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I am writing this post for four reasons. First, I want you to see the lengths to which I go before becoming comfortable recommending a product.
Second, I am often asked about my opinion on Beautycounter, and I wanted to tell this story to explain why I cannot recommend their products at present.
Third, every once in a blue moon, someone sends me an e-mail and seems to insinuate that all of my recommendations are suspect because sometimes I make a small amount of money from some of the products I recommend. This post shows the extent to which I value my reputation for honesty and integrity over the ability to make money, and refuse to recommend a product until it has met my standards.
And the fourth reason (the most important one) you will learn at the end of this post, so please keep reading.
Here’s the story.
Ever since I read the FDA test results of 400 lipsticks, heavy metal contamination in cosmetics has been a big concern of mine. When I learned that Beautycounter took a proactive approach, I was thrilled and thought we could partner to bring heavy metal-safe cosmetics to consumers. And that was back in 2015. Read my journey with Beautycounter to find out what actually happened.
Just so you know, it would be very easy and potentially lucrative for me just to jump on the bandwagon and say how much I love their products. However, I can’t do that in good conscience, because too many people trust my opinions, and I never want to do anything to lead anyone astray simply for my financial gain. Our health and beauty are my priorities.
Beautycounter claims they do not rely on their color suppliers to tell them what heavy metals levels are in their colors. Instead, Beautycounter says that they send their color products to an independent lab to test for 12 heavy metals. Moreover, they state that they have defined their own strict standards for heavy metals. Here is what they said. “For the most dangerous metals (lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium), these levels are usually undetectable, but we ensure that they are always under 2 ppm.” (source)
And Beautycounter proceeds to tell us in no uncertain terms that, “The only way to be sure that your color cosmetics have undetectable or only extremely low levels of heavy metals is to use Beautycounter.” (source)
These were impressive claims. I contacted them back in 2015 and asked them about their heavy metal claims. In December 2015, a Beautycounter customer service representative replied, stating, “Each heavy metal has a different limit, so we cannot say that the metals are below 2ppm. They have let me know that we do not share actual reports to the customers, but we never release a batch for sale if it does not pass our stringent heavy metal testing standards.”
I was disappointed that the customer service representative could not confirm the claim featured on their website so I decided not to recommend their products.
In July 2016, I decided to take up one of my blog readers on an offer. She had become a Beautycounter salesperson and offered to get answers to my questions. In August 2016, the Beautycounter salesperson forwarded me an email from Beautycounter, which stated the following to my question as to whether their 2 ppm limit of a heavy metal is per product or per color batch. This matters, because normally a product is made with a few different colors. Beautycounter replied, “2 ppm is the limit per product. We test for over a dozen metals, including lead, mercury, nickel, chromium, cobalt. We do additional testing from what suppliers provide. Although we are not sharing test reports at this time, we don’t call supplier specs/certification “testing,” we just consider that a standard, or even background information. We test every color cosmetic product during formulation and every time we’re about to reorder a batch, which we do when we’re about to run out of stock. This is because the suppliers might have changed raw ingredients, and even the same colorant from the same mineral mine could have different contamination if it is sourced from a different part of the mine.”
I was confused as to why they would not want to show me their test reports. If it were me, I would be so proud of my clean products that I would show my test reports to everybody, even to people who did not want to see them. So I thought I needed to learn more about that.
The Beautycounter salesperson was able to put me in touch directly with the Beautycounter team.
As a result of her efforts, I had a conference call with Beautycounter on November 11, 2016. Among other things, I asked them for the heavy metal test results they said they had performed on samples. They said they would get back to me on that.
By the way, sometime in November 2016, the webpage where Beautycounter talked about their impressive limit of 2 ppm of a heavy metal, became unavailable. Now they have a different page on their website where they are not so specific. It says, “Beautycounter is screening all of our color cosmetics for heavy metals and doing our best to reach “non-detectable” heavy metal limits when possible, while always keeping them within our health-protective company standards.”
On December 6, 2016, they sent me a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”) to sign. Companies often use non-disclosure agreements in order to protect their trade secrets, and I was fully prepared to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would work for both of us. However, the NDA they provided me was so rigid that it would not have permitted me to say anything about the test results, even that I signed an NDA with them.
