Rosemary Swift: The Organic Beauty Myth

Legendary make-up artist Rosemary Swift speaks to Ben Burns about the beauty industry being far from ‘natural’

The words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ have become an omnipresent symbol of middle class fashion, angst and aspiration, and this is made most evident in the beauty industry. The law of the natural and organic reigns over beauty halls and websites, and any product which offends it is labelled as toxic. But what does it all mean…should we care about parabens, glycols and silicones, or should we just wake up and smell the marketing?

As someone who unashamedly treats skincare as more of a religion than a ritual, I’m burdened by this dilemma rather too frequently. So to release myself from its traps, I spoke to Rosemary Swift, the longtime legendary and go-to makeup artist of Gisele and Miranda Kerr (and dog sitter of Kerr’s yorkie), a passionate, knowledgeable advocate of natural and organic skincare, and owner of RMS Beauty.

M: How has your decision to use only natural and organic products been received by the industry you work in?

R: Surprisingly, the reaction has been very positive. In 2004 I created www.beautytruth.com, to expose and educate people on the dangers of beauty products. To everyone’s surprise, it has worked in my favour: I have crafted a unique and respected presence, so I plan to continue educating and expanding my line. I can only hope that others will follow suit.

M: What led to your belief that using synthetic skincare products poses a threat to one’s long term health?

R: As a makeup artist, I was constantly trying new products. After years in the industry, my health began to deteriorate: hair loss, hormone imbalance, fatigue, and a whole body yeast infection called candidiasis. I finally ended up in hospital with a weakened immune system, and nobody could tell me what was wrong. Frustrated, I paid for extensive lab tests, and was shocked to discover the truth of beauty. From trying so many different products, I had built up toxic levels of heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides in my system, to the point where the doctor said I should be dead. Now, of course, I am a firm believer in using only real, ‘living’ nutrients – which interact with your skin and body. If an ingredient is in its raw and purest state it will work synergistically with one’s skin. Nonetheless, even so called ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ products contain synthetics due to weak legislation, and the cosmetic industry uses many that are known to be carcinogens. Unfortunately, we focus only on the external effects…

M: Wow, I’m shocked that beauty products can have such a powerful and negative effect on one’s health, and that labels which claim to be natural and organic might not be that at all! What is the extent of this deception; I’m sure it goes deeper than most people realise?

R: Yes, the deception goes very deep, because unscrupulous companies know that the [United States’] Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) works by the motto ‘tell us if it is unsafe, otherwise we will assume that it is safe’. Accordingly, cosmetic companies are not required to test any cosmetic product before it goes to market, and any effort to recall a product must first go through the court system, whilst we smother ourselves in unknown toxins. The industry does have a self-regulating body, called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, or as I like to call it, the fox guarding the chicken coup.

M: That all sounds terrifying, and I can’t help but compare it to a (hopefully hypothetical) situation in which the food industry tells consumers that a food is organic, when really it is full of untested chemicals. How can consumers protect themselves from being misled

R: The only way we can protect ourselves is through education. Do not trust what is written on the front of boxes and bottles: there are no real regulations in effect. When you’re thinking of purchasing a product, don’t be conned by the words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ as they have been completely deprived of meaning. Look at the ingredients list: does it look organic and natural or is it full of scary tongue twisting words? Lastly, follow the work of the Environmental Working Group, which aims to educate the public as well as bring attention throughout the beauty business, and the Organic Consumers’ Association, which strives to keep the standard of organic certification honest.

M: On to a more specific area of focus: sunscreen. We are told to wear it every day, but you disagree. Why?

R: Todays traditional synthetic sunscreens are toxic as hell, and I believe rates of osteoporosis are skyrocketing due to their ability to block vitamin D. It cannot be reproduced synthetically, and is best from the sun. I do advocate the use of safer, natural sunscreens, which are widely available (on beautytruth.com there is a write-up on the sunscreen dilemma, and a list of ingredients to avoid), but please, allow at least 30 minutes each day of natural sun exposure.

M: Okay, I’ve mentally cleared my cabinet of all toxins, now for some general skincare advice. What tips do you have for forming a complete regime?

R: The cosmetics industry makes up skin problems so that they can have a new product, all in the pretense of making money. Conversely, I am all about simplicity: the simpler the routine, the easier it is on the skin. RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream is the best remover and cleanser ever and its natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial properties will get to work on any skin problems almost immediately.

M: And what about people with skin problems such as acne, extreme dryness or extreme oiliness: can natural and organic products can solve such problems and if so, what would you recommend?

R: In the area of acne I believe ‘the skin is a mirror to the gut’. Simply put, if you eat and drink crap, then you have crap skin. No excuses. Eating organic vegetables, drinking purified water, and exercise is half the battle. Without cutting these factors out of your life most acne products will mask the problem for awhile but in reality it is still all in the system. As for products, I love Raw Coconut Cream for its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Taken internally, it also helps the skin by killing bad bacteria in the gut.

M: Aside from your own, what brands can we go to for completely natural and organic products?

R: My favorite skin care brand, and the only other one I promote, is Dr. Alkaitis
(www.alkaitis.com). He is a renowned scientist and makes the whole product by hand. I also like pure organic jojoba oil as a moisturizer because it is the closest to human skin whilst organic rosehip oil is great for reducing scars. The Alkaitis Organic Treatment Oil fantastic because it contains jojoba oil, which is the most amenable to human skin, and rosehip oil, which is great for damage and scars. The reason I do not recommend many lines is because, though they may start with innocence and enthusiasm, the traditional manufacturing process leads to contamination. Unless a brand knows exactly what their line is about from harvest to market, I just can’t take them seriously.

M: There is a lot of information on the issues we’ve discussed, and its easy to feel overwhelmed. For those who are just becoming aware of the issues at hand, what are the best tips to continue with?

R: The best place to start from is the belief that what we put on our skin goes into our system: would you feel safe eating the things you put on your skin? We used to think that the skin was an impenetrable barrier to the outside world and now we know it isn’t: just look at nicotine patches.

M: …and for those who have a keen interest in the issue at hand, can you name any ‘secret’ or ‘unknown’ ingredients for them to investigate?

R: Wow, that is a hard one. One big problem in the beauty industry is the carcinogenic
combinations of ingredients. All chemicals are tested as a single entity but not one test illustrates the combining effect. That is an area very untouched and unstudied.

M: Thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge, it’s been very enlightening! Are there any exciting projects coming up for you?

R: I’m continuing to work as a makeup artist, to honour my role as a voice for safe, honest, natural and organic skincare, and am also expanding RMS Beauty. I recently launched my Beauty Oil, which works wonders for any skin!

RMS products are available at RMS Beauty, Cult Beauty, Content and dermstore.com

One comment

  1. 18 Apr ’13 at 1:02 pm

    Mabel Jeanette Shaner

    Just learned about you through the W Magazine and how the public needs to know about all of this especially Sun Screen and I see parents “pour” it on children. I became allergic to propylene Glycol and it has been terrible and very expensive for me. I also react to some organics as in jojoba oil and neem oil so it has been very hard for me. Also, you are award of Baby Shampoo. I couldn’t believe the ingredients. Thanks so much for this article and please inform us all.

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