Alexandra Spunt and Siobhan O'Connor are journalists and best friends who finally had enough from hazardous makeup products and toxic hair treatments—so they decided to write a book about it. No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics _is a bible for the modern-day eco lover. From foregoing shampoo to deciphering the eco lexicon and choosing makeup that not only looks good, it's good _for you, the book brings a fresh perspective on buying safer, effective beauty products without the greenwashing or guilt. We caught up with the two renegades on their beauty backstory below.
B: You two live 3,000 miles away from each other—how did you originally meet?
Siobhan: We go way back. We're both from Montreal and met through mutual friends in high school. We moved in together after high school and starting working at the Montreal Weekly where we wrote about fashion, news, and women's issues—we've been friends forever!
B: The whole whole idea of clean cosmetics and eco-friendly makeup really started after you two got the infamous Brazilian Blowout, right?
Alexandra: Absolutely. At that point, we really had no idea what was in our beauty products—the stench of formaldehyde is awful. My hair went through a crazy stage for a month or two. Women perpetuate this cycle of abuse on their hair when they continually go for more appointments—they don't see the true effect on the hair until it's too late.
B: What made you even want to try the Blowout in the first place?
Siobhan: Honestly, the allure of celebrity endorsement. It was the it thing to do and people kept saying how effective and easy the whole process was. And who doesn't want shiny and straight hair for months on end? Now, even women in the spotlight are starting to react—look at Mary Louise Parker! She told T Magazine how her hair got wrecked because of the treatment. It's refreshing to hear a celebrity speak out.
B: What was the spark that turned you from consumer to journalist?
Alexandra: At that point, we were definitely scared consumers—we didn't know what was going on.
Siobhan: We definitely went into a google panic and researched on the internet a lot. We slowly started realizing that the issue was incredible and unexplored territory in the mainstream. If we didn't know about any of this stuff, chances are most women didn't either. So then we put on our journalist hats and tapped into our resources. We still googled like mad, started looking at credible data, and spoke with experts on both sides. The book was a natural next step.
B: NMDL has a ton of valuable info inside, but how did you come up with final list of product recommendations? What standards were these products put up against?
Alexandra: We were on a deadline with limited time. We wanted to test everything in the most efficient way possible. We tried facial skin care last to give us the most amount of face-time, and standards naturally evolved from that. There wasn't a firm protocol. We were constantly researching about ingredients as we tested the products, figuring out what was clean and what we didn't like.
Siobahn: It's easier now because we know all of this information—the process of researching and testing was akin to eco-beauty boot camp!
B: You've always made a point to suggest eco-friendly drugstore brands—why is it so hard to find clean products that are less expensive?
Siobahn: The problem with most drugstore beauty products is mass production and undesirable fillers. Most drugstore products are manufactured by five big corporations. The company uses similar formulations and raw ingredients among their subsidiary brands, so you're essentially using the same products in different packaging. Drugstore distribution is huge, so the production run has to be massive—the formulas get loaded with stabilizers, preservatives, and other unwanted ingredients. Obviously, there are exceptions which have managed to scale effectively, like Dr. Bronner's, but it's easier to make soap without preservatives versus an entire skincare line. I have to commend big box stores like Target that are starting to carry cleaner lines like Lavera, Giovanni, and Yes To. It's a small step, but we're getting there.
B: The book's hair section was fantastic, with so many tips and tricks! Aveda founder and hair guru Horst Rechelbacher told you two about the backwards washing technique—condition first, then use shampoo to rinse off. Do you ever use this technique for hair?
Siobhan: I've done it, and I think it's a fun and novel technique. I'm not sure if I can do that everyday, but I like that it gets you thinking about accepted beauty conventions. Who said wash-rinse-repeat was the standard?
B: Alexandra, do you still not wash your hair every day? What's your routine for those gorgeous curls.
Alexandra: People are still shocked to this day. No, I don't wash it everyday and it looks better than it's ever been. Recently, at a Korean Spa in L.A., I put oil in my hair then sat in the steam room. I rinsed the oil out using conditioner—yes, conditioner. My hair was super soft and nourished, I guess that's my version of backwards washing.
