This is my fifth Gemstones piece, a blog post featuring people who lead with an open heart and work to uplift others. I’m honored to have the chance to introduce you to the work of Balandra Fregoso.
You are the Executive Director of Parent Services Project, a social worker, and a mother of two boys. And in your parallel life, you are a consultant with Beautycounter doing work around safe cosmetics. Tell me about your decision to add that to your already full plate?
I started a side business with Beautycounter in November 2019, a company based in Los Angeles, whose mission is to get safer products into the hands of everyone. Before I started working as a consultant, I’d been using their products for three years. I’ve really loved working with Beautycounter because they are not just about selling personal care products, they are about health and education.
The Beautycounter mission has three parts:
- High quality, high performing products
Because of my social work background and interest in health and well-being I’ve found this very satisfying because I get to educate folks and make real change. Just today I got an email that the California Toxic Fragrance Chemicals Right to Know Act has been unanimously passed and that happened in large part because of Beautycounter and the 50,000 consultants all over the U.S and Canada.
What do you want folks to know about this work?
Part of the way I reach out and focus on the education piece, is to let people know that the U.S. had not (until August 2020) passed a bill re: the safety of beauty products since 1938. When I first learned this, I was horrified.
Companies have over 80,000 ingredients they can use in creating their products. The Safer Fragrance Bill is so important because fragrance is really tricky. If you look at your hand soap or body wash and read the ingredients, you’ll see the word “fragrance.” Fragrance is a trade secret and that means that companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients in fragrance, which could include things like lead and formaldehyde, which if we knew about, we would not put on our body.
One of the many things that sets Beautycounter apart as a company is that we’ve banned more than 1,800 harmful or questionable ingredients from our products. That’s important because there are many studies that link heavy metals and toxic chemicals to various diseases and not a day goes by when you don’t hear of someone having cancer or an auto immune diseases where the diagnosis about the root cause remains undetermined or inconclusive.
My interest in food and health is connected to this work because if I am going to be aware of not eating gluten, sugar, or other potentially damaging things I put in my body, I also have to be aware of what I put on my body.
What are some ways you recommend for people to learn more about safe products and how to assess whether they are using them?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a skin deep database and they evaluate over 10,000 products for health and safety.
You can download the free EWG Healthy Living app, a great resource that you can use at home or in the store to scan products and find out more about their safety rating. If a product is not in the database, that could mean the company has not given permission for its ingredients to be listed. That is a cause for concern.
On the app there are three color ratings: green/yellow/red, each of which contains more data on each ingredient listed on the product.
You can also download the Social Mission Report published by Beautycounter
Beautycounter is conscious about not using child or slave labor, thinking about the environment, putting everything into glass, and offering more refillable products.
Tell me what you love about working as a Beautycounter Consultant and how readers can contact you.
Beautycounter gives me the education and information I need to talk more about this issue. I think of myself as a “promotora” (Latina peer health educator). I tell folks, “you might want to think twice about that sunscreen…”, b/c sunscreen is a widely used product that people often don’t think about as something that could be harmful.
Working with Beautycounter is another fun way I feel I can make an impact in improving the health and well-being of people’s lives.
People can look on my website and get more information.
I also do pop-ups. Kind of like a modern-day Tupperware party, but more fun. Before Covid-19, they were in-person gatherings and friends would host and invite friends. I’m now hosting ZOOM pop-ups. It’s fun. You can invite friends and family who don’t live in the area and the hostess gets a few thank you products.
I also post on Instagram (abfregoso) and Facebook.
What’s the biggest change you have made in your life as a result of getting involved in this work?
One thing that being involved in Beautycounter has done is bring more self-care into my life. Through this work I’ve connected to other women who are committed to getting these products into the hands of other people. I now take pride and enjoy my morning self-care ritual and that self-care piece was really missing in my life, especially as the mom to two young boys.
Also, the advocacy is a big piece of the work and companies are having to step up their game as they see people responding to Beautycounter’s mission and consumers demanding more transparency.
As a social worker I’ve always been involved in community organizing and social justice work and this is another way I can use my voice and skills to help people take care of their work. Studies have shown that some of the cosmetic products marketed to women of color, such as skin lighteners, dyes, hair relaxers, and nail polish, contain some of the most concerning chemicals used in cosmetics, including known hormone disruptors and carcinogens.
One of my personal missions is to focus my efforts and outreach to women of color because it’s important.
If someone is reading this and thinking, they want to get more involved, how can they do so?
One of the best ways to advance the mission is to join Beautycounter as a consultant. For anyone that feels compelled to get more involved, I’d be happy to have that discussion. Just reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What else are you doing these days?
I am the Executive Director of Parent Services Project and we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary, which is a big deal because the founder Ethel Seiderman’s vision is stronger than ever and I’m trying to move it forward in this COVID world. I’ve been at Parent Services Project for five years. I am also a mom of two boys doing distance learning and still trying to hold on to self-care by making time for myself.