Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly: Lush Cosmetics

Lush is a company that I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with…I love the people who work on the floor, but I am somewhat dubious about the faux ethics of the upper echelons of the company. I love some of their products so much and have yet to find products that can top them, but there many products that I cannot stand and that are genuinely full of chemicals that are simply bad for you.


I have three top Lush products that I cannot live without. They are the following:

Aromaco Deodorant

This is the best, the most effective and the gentlest deodorant that you will ever have the pleasure to discover. It comes in solid little off-white blocks of heavenly patchouli gorgeousness. I have been using it for more than six years, before which I struggled to find natural deodorant that actually lasted for more than half-an-hour. This stuff is phenomenal. It is basically translucent so there are no unsightly streaks left on clothes. You can put it on directly after shaving and you will feel no irritation whatsoever. You just rub it on and that’s it. It’s amazing for travelling and there’s no worrying about liquid limits at the airport. I have tested this stuff in 45 degree heat in Spain and it lasts all day and all night.

The ingredients in Aromaco are:

Witch Hazel Infusion (Hamamelis virginiana), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Chamomile Vinegar (Anthemis nobilis), Sodium Bicarbonate, Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin), Citral, Limonene, Perfume.

You will notice listed an ingredient that is on my Ingredients to Avoid list, namely Propylene Glycol. That is the only naughty ingredient in this product that I know of, because it is a potential cancer risk and an allergen and it has been tested on animals for the assessment of its toxicity (although Lush does buy their ingredients from sources that do not test on animals).

Figs and Leaves soap

This is the most natural soap that Lush has, although on reading through the ingredients you will notice some chemical additives such as Sodium Hydroxide and EDTA (Lush argues that they use these ingredients in such small amounts that it is ok…more on that later!). It is very gentle on the skin and is full of scrubby fig seeds which give just the right amount of exfoliation action. Figs and Leaves is actually the first Lush product that I bought, all of 10 years ago, and it is still top of my list. It is one of the few Lush soaps that does not contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).

The ingredients in Figs and Leaves soap are:

Water (Aqua), Rapeseed Oil; Coconut Oil (Brassica napus; Cocos nucifera), Fig Decoction (Ficus carica), Glycerine, Aloe Vera Extract (Aloe barbadensis), Sodium Hydroxide, Perfume, Ylang Ylang Oil (Cananga odorata), Orange Flower Absolute (Citrus Aurantium amara), Organic Aloe Vera Gel (Aloe barbadensis), Titanium Dioxide, Sodium Chloride, EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Benzyl Benzoate, Linalool

1000 Kisses Deep perfume

I cannot live without this perfume. Anyone who has gone on the a mission to find cruelty-free perfume will know that it is virtually impossible to find any that does not smell like toilet spray. However, Lush has succeeded in creating some exquisite fragrances that are almost entirely composed of essential oils. This is the only perfume I will wear, and it is great to be able to wear a fragrance that almost no-one else has! (unlike the proliferation of the Armani-Dior-Prada-predictables).

The ingredients in 1000 Kisses Deep are:

DRF Alcohol, Perfume, Myrrh Resinoid (Commiphora myrrha), Labdanum Resinoid (Cistus labdaniferus), Osmanthus Absolute (Osmanthus fragrans), Citral, Coumarin, Geraniol, Benzyl Benzoate, Limonene, Linalool


I actually started my 'Ingredients to Avoid' page by going through the Lush ingredients glossary and doing a full investigation into each ingredient (interestingly, the Lush homepage no longer has a direct link to their ingredients list, and this is a very recent change. You can view the old list here It is by no means comprehensive). Lush very conveniently and vaguely define some toxic and dangerous chemicals in such a way as to brush over the health risks associated with continued exposure to these ingredients. For example, they define Sodium Lauryl Sulfate as "a shampoo base that is derived from coconut and palm kernel oils", and tell you that it foams. That is a very convenient summary of what SLS is and can see a more truthful assessment here (scroll down to 'S').

The ingredients that Lush uses that are dubious are: Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate, Cocomide DEA, Lauramide DEA, Methyl- and Propyl- parabens, Sodium Laureth and Lauryl Sulphate, Sodium Hydroxide (not listed in their glossary, aka Caustic Soda), Talc and Triethanlamine (TEA). You can see my comprehensive list of the effects of these chemicals here.

I used to work for Lush, and during our training we were informed that using parabens is ok because the company uses less that 0.05% per product. At the time I swallowed it. It took a while for me to start doing my own research, and I quickly realised that saying "oh, we use so little it doesn't matter" is just a lazy cop-out that ignores the cumulative effects of these toxins. Parabens are notoriously dangerous for the environment and cause hormonal imbalances in animals, sometimes rendering them infertile and causing sexual mutations. There has been much media coverage of late into the dangers of parabens for the environment and for people. There are now so many companies who are successfully using safe, natural alternatives (such as the awesome Organic Pharmacy), that I do not see how Lush has a valid excuse to use parabens anymore. Lush describes Methyl- and Propyl- parabens as "the safest and mildest preservatives we can find".  They add parabens to most of their non-solid skincare products and a few of their solid ones (such as King of Skin), and in the entire history of the company have never made any effort to find natural alternative methods to preserve their products.

Most of the public I spoke to while working for Lush simply assumed the products were all natural because of Lush's very clever branding and the tactful placement of herby, muddy facemasks kept on ice. I am not ashamed to admit that I regularly informed customers of the truth. You could say I was not the most popular employee with the management! However, there was nothing they could do, since I was simply speaking candidly about the ingredients in the products. While working there, I began to understand that Lush is a whitewash brand that is incredibly skilled at putting on a natural 'front' and reaping the profits from this subtle deception.