Accordingly, it would have been foolish of me to sign it as it was written. If I had signed it as it was written, I could look at the test results, but would not have been allowed to say anything about them, good or bad, and so merely signing the NDA would have satisfied my own curiosity, but would have prevented me from reporting back to you, and the many people who rely on my opinions, and who have asked for my opinion on Beautycounter’s products. What I needed was some language in the NDA that would have allowed me to say something, even if it were very vague, such as, “I don’t recommend their products.” This is called “safe harbor” language – as long as the language is specifically agreed-to beforehand, it would be okay to say it. So, on December 8, 2016, I wrote back to them and suggested the following addition to the NDA:
- Safe Harbor Language
Notwithstanding the foregoing, if asked her opinion as to any Counterbrands [i.e. Beautycounter] product, Recipient [i.e. Irina Webb] may state as follows:
- “I have looked into their product ingredients and decided not to recommend their products.”
- “I have looked into their product ingredients and have decided to recommend only _________ [or: the following products: __________].”
- If asked to elaborate, Recipient may state, “I am prevented by the terms of a non-disclosure agreement I signed with Beautycounter from saying anything further.”
On December 19, 2016, I talked to them about revising the NDA, and they said they would look into revising it but that they were busy.
On February 13, 2016, I received an email from them suggesting that they would show me test results with redacted sensitive information via a webinar, (which I took to mean via skype or something similar), and I did not need to sign an NDA for that.
In an email dated February 25, I explained to them why this approach would not work. Obviously, sometimes I say things about companies that they might not like. This means that before I say anything about Beautycounter, I have to make sure that I can prove what it is that I am saying. This means that I cannot rely on information that I cannot prove to be true. I do not put myself in “he said/she said” situations — I rely on documents and other verifiable information so that nobody has to believe me; they just have to see the documents and can decide for themselves.
On March 6, 2017, they sent me a revised NDA to sign. Luckily, I gave it to my husband, who is an attorney, to review it before signing. However, this “new” NDA had the same problems as the first one – if I signed it, I would not be able to say anything, even that I signed an NDA.
Later in March my husband spoke with the Beautycounter attorney about the possibility of revising the NDA. He followed up with an email asking them to insert the safe harbor language we had asked them to insert back in December 2016.
Instead of agreeing to the “safe harbor” language on March 24, 2017, Beautycounter again offered to walk me through the requested test results showing the product name, compound, and result with proprietary partner information redacted (I think that means that they would “white-out” the name of the testing facility) on a web/video conference, or I could fly to Santa Monica – at my own expense – to see the actual test results, again with proprietary partner information redacted. However, they said in this email that, “As for sending any copies of the test result outside of the office, we will need to abide by our internal protocols and respectfully decline, given that it contains proprietary partner information and the company has not provided such documentation in this manner.”
Beautycounter has not explained to my satisfaction why they could not email me test results with the information they claim is too sensitive redacted.
I informed them that this option would not work because if I was going to say anything that someone might think would be negative, I had to be able to prove its truth and needed documents in my possession for my defense, if necessary.
This is the end of our Odyssey with Beautycounter. I am saddened and disappointed but I am still hopeful and here is why.
I am hopeful because you are still reading this, which means this post will be read and shared widely. Thank you for doing this!
There are two reasons I am so adamant about knowing heavy metal levels in cosmetics before recommending them. First of all, most heavy metals tend to accumulate in our bodies and stay there for a long time. There is no perfect way to get rid of them. I recently discovered that lead and mercury were elevated in my body – apparently, it accumulated during years when I was not aware I was being exposed to heavy metals. After I found out about them, I did a 5-month chelating therapy to try to get rid of them. While there is a significant improvement, they are still there at elevated levels.
Second, as Beautycounter informed us in the article that they removed from their website, a cosmetic product may contain disproportionally large amounts of heavy metals. The article stated:
“We wanted to know if heavy metal contamination was a problem beyond lead in lipstick and beyond our in-formulation cosmetics, so we purchased 12 types of products (eye shadows, lip colors, blushes, and bronzers) from six other cosmetics brands. We sent the products to the lab to test for 12 different metals at very low levels of detection. The results revealed that every single product—from luxury brands that use synthetic colorants to natural brands that use mineral colorants—contained heavy metals. The most disturbing finding was 240 ppm of lead in a natural, mineral-based product meant for use on the lips. This level is so far above the FDA findings that we asked the lab to run the sample again. The second run of the test showed the same staggeringly high result.”
Please share this post. By spreading this information, I am confident we will find a cosmetics company who will be willing to invest money on heavy metal testing and making products with only minimum levels of heavy metals. And this manufacturer will show us test results without hesitation, maybe even post them on their website. And we will reward this company with our purchases. I can’t wait to use these products! Thank for your help!
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