Toxic Beauty


I’ve always been a bit of a “girly girl.”  I’m not the most materialistic person, but I love fashion, jewelry and makeup.  I love looking nice and I love being creative.  For those of you who follow my blog, you also know that I try my best to live a pretty holistic lifestyle.  I recently had a major wake-up call when those two worlds collided.

I’ve always taken care of my skin as best that I could, but I never put much thought into it.  I’ve always washed my face with Cetaphil, (dermatologist recommended) and used mainstream makeup and skin care brands like MAC and Clinique.  However, over the past few months, I slowly started having reactions to makeup.  My eyes started to itch and water like crazy and lip gloss became a toxic substance for me, causing my lips to burn and instantly blow up like balloons.  I tried only using Clinique, which is marketed as “allergy tested.”   My problems just got worse.  Eye pencil felt like burning acid and mascara caused red welts to form at the corners of my eyes.  I started reading up on makeup allergies and found that I was not alone.  I tried a few more brands of makeup that are advertised as “hypoallergenic” and “clean,” such as Physician’s Formula, Tarte and Josie Maran.   There was a slight improvement but something was still going wrong.

One day, I woke up with swollen eyes and a large cyst on the inside of my left eye.  I was freaking out.  I looked scary and I had no idea what to do.  The next day was even worse, and to add fuel to the fire, our dear friends were getting married that night and I could not miss the wedding!  I got dressed and tried to put some makeup on, but everything I used was super irritating.  I also felt very self-conscious about my swollen eye with a cyst pressing in on it.  I was glad that the lights on the dance floor were dim and hoped that no one would notice my face.

The next morning I woke up looking something like this:  (without the facial hair, of course).


I was an inch away from heading to the emergency room.  Luckily, my mom convinced me to try and get an appointment with our family doctor who was kind enough to get me an appointment with the dermatologist who worked in her office.  I also made an appointment with my homeopath for later that afternoon.

“Well, you’re obviously reacting to something,” concluded the dermatologist, looking at me with concern.  “But I don’t know what it is.  Put this antibiotic ointment on the cyst for a week and use this other one for the swelling on your eyelid.  In the meantime, no makeup, no nail polish and no skincare products.”

“But what could it be?”  I asked her.  “I use mostly products from Clinique.  Is that a good brand?”

“Yeah, Clinique is good.”  She answered.  “Unless you’re reacting to it.  And then it’s not.”  OK, thanks.  This is getting better and better.

Two hours later I found myself sitting in my homeopath’s office with a bag of every skincare and makeup product I had been using.  He read through the ingredients on everything.

“OK…. Well, this is toxic.  This is pretty toxic.  Yup this is full of parabens.  I can definitely see why you’re reacting here.”  What???  All this stuff is hypoallergenic and dermatologist recommended!

That’s when I got my new education.  Let’s start with parabens.  Apparently, lots of people have bad reactions to them and even if you don’t, they’re still pretty toxic.

Wikipedia defines parabens:

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Parabens are effective preservatives in many types of formulas. These compounds, and their salts, are used primarily for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. They can be found in shampoos, commercialmoisturizersshaving gelspersonal lubricantstopical/parenteral pharmaceuticals, spray tanning solution, makeup, and toothpaste. They are also used as food additives.

So basically, parabens are chemicals that lots of people react to and I am now one of those people.  I said goodbye to my facewash, my toner and moisturizer.  I said goodbye to my regular shampoo and conditioner and to all my makeup.  I got a big bottle of Dr. Brauner’s castile soap, the most basic formula around and used it to wash my hair, body and dishes.  I took a homeopathic remedy from my homeopath and I used the antibiotic ointment from the dermatologist.  In a few days, the cyst burst, the swelling went down and I no-longer looked like a star-trek character.

Shortly after, I went with my mom to visit a large health food store in Toronto that sells organic and all-natural skincare and makeup products and I stocked up on some new goods.

My skincare routine is now as follows:

Cleanser: Weleda Almond Milk Cleanser

Toner: Rose Water

Moisturizer: Pure Coconut Oil

Makeup Products: 100% Pure (made from dried fruits and vegetables) and Pure Anada (Mineral based, made from ground rocks.)

When I’m done, I feel something like this:


So that’s the first part of the story.  I have added a new aspect to my holistic lifestyle.

But here’s the second part.  I didn’t want to leave my house.  It’s one thing to go out without makeup.  I don’t always wear makeup, but I feel a lot better when I do, especially if I’m going to a public event like a wedding.  But it’s another thing to go out looking like something is seriously wrong with your face!

The day I went to the doctor, I stopped off at the health food store afterward to pick up some organic oatmeal cookies for my kids.  I got a few freaky looks from people and one lady offered for me to go ahead of her in line.  We had promised our newly married friends that we would make them sheva brachos (a dinner party during the week after the wedding), but I came home that night and told my husband that, although I will cook, I won’t go downstairs looking like this!  He suggested dark glasses but I was not convinced.  By the time the sheva brachos came around a few days later, my face was almost back to normal but I still could not put any makeup on and that was hard for me.  I started explaining to people what was going on and why I looked so washed out.  I didn’t feel pretty and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then I remembered something a mentor of mine in New York had told me several years ago.

“It’s fine if you want to make yourself look attractive and feel attractive.”  He told me.  “But never let that become your identity.  Being a pretty girl is not who you are.  If you allow yourself to identify as a pretty girl, what will be left when you are old and grey?”

The more I went about my new makeup-less existence, the more this message started ringing through my head.  I have so much other stuff to offer, why am I so self-conscious about the way I look?  The truth is, I’m not sure most people even noticed the change.

The last verse in Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valour), a song which husbands sing to their wives on Friday nights reads:

“Grace is elusive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the L-rd- she shall be praised.  Give her credit for the fruit of her labours and let her achievements praise her at the gates.”

Now, I certainly do not claim to be the most righteous Eishet Chayil out there, however, I definitely work hard in my life!  What I realized during this new personal challenge is that the way I look has very little to do with how others see me.  Putting on makeup every day might make me appear more attractive, but to the outside world and to my friends and family, it seems to be a very small part of who I am to them.  Looking pretty is mostly about pleasing myself!  Now that I’ve had some time where makeup has not been an option, I’ve let a lot of that go.  It’s the beauty that comes from the inside that really seems to matter.

Now that my eyes have cleared up, I have been enjoying my new “clean” “organic” makeup.  It doesn’t last as long and the colours are not as diverse (after all, how many different coloured rocks are there?) but it still makes me feel beautiful in a certain kind of way.  On days when I am short on time, or I’m feeling a bit allergic, I skip the makeup and go about my day.  Nobody asks questions and I don’t make excuses for looking washed out.  I am also grateful to know that I am no longer feeding my skin toxic chemicals that my body doesn’t like!

I’ve become more aware of the “toxic buildup” that occurs in our home on a daily basis.  Toxic buildup is the buildup of chemicals in a person’s body over time and is said to be one of the reasons people can develop these kinds of allergies.  I’m careful to use organic, preservative-free baby soap for my kids and coconut oil on their dry skin.  And I’m done with Sunlight and Dawn for the dishes.  For now, I’m sticking with Dr. Brauner’s castile soap and it’s working just fine.

I’m very curious to know your own similar experiences.  Please share with me your thoughts on makeup, allergies, toxic buildup and any other thoughts that come to mind from this post.  I always enjoy reading your insights!

Shavua Tov.  A good week to all.