By ANN MARIE MCQUEEN
Edmonton Sun, London Free Press
Linda Leclerc could never find a lotion that worked on her skin.
“I reacted to everything,” she said. “What it came down to, is I felt I was reacting to chemicals and preservatives in the creams.”
So when she left advertising for esthetics, and last year opened Daya Spa in downtown Ottawa, it was always going to be organic.
Leclerc landed on a line of hand-made organic skin care products out of Hungary: Eminence, circa 1958. Its potions, like eight greens whipped moisturizer, wild plum eye cream and cucumber mint sugar scrub are all free of perfumes, preservatives and synthetic ingredients.
“Basically, the theory behind Eminence is, you wouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat,” explains Leclerc, who describes the chocolate and sour cherry facial masks as “quite yummy.”
Leclerc is on to something. So is Mississauga’s Makeda Paul, who began experimenting with things like avocado oil and beeswax back in 2005 when she didn’t like “seeing ingredients on bottles and not being able to pronounce them.” She now serves a customer base of 3,000 with her Internet-based business bluebasin bath & body. Paul sees the demand as a natural progression in environmental awareness.
“People are becoming more aware of natural products and trying to get away from chemicals and pesticides,” she says.
Mass market products like Physician’s Formula new Organic Wear, the Live Clean Hair Care Collection, even the acquisition of Burt’s Bees by Clorox, are all evidence natural skin care is going mainstream.
This month Burt’s Bees kicked off its “Natural Vs.” advertising campaign. It aims to educate its customers about reading product labels, so they can separate those which really are natural from those just claiming to be.
Health Canada officials who were asked about the issue point to the department’s extensive Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist of prohibited and restricted compounds.
But environmental experts say Health Canada, which years ago approved some of the ingredients now in question — and not on the Hotlist — doesn’t go far enough.
One of those worried is Dr. Kapil Khatter, an Ottawa-based family physician and a pollution policy analyst for Environmental Defence. He says there is much scientists do not know about commonly used ingredients.
“We can’t experimentally test these things on people, or we shouldn’t, and it’s very difficult to study,” he says. Some ingredients “may kick off a cancer when you’re young and it may not happen for 40 years.”
Federal NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen saw his private members’ bill banning a series of phthalates found in cosmetics, like nail polish and blush, as well as children’s toys, pass through Parliament late last year before heading to the Senate.
Cullen doesn’t take too much comfort in Health Canada approval.
“It always begs the question, has anybody else said it was safe?” he asks. “My confidence in the government to actually protect the health of Canadians is near zero.”
The current trend to organics is simply a response to marketplace demand, says Darren Praznik, president of the 180-member Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
Unlike Cullen, he has faith in the current regulatory system.
“The fact that it’s on the market, whether it’s organic or not, it’s regulated by Health Canada,” he said, “and the consumer can take comfort that it’s safe.”