Remember the Avon Lady?  If your childhood reached back to the 1970s or even the 1980s, you probably remember her coming to your home, selling various goodies:  cologne for men in bottles shaped like cars stick out in my mind, probably because I think our family still has them.  Just like the Tupperware Lady, being an Avon Lady was the chance to make some spending money, get to know the neighbors, and as the cynic would say, sell “stuff” that people really don’t need.

Avon is still going strong.  The company, which has been around since the 1880s, sells most of its products online now.  And since 1955, Avon has given US$725 million to various philanthropic causes.

The company certain rates fairly high in “green” surveys.  Newsweek ranks them at #25 overall.  Some scoff at Avon’s push to educate and raise money for cancer research, as it has declined to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a campaign to stop the inclusion of chemicals in cosmetics that have suggested links to cancer.  Particularly worrisome are parabens, preservatives used in many toiletries and cosmetics.

The debate over parabens is all over the map.  On one side are some activists who have sent all kinds of scary mass emails.  On the other side is the cosmetics industry, a high-margin business yet very competitive industry that naturally, states that concern over parabens is unwarranted.  The scientific research is suggests that there is a possibility of developing cancer from parabens, but other experts say the results are inconclusive.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.  I take the non-scientific approach:  if I cannot pronounce the word, or have no idea what it is, it is probably best to avoid the product.  If that favorite product you buy has something like butylparaben, ethylparaben. methylparaben, or propylparaben, you may want to avoid it.  But maybe you can’t:  these additives, which are cheap and have been used forever, are in everything from food products to prescription drugs.

My feeling is that will all the chemicals and preservatives to which we are exposed daily, if you can reduce their use, try to cut these products from your shopping list however you can.  Products like shampoo, sunscreen, and deodorant can be bought for a decent price from stores like Whole Food’s (some, at least) Trader Joe’s, or online at Drugstore.com.  Even your local chain drugstore sells good products like Yes To Carrots, which has zero parabens in its product line. It’s probably a solid idea to view what goes on your body the way you should consider what goes into your body:  the fewer ingredients, the better.  And you have probably watched enough morning TV to realize that you do not have to spend a mint on cosmetics and toiletries!

Back to Avon:  the company is not perfect, but does a fair amount for the community.  But the only way to cut out the noise from a company’s marketing campaign and what is spouted in online forums is just to take a step back and read the ingredients, listed in tiny, tiny print on the back of the bottle.

One question sticks with me, however: why would anyone buy something in the shape of a camper, like this 1970s cologne bottle? I wondered what the scent was like . . .

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.