Students launch Fresh Face Forward; unmask toxic chemicals in cosmetics


Would you wash your hair with formaldehyde? Sanitize your hands with pesticide? If you don’t read product labels, you might be doing just that.

The organizational leadership/sustainability studies graduate program at Mercyhurst University has partnered with Pennsylvania Sea Grant to launch Fresh Face Forward, a yearlong social change campaign to raise awareness on campus about toxic chemicals that can be found in many cosmetics and personal care products (PCPs).

With lax federal standards regulating these types of products in the United States market, consumers may be unaware of all of the ingredients that go into their favorite brands. To shed light on the issue, a team of graduate students led by associate professor Anne Zaphiris, Ph.D., developed Fresh Face Forward in hopes of changing habits of young consumers.

“From what we gathered in our research, younger demographics seem to use more of these products,” Zaphiris said. “Many college-aged students are likely to be on a budget and perceive organic or natural products to be more expensive, which isn’t always the case. One of the benefits of targeting a younger demographic is if we can get them thinking about this now, perhaps we can change the way they choose to live in the future.”

In a 2013 survey of Mercyhurst students ranging in age from 18-24, results revealed that on average young women use 11 PCPs daily, while young men use seven. The concern is that daily use of these products — many of which contain dozens of chemicals each — unknowingly expose consumers to several thousand toxins over the course of a lifetime.

With these results in mind, the Fresh Face Forward team aims to increase awareness among college students by 40 percent during the 2013-14 academic year.

One such initiative is “No Makeup Mondays,” where faculty, staff and students can pledge to go makeup-free every Monday during the academic year. Fresh Face Forward will recognize individuals who choose to save face by going au naturel with daisy pins to wear each Monday.

In addition, the team will host lectures and guest speakers, display educational posters and contribute a weekly column to the Merciad called “Beauty Talks.” The team has also compiled a regional shopping guide and a recipe book of homemade beauty and personal care products. 

With these efforts in place, it’s the goal of Fresh Face Forward to improve the health of individuals on campus by inspiring them to either reduce the number of PCPs they use or swap out their products with safer alternatives. A reduction in PCP use will also aid in decreasing the amount of chemicals that end up in our waterways.

“What you put on your body impacts your health and the environment,” said Zaphiris, who recommends visiting Environmental Working Group to find toxicity ratings on personal care products. “This issue hasn’t become mainstream because we’re not talking about it enough.”

While other nations such as Canada and those in Europe have made vast strides in product regulation by banning companies from selling products that contain certain chemicals like the pesticide triclosan, many companies continue manufacturing products with the same harmful toxins here in the states.

Zaphiris noted that both Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to eliminate diethyl phthalate (DEP) and triclosan — both of which have negative effects on the human reproductive system, hormones and the respiratory system — from their products.

“In order to change, you have to change the industry, and the industry doesn’t want to change,” said Zaphiris. “The way they manufacture products now is convenient, it’s easy and it’s cheaper. They essentially regulate themselves.”

Students involved in this campaign include graduate students Elissa Reitz, Alyssa Littin, Amanda Martin and Javi Cubillos Caroca along with undergraduate Leann Krysiak, a communication major; and sustainability officer Brittany Prischak. Courtney Olevnik, a graduate of the organizational leadership program; and Valentina Carrillo, a graphic design major; also contributed to the campaign.

For more information about Fresh Face Forward, visit to find educational information about the top 15 toxic chemicals to avoid, student blogs and suggestions for safe alternatives.

Pennsylvania Sea Grant is dedicated to promoting the ecological and economic sustainability of Pennsylvania’s coastal resources through the development of science-based research, education and extension programs. As a partner in this project, it has provided scientific information and technical expertise. Funding for the yearlong campaign comes from a Great Lakes Sea Grant Network award from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative of the U.S.

For more information about Pennsylvania Sea Grant, visit

PHOTO: (L-R) Assistant lacrosse coaches Amanda Martin and Alyssa Litton test a homemade pumpkin facial before adding the recipe to the Fresh Face Forward recipe book.

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