Hey, Halle Berry! What’s In Your Perfume?

  • May 16, 2013 8:18 pm

I’ve started a petition over at Change.org asking Halle Berry to fully disclose the ingredients in her Coty, Inc. fragrances. Would you please sign and share it? Thanks!

From the petition (there’s more at Change.org):

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I started researching environmental health concerns. I’m a journalist so my research became a book, co-authored with a close friend: The Complete Organic Pregnancy. Eight years, three more books, and a new four-month-old daughter later, I’m still alarmed by how many unsafe substances my girls—and all children—are exposed to daily. It upsets me how much is unknown. It’s impossible to safeguard kids against the unknown.

If the press is to be believed, this is something the actress Halle Berry worries about, too. She’s pregnant with her second child. During her first pregnancy, it was reported that she was interested in organics and was planning an eco-friendly nursery.

That’s why I’m asking her, mom to mom, to use her considerable influence as a celebrity to help close a consumer health loophole that a lot of people don’t even know about.

Fragrances—which are in everything from perfumes to lotions to diapers to food –are considered government protected trade secrets. This means that companies don’t have to tell consumers which chemicals make up the “fragrance” on their product’s ingredient list. The word “fragrance” is a placeholder for unknown mixtures of potentially hundreds of chemicals.

The problem? Many of the undisclosed ingredients in any given fragrance have been linked in various studies to allergies, asthma, hormone disruption, and even cancer. In one study, one of Halle Berry’s perfumes was found to contain several of these toxic chemicals.

Halle Berry has five perfumes in her name. Her latest fragrance, Closer, is up for a popular fragrance of the year award. I’m asking her, as another mom who cares about children’s health and the environment, to set a trend by disclosing the individual ingredients in her perfumes. It would be great if Coty, Inc. stopped using potentially unsafe chemicals, but if they at least tell consumers what’s in the Halle Berry perfumes, it’s one less unknown for us parents. I hope it will inspire other fragrance manufacturers to be more transparent, too.

Q&A: Natural Solutions For Poison Ivy

  • August 29, 2012 9:00 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

I recently bought a house in upstate New York. It is perfect except for one problem: poison ivy. Now, I have kids and want to avoid using pesticides and chemicals because that is where they will be playing–outside on the lawn. Is there any way to deal with all this poison ivy non-toxically?

-Kevin

Answer:

Dear Kevin,

Congrats on your new home. Although it may seem impossible to deal with poison ivy without pesticides, apparently there are ways. I say apparently because I have not tackled this myself and an initial search shows the natural ways of battling PI get mixed reviews. But I certainly think they’re well worth a try. Here are some suggestions I saw listed as ways of battling poison ivy naturally: mowing it, suffocating it, and using certain plant oils. Do not burn it! This can result in serious rashes in your lungs and eyes (family lore is my grandfather did this once and was hospitalized).

All of these methods aside, it seems that the most effective way to deal with poison ivy is to pull it out. My understanding is that if you yank the itch-making stuff by the root, it cannot grow. Simple enough. Of course this poses another problem: PI is not exactly the sort of thing you want to be touching in order to yank. So full HAZMAT suit and rubber gloves are required. If this is not a task you would enjoy doing–who can blame you? I wouldn’t want to do it either–and  you have the budget, hire someone to do it for you. Here is great story about a guy in upstate New York who started his own poison ivy pulling business.

If you’re not Kevin and reading this and have other suggestions, please weigh in in comments.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Best,

Alexandra

My intern Kelley’s thoughts on the documentary Toxic Baby

  • August 15, 2012 8:42 am

Kelley and I went to see a screening of Toxic Baby together and I asked her to let me know what she thought. I loved what she wrote to me so much, I asked her if I could post it here. (I’ll admit that part of why I loved it is that interning with me, which isn’t exactly the most gain-office-experience-traditional internship, is adding  a new layer of information and insight to her studies.) And she agreed. Her thoughts are below. If you haven’t had a chance to see Toxic Baby, I urge you to find a way to do so, or organize a screening near you. You can also see Penelope’s TED talk online. It’s worth a watch.

—-

“I had the great opportunity to view a screening of Penelope Jagessar Chaffer’s documentary Toxic Baby. After screening this film about the health hazards of chemical exposures, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my mind was blown.

