Teens for Safe Cosmetics members pick products.

ROSS, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)–Members of Teens for Safe Cosmetics have over the past five years encouraged peers to read cosmetic labels, take a closer look at those colorful tubes in their makeup bags and use fewer products that contain ingredients researchers say can potentially cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.

Last fall, under the guidance of Judi Shils, the group’s 52-year-old executive director, Teens for Safe Cosmetics moved away from the commercial sidelines and began actively endorsing products, launching its own Teens Turning Green line sold exclusively through Whole Foods stores nationwide.

There are nine products so far, including a deodorant, soap and moisturizer, and the group is planning to add more.

Sales figures through the end of December amounted to $150,000, said Sue Waiss, director of operations for Teens Turning Green, which plows its 10 percent portion of gross sales–$15,000 so far–back into funding its nonprofit Teens for Safe Cosmetics’ programs. The remaining revenue goes to the handful of small cosmetic companies that contribute to the line at Whole Foods, the nationwide chain founded in Austin, Texas, in 1980. She said the group will be tracking sales for six months to see what patterns emerge.

Girls and female teens across the country are contaminated with worrisome chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products, a September 2008 study by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental research group headquartered in Washington, D.C., found.

Teens Turning Green products offer a healthier alternative, backers say.

"You don’t have to stop wearing makeup or washing your face but you can choose safer alternatives," says Erin Schrode, a 17-year-old member of Teens for Safe Cosmetics from California’s Marin County.

Industry Not Impressed by Agenda

Kathleen Dezio, a spokesperson for the Personal Care Products Council, a Washington-based trade organization, said in a statement that the Environmental Working Group has chosen to publish data that "supports its agenda rather than providing a full picture of the body of scientific research on these issues." She directs consumers to the council’s Web site to see the hundreds of scientific studies evaluating the health impact of ingredients in personal care products.

The federal Food and Drug Administration does not review or approve cosmetic ingredients or products, nor does it require companies to conduct safety tests on cosmetics or beauty products. But it does investigate complaints from consumers.

Schrode says volunteers, like herself and about a dozen others, spent hundreds of hours in 2007 and early 2008 sampling between 80 and 100 products for the Teens Turning Green line, agreeing on the ones they liked best and then approaching the manufacturers to make modifications in qualities such as texture, color or scent.

Some of their favorites were made by four San Francisco Bay Area companies: Benedetta, Depth, EO Products and Pomega5. They also liked products made by Alaffia in Olympia, Wash.; Astara in Phoenix; and Terra Naturals in Toronto.

Teen Product Endorsers

Tzeira Sofer, founder of Pomega5, an all-natural skin care line based in Marin County, says the teens essentially serve as product endorsers, but not in the same sense as actresses or models who accept payment to identify themselves with major makeup brands.

"They promote a product because it is in line with their organizational mission. They never receive any direct or individual payment for their efforts," she said.

Sofer says she put about $250,000 of her company’s money into three of the products, making her the biggest stakeholder.

Shils says every company put up money to get the project going.

As part of its regular work, Teens for Safe Cosmetics flags ingredients in all sorts of consumer products–everything from cleaning products to toys to computers–deemed to be harmful by health experts.

Work on Teens for Safe Cosmetics started in early 2005 when Shils held a dinner-meeting and invited students from schools around the San Francisco Bay Area to get involved with the nonprofit. About 100 attended and that started the first chapter. The group also has an active chapter in New York.

Teens for Safe Cosmetics is currently researching and developing more products for its line: a lip balm, shampoo, sunscreen and toothpaste. The group hopes to sell those in Whole Foods as well.

Selling on Store Shelves

Whole Foods operates a chain of more than 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom but so far the Teens Turning Green products are only stocked in stores in the United States. A quick check at three Bay Area Whole Foods retailers showed that many sample-testers are empty and supplies are low.

The current products range in price from $4 for a sanitizing spray to $21 for a facial mask, which is comparable–if not slightly less–than similar products on the shelves at Whole Foods.

The best sellers to date are the Terra Deodorant, the Pomega5 Cleansing Bar, the Depth facial cleanser and the EO hand sanitizer, said Waiss.

"So far, this resonates with every teenage girl I have talked to, and even with some boys," says Schrode, a private-school student who says she grew up in a "green bubble" with parents who use natural shampoos and have eaten organic foods for decades. But she says safe cosmetics have widespread teen appeal. "When you tell someone about the products, it doesn’t matter where they are from. They are interested."

Mattie Kahn, a 15-year-old from New York City, agrees, pointing to the growing popularity of products marketed as eco-friendly and sold through major retail outlets such as Target and Rite Aid.

One criterion for "green" products is that they are locally grown or sourced. In that regard, the Teens Turning Green line may attract its own consumer watchdogs.

Alaffia, which makes the line’s Mambo Mango Body Butter, imports ingredients such as papaya leaf extract, shea leaf extract and virgin coconut oil from Togo in West Africa. Pomega5 gets ingredients from France and Terra Naturals uses resources in Canada, said Shils.

Tim Schaeffer, founder of Depth, said the majority of his company’s ingredients come from the West Coast. For instance, the kelp he uses in the shampoo and conditioners come from around the Monterey Bay area and the Fucus vesiculosus (seaweed) in hand soap, lotions and shave cream are harvested from the Pacific Northwest.

Kristin Bender is a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is her second story about clean cosmetics.