Lush management is disorganised and ineffective and most managers treat the floor staff with little respect. There is overwhelming pressure to link-sell, which at times borders on customer harassment (I have been on the receiving end of this harrasment-slash-link-selling as a customer and it is not pleasant!). All the staff are overworked and underpaid.

Lush claims to be rigorous about their environmental policies, but I know for a fact that this is not true. Lush does not ensure that each shop has a functioning recyling scheme, and it is down to the passion of individual employees to make sure recycling happens. I have some friends who still work there and are constantly struggling to implement environmental improvements to the company on a daily basis. It is an uphill struggle, as upper management really do not care or provide funding or training to floor staff on important, day-to-day issues. There is a lot (A LOT) of money and training put into their environmental campaigns and window displays, and of course this is great, but again it is a front and the actually nitty-gritty is ignored.

But by far the thing that I found  most uncomfortable while working there was the cultish nature of the company, the glass ceiling that exists for all except those who practically worship Mark Constantine (the founder of Lush), and the environmental hipocrisy of the individuals in upper management (Starbucks and MacDonalds daily...I could carry on!).

Most of the general public know nothing of the truth behind Lush, and I feel it is important that people are at least made aware so that a little bit of the veneer can be chipped away. It is all about informed decision making. I still choose to purchase my top three Lush products because they work, are mostly natural and are not tested on animals. However, I in no way view the company as the pioneering environmental heroes that they like to masquerade as.

My time at Lush partially steered me towards my current career, and if I had not worked there I probably would not have become so acutely aware of how important personal initiative and research is in the world of ethical cosmetics and makeup. You cannot simply trust the slogan and words like 'organic' and 'natural' do not always mean organic and natural. So I am happy I had my time there; Lush served me well, but perhaps not in the way they intended!


Friday, 1 April 2011

Jennifer Essex unravels her mind for LCF

Last night saw the premier of 'Traveller and Unraveller', a groundbreaking new work created, choreographed and directed by Jennifer Essex (you can view her website here:

I met Jen a few years ago, being blissfully unaware at that time that she is the most sublime dancer. I admit I went through a short period of semi-worship when I first saw her youtube videos. Her style, ease and unique perspective give her a trademark look that makes her work immediately identifiable. In a few words words I would call her work ethereal, insightful and engaging, always communicating unspeakable things while remaining grounded in her integrity as an artist.

Traveller and Unraveller is a showcase for the London College of Fashion's Costume for Theatre, Makeup for Theatre and Technical Effects for Theatre BA Degree students 2011. The show took place at the Cochrane Theatre in London, a wonderful and intimate space where it was pleasurably easy to enjoy the finer details of this fantastical creation. The part of Young Tobias was played by Louise Marie Kerr, a prominent UK actress (her casting call pro page is here: The show had a fascinating fairytale backstory, which you can read here:

The show was sponsored by, among others, the pioneering makeup brand Illamasqua whom I have blogged at length about before (see here). During my cheeky peek backstage, while nitpicking over the finer details of the exquisite prosthetics, I saw a lot of Illamasqua products, and then - to my delight - a lot of Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics (see more here). Yes! I eagerly harrassed the makeup artist about her stash...she even had the airbrush and pigments which are not availabe in the UK. I am not shy to admit that I was green about the gills, however, at the same time it was reassuring to see such a cutting edge, vegan brand utilised in a theatrical environment. According to  the makeup artist I was chatting to, the airbrush pigments by OCC adhered impressively to the dancers for the duration of the performance. No sweat! It is not easy to find makeup that can endure theatrical lighting and the vigour of dance, so for me that was exciting to hear.

The show itself was a visual feast, an orgy of fantasy forced into temporary existance. Jen's concepts for the costumes streched the graduates to their creative limits. There were living, floating bubbles, earthen root creatures, umbilical magical tribal gods, chalky pteradactyls and terrifyingly beautiful metallic inverted hedgehog beings with rhythmical spines. The show was so well paced that we had more than enough time to absorb the details of these creations, which was really satisfying. I am still reeling at the impression of the spiky metal is impossible to describe them in words. I do believe they are a creation of pure genius and whomever the student is who came up with that concept, I applaude you! I have some pictures , but they really only give a vague impression of the amazing-ness off the LCF students' work. It was an audio-visual phenomenon!

If you are in London and you are looking for something unusual and exciting to experience this weekend, then definitely go and see this show! It is on for two more nights only so be quick! You can buy tickets here:

Prosthetic head being applied to a dancer

Costume fitting

Tobias, the Unraveller

Traveller and Unraveller
Cochrane Theatre, Holborn, London

Choreography, Concept and Direction: Jennifer Essex
Design Mentor: Di Mainstone
Composer: Borisa Sabljic
Writer: Harry Man
Video: Ian Pons Jewell and Tim Harrison
Performers: Marie Ronold Mathisen, Elodie Frati, Rhiannon Roberts, Verity Hopkins, Rachael Fraser, Vanessa Abreu, Joelle Naomi Green, Jac Johnston, Sonya Cullingford, Jess Williams, Bianca Silcox, Grace Hann, Jacob Smart, Elena Zino, Anne-Maarit Kinnunen, Elizabeth West, Jo Davie, Alice Cade, Tereza Havlickova, Georgia-Grace Riley
Costumes Designed and Realized by: The Students of the London College of Fashion

Sketch by Rosanna Stalbow and Bea Sweet