My story begins on a plane. All I did was ask the woman next to me for some lotion. Eyes wide, she looked at me like I'd asked for rat poison. She told me she did not use lotion anymore and launched into a long synopsis of the book that informed her decision: Toxic Beauty, Samuel Epstein's frightening glimpse into the cosmetics and personal-care products industries.

My flight mate informed me that most if not all of the cosmetics and hygienic products that I used were bad for my health in one way or another. Then she dropped a bomb: cancer. That was more than enough to get my attention. "The book changed my life," she said while massaging grapeseed oil into her hands, as I scribbled toxic beauty on my boarding pass.

As my friends can tell you, the only room I usually make for a recommendation in my long list of books to read is at the very end. But this one quickly moved to the front. And now it is my turn to say, "This book changed my life"—including the way I shop, the products I use, my health, my beliefs about responsible living, and my views on makeup.

Toxic Beauty's central premise is that most of the cosmetic and personal care products (e.g., shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste) contain hazardous chemical ingredients, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal regulatory agency that should be responsible for monitoring such ingredients, is recklessly negligent.

As Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, notes, we assume that our products are safe because we believe the FDA would not allow unsafe products on the market. Not true. The law, says Epstein, "does not require cosmetics or personal-care products and ...

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