As an environmental studies student in college, you would suspect that the majority of the film would be a reiteration of what I have previously learned in class. However this was not the case. The majority of what I have learned in class has been mainly focused on the food system and global climate change. Though these two topics are extremely important, Chaffer’s documentary does not focus on these. Instead, Toxic Baby’s main focus was the toxicity of chemicals in products and in the home – aspects that have not yet been covered in my course of study.

The film follows Chaffer and her discovery of the dangerous effects that certain chemicals can have. It was not until she became a mother that she discovered this information and made it her duty to protect her child from these toxic chemicals. The film consults with experts on the dangerous effects that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and flame retardants have on pregnant mothers and their children. All of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and exposure to these chemicals are linked to an array of health issues, such as cancer, many different birth defects, and many more.

Reading about these issues, you can sometimes get very lost, and that is why seeing Chaffer’s journey as a mother exploring these issues is so great. It lays out the information easily for the everyday person and with the perspective of a mother.

What concerned me most after viewing this film is really the lack of public knowledge of the subject. As I stated before, my own academics have not touched upon these environmental health concerns – and I’m an environmental studies major! Imagine the lack of knowledge of the general population in regards to this problem.  And in the film Penelope’s knowledge on the subject only came about during motherhood. Hopefully, as this film gains notoriety and is seen by the general public, we can raise awareness of this serious issue and get these chemicals out of our homes.”
Thank you Kelley for coming to see the film with me and for letting me share your thoughts.

How To Make Your Own Cleaning Products (My Visit To Stone Barns)

  • April 15, 2011 6:11 pm

A few weeks ago I taught a DIY cleaning product class at the gorgeous Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in   Pocantico Hills, NY. Before I got around to demonstrating how to make the cleaners, I chatted about what ingredients and materials to use, and, of course, about the reason(s) why everyone should want to minimize the use of harsh chemicals in their homes.

Did you know that in cities like L.A. home products (cleaning products, paints, stains, etc.) are the biggest pollutant after cars?  Or that more than 300 man-made chemicals can be found in our bodies that weren’t there just three generations ago?  We don’t know what effect these toxins are having on our health as they mingle around inside of us. Cleaning product formulas are currently government protected as trade secrets so you either have to buy from a natural product company going above and beyond and disclosing their ingredients on a label, or you can make your own. This way, you’ll always know exactly what’s in your “product.” There’s nothing you can’t make with vinegar, water, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and castile soap. Lovely extras include lemons, olive oil, and maybe an essential oil or two.

Here are some of the DIY cleaner “recipes” I shared from Planet Home:

  • Tub Scrub: Baking soda + natural dish soap + a few drops of water = tub scrub. For a very soap scummy tub, use extra baking soda. Basically a 1 to 1 soap to baking soda ratio. (I tend to mix this in the palm of my hand with no measuring. I also, um, use it to exfoliate my face.)
  • Glass Cleaner: Make a 50/50 solution of white distilled vinegar and water. Just like your grandmother used to. Use newspapers instead of paper towels to wipe windows and mirrors.
  • Furniture Polish: Mix 1/4 cup lemon juice with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil in a glass jar. Dab solution onto a soft rag for use. Make only as much as needed; it doesn’t keep.

For anyone who hasn’t visited Stone Barns, go!  Here are some pictures of the farm from after the class and book signing. Yes, that is me trying to kiss a chicken. I wanted to give the photo as a present to my butcher. Thankfully the bird was smarter than me and wouldn’t come closer.



Connecting the Dots

  • January 18, 2011 6:42 pm

Our homes hum with electric power, and our neighborhoods are scattered with the poles and wires that deliver it to us. What's less visible is the air and water pollution this system produces.

Generally speaking, the burning of nonrenewable resources creates greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and emits mercury, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide that dissolve in rain particles and fall to earth (this is known as acid rain). The mercury contaminates fish in our waterways that we then catch and eat, poisoning ourselves.

Even if you don't live near a coal power plant, the pollution travels. New England forests are being harmed by mercury smog from power plants in the Midwest, and there is evidence now that emissions from Chinese power plants are reaching the West Coast of America. That's quite a system.

Find out where our electricity comes from and how we can do better in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."