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