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The dangerous side of beauty

Former Ms. America is on a mission to educate women across the country about personal-care products

Posted: April 15, 2010 9:38 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Susan Jeske, Ms. America 1997, recently spoke at the Paseo Club in Valencia about the dangers of toxic cosmetics and personal-care products. The former beauty queen gave up a lucrative cosmetics contract and started touting organic and holistic alternatives to women's groups, after a personal health crisis made her aware of some of the dangers ...

What does a beauty queen do when she finds out her cosmetics are toxic?

If you’re Susan Jeske, Ms. America 1997, you trade in all those bottles and tubes for a cleaner alternative and report your findings to women all over the United States.

“The average American woman uses 12-25 beauty products every day and by doing so, are exposing themselves to 200-plus chemicals in one day,” Jeske said at a recent seminar at Valencia’s Paseo Club. “The government is not watching out for us. The FDA is not protecting our health.”

According to Jeske, the European Union has banned more than 1,100 beauty care products for being overly toxic over the last 67 years, while the United States has banned just 10.

As cosmetics are a $50 billion a year industry with profit percentages in the thousands, the principles involved are not highly motivated to change, Jeske said.

“We are the lab rats. They are testing on us. This is the least-regulated industry,” she said. “Americans deserve safer products.”
Jeske passed out a list of the “Toxic 12” ingredients commonly found in cosmetics and urged the audience to check out product labels while shopping.

Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate — detergents and surfactants that are used in 90 percent of personal-care products that foam, as well as in garage- floor cleaners and degreasers — have been shown to cause eye damage, depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and severe skin irritation in laboratory animals.

Benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient frequently used in acne products, is described on its Material Safety Data Sheet, a form required under the Occupational Safety and Health Association Communication Standard on the identity of hazardous chemicals, as having health and physical hazards, exposure limits and precautions such as “facilitates action of known carcinogens. Possible tumor-producer. May act as a mutagen, produces DNA damage in human and other mammalian cells in some concentrations.”

Even toothpaste, Jeske pointed out, has warnings to call the Poison Control Center if more than a pea-sized amount is swallowed. And tearless shampoos? Think again.

“Those shampoos do sting, they just have a numbing agent so it can’t be felt, and a whitening agent so you can’t see it,” Jeske said to audible groans. “You have to read labels and vote with your dollars. The more you do that, the more it will force the cosmetic and personal-product companies to change their formulations.”

Side effects from her use of more than 40 personal-care products were the culprit to Jeske’s failing health in 2002, she said, when she was suffering from ailments ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome to fibromyalgia to persistent sinus infections.

A gall bladder attack sent Jeske on the path of alternative therapy.

Instead of surgery to remove gallstones, she opted to visit a holistic healer, who prescribed a protocol of bathing in epsom salts and supplementing her diet with grapefruit juice, olive oil and apple cider.

The first night, she excreted one cup of gallstones. The next night it was two.

When Jeske when back to her physician for an ultrasound three weeks later, the problem had vanished.

“They thought it was voodoo,” she recalled. “I thought, what can I do holistically for my other problems?”

Those problems included an outbreak of painful pimples on her scalp and the back of her neck, which had plagued Jeske for years.

“My holistic doctor asked me what I was putting on my skin,” she said.

The answer was baby oil or mineral oil, which Jeske would slather on after a shower to keep her skin moisturized. What it was really doing, she said, was sealing up her skin and not allowing it to breathe, forcing toxins to come out through her scalp.

Jeske demonstrated the effect by dipping a saltine cracker into one of two martini glasses, both filled with clear liquid.

The first was water and the cracker crumbled within seconds. She then submerged a new cracker into the second glass of mineral oil.
When it came out about a minute later, it was hard, seemingly coated in plastic.

“It feels like a credit card,” she said, tapping the cracker and passing it around to the audience. “Your skin is the largest organ in your body and the second largest detoxifying organ, behind the liver. It absorbs 60 to 70 percent of what you apply on it into the bloodstream, where it’s then carried to your lymphatic system and your brain. Mineral oil is not what you want going on your skin.”

Within two weeks of discontinuing the mineral oil, Jeske’s skin and scalp problems cleared up.

The experience was so profound for Jeske that in 2008, she quit a six-figure endorsement deal with a cosmetic company and began to research natural beauty products.

She is now promoting Nikken True Elements Swiss Organic Skin Care, a line of eco-certified products from Europe, at the end of her seminars across country. Jeske appears at women’s groups and conventions, and has been frequently featured in print and television editorials to expose what she calls “The Ugly Side of Beauty.”

“If people start buying natural and organic products, the movement will grow. There are movies and books coming out on the topic. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger,” she said.

For Lorinda Graziano, an instructional aide from Valencia, Jeske’s message rang loud and clear.

“You really don’t think about this kind of stuff, but this seminar kind of wakes you up. I’ve always been into health, but now I am definitely going to go through my old products and be more cautious buying my cosmetics from now on,” Graziano stated.

For more information on cosmetic ingredients, visit or
For more information on Susan Jeske, visit To schedule a free seminar with Susan Jeske for groups of 40 or more, contact Virginia Applen at (310) 341-3103 or

Additional reporting by Madeline Rosenberger and Kaitie Byrne.


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