B: Siobhan, you mentioned in the book that highlights were only beauty weakness you couldn't go clean for (even after a failed attempt at an eco-beauty salon). Do you still get highlights now?
Siobhan: It's funny, right after I wrote that I was going to continue highlighting, I stopped going because I liked the way it was growing out—hello, ombré trend! In December, I was having a particularly bad day and decided to get highlights as a pick-me-up. I think I wanted them for psychological reasons, but who knows? I kind of wish I didn't get them for now, and I think I'll stick to two or three times a year.
B: You both live in the biggest metropolitan cities in the country, how do you detox from the urban environment?
Alexandra: I'm in L.A., but I actually live in a really forested, tree-filled neighborhood. I'm really lucky. The air is definitely cleaner around me compared to downtown. I also work from home, so I don't have to go out as much.
Siobhan: I'm in New York and so I'm used to the pollution. It's a much bigger environmental issue, but you can't walk around with a gas mask on. I make an effort to green everything I can control, like beauty products and food. It's easier to be eco in a city when there's farmers' markets everywhere and public transportation—I take the train everywhere. I freeze food scrap and bring it to the farmers' markets to compost, bring re-usable bags when shopping, and buy clean cosmetics. It's the small steps.
B: Makeup packaging and life-cycle is a huge environmental issue. Did you ever research the ingredients in the packaging itself? Is it true that hazardous chemicals from plastics can leech into otherwise clean formulas?
Alexandra: Definitely, and we're very drawn to glass packaging for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Glass is the best choice since it can be recycled, and there's something so elegant about glass skin care jars. We're not as strict on packaging as we are about the ingredients, but it's certainly something important to consider.
B: I love your approachable style of writing—how has the public received your book?
Alexandra: Aside from a few industry folks, we've had really good positive feedback. This issue is still in the preliminary stages, so it's great to see people getting so excited about it early on. We're getting more interaction on our blog and we just love it.
B: What about the FDA?
Siobhan: We actually haven't heard anything "official" from the FDA. In our afterword, we were pretty critical on our experience with their department, but we're just telling it like it is. With our current legislation, the FDA can't police the industry, nor can they pretend that they do.
B: Do you both have any interest in policy making and regulation?
Siobhan: We come from the perspective of journalists, so we're most excited about finding and providing as much good information to consumers as possible. The Safe Cosmetics Act is set to be reintroduced to the House of Representatives this year. It would be amazing if that passed but we're not relying on policy to effectively make change. We want people to vote with their pocket book. Consumers can't wait for legislation—they have to educate themselves to make informed decisions. If anything, we want people to at least become aware of the ingredients in their everyday beauty routine—just read the labels and get to Googling!
B: Eco is relatively new—do you feel like the first of many eco-warriors to come?
Siobhan: I'm not sure about eco-warriors—there are a lot of people who paved the way before us. It sounds cliche, but we see ourselves as your friends who've tried and tested everything so you don't have to. We want to share information and get women—and men—to make gradually healthier and more informed choices. We're chatty by nature so we love talking about it—in our book and on our blog.
B: Tell me about the blog, how involved are you gals?
Alexandra: We love blogging—seriously. I never would've guessed how much fun it is. It's such a satisfying experience because you have direct and immediate access to your readers, which means immediate feedback. The book was our introduction, and the blog continues the conversation."
B: What are you both up to now and what's in store next?
Siobhan: I'm an editor at Prevention Magazine. I recently became the lead editor our our new planet section and I'm so excited to head this new segment—it's such a personal passion of mine and I'm glad to bring this ethos to a broad audience. We have a massive readership of over 10 million a month, and there's no conflict with the blog, so I get to have the best of both worlds.
Alexandra: I do freelance branding and writing, but Siobahn and I are really excited about the future of clean beauty and its potential. Everything has grown organically and we want to see where it takes us. The conversation is just beginning and we feel so lucky to be on the early end of it. The clean beauty industry is growing and we want to be involved.
Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt are the co-authors of "No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics." But they’re also regular women who are passionate about safe and sustainable beauty, and want to help other women make the best choices available. Find them blogging about all things eco at nomoredirtylooks.com