WHEN most of us run out of toothpaste or deodorant, we head to the local supermarket or discount chemist to purchase a replacement.
We buy products from international conglomerates that contain ingredients we can’t pronounce — and don’t give it a second thought.
Irene Falcone, the founder of natural and “toxin-free” beauty website, Nourished Life
, finds this behaviour baffling.
“Women put on up to 500 different chemicals on their bodies before they leave the house in the morning, which I think is shocking. Some women have no idea what they’re putting into their bodies,” Falcone told news.com.au.
“Why would you buy a product that could possibly be harmful? If you could buy a product that is preserved with something natural, that comes from a natural source so therefore it’s safer for our skin, why wouldn’t you?” Falcone said.
In 2011, the 42-year-old Sydney woman quit her corporate job, sold her house and started selling natural beauty products on her website, via her popular Facebook page
Falcone started with $100 and just a few suppliers — now her online store sells thousands of products and has an annual revenue turnover of around $20 million.
“I was writing these blog posts about natural ingredients but I was getting feedback from readers saying, ‘Well this is all very well and good, but where can I buy this stuff from?’ I realised there was nowhere that sold these products,” Falcone said.
“So I said instead of buying the Lucas’s Paw Paw Ointment with the chemicals in it, you can get this one that has beeswax in it from this brand.
“I took $100 out of my pay and I bought 100 lip products from America and I sold them through my blog and my Facebook page. We had five different products back then and now I think we have 5000 or 6000. It really snowballed.”
Just like the organic and “clean” food movement before it, the natural beauty market is taking off. Industry advocates are concerned about the chemicals and so-called “toxic” ingredients found in many of the products women use everyday and the potential long-term damage they may cause.
But what does “natural” actually mean? Some organic and natural beauty advocates swear by the mantra: “If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your body”. Others are less militant.
The best way is to compare a natural beauty product with one you’d find in your supermarket cosmetics aisle — their ingredients are hugely different.
For example, the Black Tea Ultra Lengthening Mascara sold on Falcone’s website contains ingredients such as organic green tea, various berry extracts, cocoa butter and powdered coffee beans. In contrast, you’ll find Triethanolamine, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Methylparaben and Quaternium-15 in Maybelline’s hugely popular Great Lash Mascara.
Picture: Christian GillesSource:News Corp Australia
Falcone says it’s taken years for consumers to start caring about these sorts of ingredients.
“I have to say, I was called ‘crazy’, ‘ahead of my time’ and a ‘silly hippie’ by a lot of people,” she said.
“There were times when I thought ‘This is crazy, there is no way I could quit my corporate life and sell my house and give up everything to pursue this’, because nobody believed it, but I did it anyway.
“I remember about five years ago I wrote a blog post about perfumes and how they’re not great for you and I got hammered for it.
“I put a new one up recently — exactly the same content, just with some updated statistics — and now we have thousands and thousands of comments from people supporting it. I think social media has driven the awareness of these chemicals among women. It’s amazing.”
But while health experts say there’s nothing wrong with swapping out your moisturiser for a natural face oil, they do raise concerns about some alternate health products — like fluoride-free “non-toxic” toothpaste and various “gut-cleansing” products which claim to detox the body, something our livers and kidneys already do without assistance. Falcone sells many of these products on her website.
Some of the natural beauty products sold on Nourished Life. Picture: A Nourished LifeSource:Supplied
She cites paleo chef Pete Evans and founder of the I Quit Sugar movement Sarah Wilson as “great, strong voices” advocating for toxin-free and sustainable products.
Evans has come under fire for suggesting that fluoride, which is added to our drinking water and in most commercial toothpastes, is a “neurotoxin”. He supports lobby group Fluoride Free WA, which argues fluoride is “harmful” and causes disease.
While Falcone insists she would “never say that fluoride is bad ... there is so much research on both sides”, she uses a toothpaste without fluoride in it.
A recent visit to the dentist left her “petrified”, she told her 60,000 Instagram followers, about how much damage her teeth had potentially endured.
“I was ... really worried because I have not used any fluoride toothpaste for over five years and I also filter it out of my water,” she wrote.
“In the back of my mind I was wondering if that’s going to have any negative effect on my teeth. Yep — even I was worried about that — must have been the 40-plus years of toothpaste ads on TV effecting my brain.
“After some happy gas, a thorough check up and two Xrays the dentist said my teeth were in perfect condition! I didn’t need any fillings at all and sent me home. Possibly one of the happiest moments of the year so far.”
Pete Evans wearing a Fluoride Free WA T-shirt.Source:Facebook
Falcone says she is not a “controversial person” and that her website “never takes sides”.
“Where I stand is, I’m an online information source and a store and I give people the choice,” she said.
“So if you decide you don’t want to use fluoride, you need to go to a place where they sell non-fluoride products and I’m offering consumers that choice. If you go into the supermarket it’s very hard to find what I’m offering consumers.”
For the record, Australian Dental Association spokesman Michael Foley says fluoride prevents tooth decay and has “staggering” public health benefits.
“The amount of fluoride in our water supply is about one part per million,” Mr Foley said.
“Of course fluoride is poisonous in large amounts, just like if you have too much oxygen, water, calcium, or vitamin C, you will die. Too much fluoride will kill you, but not in the amounts we consume — they’re tiny.”
Most Nourished Life customers are women with children, pregnant women or those trying to conceive.
“It’s because they’re having a little baby inside them … that’s when the penny drops for most people,” Falcone said.
But her aim is to become the “organic Amazon” and reach middle Australia.
“I believe every Australian family should have access to affordable natural products and not have to buy the cheap stuff full of chemicals. That’s the reason I exist.
“If I can be the number one place that people think of when they want to buy these alternative product, then that’s my goal.”