Cosmetic Cop Paula Begoun
The skeptic’s skin care expert
By Trish Randall
As a skeptical consumer you recognize
cosmetic ads designed to appeal to your vanity, and you look askance at claims
for miracle products. But we all use at least some items from the health and
beauty aisles—soaps, shampoo, shaving products for men, and makeup for women. I
consider myself a smart shopper, but for years my bathroom shelves have been
stuffed with potions that turned out to be wrong for me. When I went to the
store with a product in mind, I'd find myself facing a bewildering
floor-to-ceiling array of pint-sized bottles. Which were what I needed? Which would
turnout wrong for me? I was never sure.
unfortunate that it took "luck" for me to stumble upon Paula Begoun, Cosmetic
Cop. Begoun helps men and women determine their skin care needs and assists
them with purchasing the best products at the lowest price. She arms her
readers with solid, science-based information about hygiene products, providing
complete citations for the research she quotes. She exposes the "endless parade
of useless and bizarre information" coming from cosmetic marketing departments.
And, she documents the chains of ownership of the large cosmetics companies and
discloses which discount store brands are identical in formula to the upscale
www.cosmeticscop.com is well organized and packed with information. Despite
being a dot-com site, the quantity and quality of its content rivals a dot-org.
When you visit her website, click on "Learn." Among the subjects you will find
are product reviews, skin care facts, and a cosmetic dictionary—complete with
the meanings (or lack thereof) of common advertising verbiage, as well as
descriptions of and references about chemicals commonly found in cosmetics.
Take, for example, the entry for hypoallergenic: "Term used by the cosmetics
industry to lead consumers to believe they are using a product that will not
cause them to have an allergic or sensitizing skin reaction to a product.
However, the word 'hypoallergenic' is not regulated in any manner by the FDA
and it is therefore used indiscriminately by cosmetics companies without any
substantiation or need to show proof of the claim."
swiftly dismisses misconceptions, demolishes old wives' tales, and discloses
advertising puffery. Take for example, moisturizers. Here's a huge surprise for
every female in the U.S. in the past century: Not everyone needs moisturizer.
Only people with dry skin need it, and not because dry skin causes wrinkles—it
doesn't. Moisturizer results in dry skin being more comfortable, flaking less,
and allows other cosmetics to go on more smoothly. Mildly dry skin needs only
the moisture in a good foundation. Moisturizer on normal or oily skin can
aggravate acne or slow healing on damaged skin.
audience for cosmeticscop.com is women who want to look good, take care of
their skin, and save money, but the site presents useful information for
everyone, including men. Under "Men's Skin Care," Begoun writes that most men
aren't interested in skin care products and, therefore, are less likely to
waste their money on useless ones. But she goes on to say, "While this monetary
savings is significant, it probably means most men don't use sunscreen...and
leave their skin at risk for cancer..." And she has advice to men about
preventing skin irritation from shaving and shaving products.
fussy routines, brand loyalty, and ingredients that research has deemed
worthless. She recommends products with the fewest ingredients, fewest
fragrances, and fewest preservatives. She does not promise miracles, and has
little tolerance for those who do. No cream—or "creme"—can make wrinkles return
from whence they came. But she advises how to prevent further damage and look
your best with what you've got.
hype given botanicals, Begoun comes down firmly against them in cosmetics,
cleansers and moisturizers. Most plant oils are irritating to the skin and a
source of wrinkles. Botanicals decay quickly and diminish the shelf-life of a
product. This necessitates adding more preservatives, which are also
irritating, and more fragrance to disguise rancid odors that rapidly develop in
"botanical" blends, all of which contribute to increasing the cost of the
product. As if that's not bad enough, plant oils are far more likely than
lab-created ingredients to clog pores and feed skin yeast and bacteria, thereby
contributing to breakouts and aggravating skin conditions like rosacea and
most important message throughout all Begoun's writing is: Sun is the root of
many skin problems. Sun causes almost all wrinkles. (A few, like folds around
the mouth, are caused by movement.) She firmly recommends against tanning and
tanning booths, and disapproves of skin care lines that fail to include at
least SPF 15 sunscreen in their formulations. It makes no difference what one's
natural skin color is, unprotected exposure to the sun is dangerous. Protection
against the sun is her most important health and beauty recommendation.
advice covers not just how to choose and use products, but important topics
such as how to care for irritated skin—reduce the number of products to a
minimum, use the gentlest cleanser, and eliminate any new products. She
demystifies skin problems—that breakout you woke up with is probably not due to
yesterday's chocolate bar or bad news, but perhaps to the new shampoo you've
been using the past two weeks. And she reviews skin treatments such as facial
exercises (a waste of time at best, and perhaps a way to increase wrinkles),
skin peels, and surgical procedures. Always, she is informative and encourages
making realistic attempts to look one's best.
book, Blue Eyeshadow Should Absolutely Be Illegal, exposed tactics used
in cosmetic marketing and focused on classic beauty advice. Don't Go to the
Cosmetics Counter Without Me reviews current products, their ingredients,
performance, and price. It is updated every two years. The Beauty Bible
is a detailed guide to skin care, covering makeup, skin problems, acne, and men
and babies' skin care. The second edition includes a new chapter "Miracles,
Frauds and Facts." Her latest book is Don't Go Shopping for Hair Care
Products Without Me. Her research is meticulous, and she publicly updates
information and corrects her own errors. Her advice can be found in her four
books and newsletter, on her website, in her syndicated advice column, and from
to Begoun, I no longer dread shopping for skin care products. Good information
is the antidote to cosmetics ads with their baseless claims and unrealistic
promises. Paula Begoun relies on available science to dispel the myths of this
pervasive, low-level form of quackery.
Randall is an O4R member and a professional comedian and artist from Vancouver,