Louise McCown thought she was doing a good job of keeping toxins out of her home. She cloth-diapered her children and only purchased products labeled “natural” or “organic.” But four years ago, during her third pregnancy, Louise ended up hospitalized. Her doctor told her she was having a reaction to something in her environment and explained that everything we put on our skin ends up in our bloodstream. Louise began researching the products she was using and realized the labels she trusted were just marketing — turns out, the personal care products industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like other industries, and the United States has not passed a federal law to regulate the industry since 1938. She immediately began a journey to find safer products for her family.
Lynn Cooper was a busy mom of two young children when her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She asked her mother’s physician what caused the disease. He explained that genetic predisposition is a factor but that environmental factors can trigger a disease’s development. Her world was rocked, and she began obsessively researching how she could help her mother. Lynn discovered that more than 80, 000 chemicals are used in our soap, shampoo, makeup, skincare products and more, and very few of them have been tested for safety. Even more disturbing, she learned the industry is not required to report complaints to the FDA, and recalls of products are completely voluntary.
Bryant Wood taught middle school history and political science for eight years before deciding to stay home with her three children. She slowly began to make changes in the products her family used, and over the span of four years, it became a passion. Bryant learned the European Union has banned more than 1, 300 chemicals from its personal care products industry, while the U.S. has only partially banned 30. She knew she had to speak up. A natural educator, Bryant began sharing what she’d learned with anyone who would listen.
More than Lipstick
These three women’s journeys to detoxifying their homes and products led them to a company called Beautycounter and eventually to something much bigger than buying and selling safer personal care products.
“A lot of people think of us as people who sell lipsticks, ” Bryant says. “And yes, we do sell lipstick and eye cream, but there is so much more to this. We want you to know what you’re putting on and in your body.”
Beautycounter’s mission is “to get safer products into the hands of everyone, ” and it does this through education, product offerings and advocacy.
“I wasn’t looking for a job and certainly wasn’t looking to do advocacy work, ” Lynn says. “But I just felt so empowered when I learned what I learned. The average consumer doesn’t have the time or knowledge to research and make sure their products are safe. I literally couldn’t sleep at night without telling everyone I knew about this.”
Advocating for Change
Last month, Lynn, who lives in Fairhope, traveled to Washington, D.C. with more than 100 women to meet with lawmakers about a new bill — the Personal Care Products Safety Act. Meanwhile, Bryant and Louise, residents of Mobile, met with staffers at Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby’s South Alabama office.
“This is a bipartisan, common sense issue, like seat belts or not smoking on airplanes, ” Lynn says. “More regulation doesn’t mean less commerce in this case. More regulation in this industry is what people want.”
The bill, which has garnered support from companies like Proctor & Gamble, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Johnson & Johnson, would empower companies to bring new products to market faster, Lynn says.
“Currently, companies in this industry who want to produce safe products do all their own research, which is very expensive, ” Lynn says. “If the FDA did that research and regulation for the entire industry, it would streamline the manufacturing process and bring products to market faster.”
Lynn says she didn’t think her voice mattered until she met with lawmakers and they actually listened.
“That’s a powerful experience, ” she says, “to meet with a lawmaker and potentially change the way they will vote.”
Raising World Changers
Louise, Lynn and Bryant have all shared their advocacy work with their children and hope to set an example for them to follow.
Lynn says her 5-year-old daughter is already beginning to understand the work her mom is doing. After Lynn’s trip to Washington, Maddie asked, “Mommy, did you change the world?”
“I hope so, ” Lynn replied. “We’re working on it.”
text by jill clair gentry • photo by elizabeth gelineau