One of the nice things about freelancing at big consumer magazines, as I do from time to time, is that the magazines receive lots of free samples of products, from books to CDs to nail polish, and now and then said products are available for me to take home. I've nabbed some wonderful things from give-away tables: my current jewelry box, a cute little purselike tote (it has a logo on it for some sort of diet beverage that I've decided no one will recognize), a handful of CDs I wouldn't have paid for but enjoy owning, and, most recently, a picture book for my niece (who loves it every bit as much as she would if I'd paid for it). I'm a dedicated and unapologetic browser of giveaway tables; I consider it a major perk of the job.
Most of the magazines I've worked for are women's magazines, so in addition to all the usual review copies and promotional gifts that entertainment and culture editors accumulate, they also collect vast quantities of beauty products. (You can always locate a beauty editor's desk; it's the one buried under piles of makeup and perfume and shampoo-and-conditioner sets and revolutionary new at-home hair-removal products.) The magazines' beauty departments test, photograph or simply ignore all this stuff, and when they no longer have room to store it, they unload it in all-proceeds-go-to-charity sales. In the magazine-office world, these sales are MAJOR EVENTS. They attract long lines of women (and men, but mostly women), clutching small bills, panting at the thought of filling their arms with name-brand shampoos and self-tanners and mineral makeup, all going for bargain-basement prices. At one magazine where I freelanced, you had to sign up for a time slot just to be admitted to the conference room where all this stuff was laid out. The competition was not for the faint of heart.
Some months ago, at one of these sales, I picked up a new product from Aveeno. I'm always, theoretically, in the market for a good face wash/skin-improving technique, but the expense involved in testing something new, especially on my very, very sensitive skin, keeps me from branching out much beyond plain old Cetaphil. But I've had good luck with Aveeno products, sensitivity-wise, so when I saw this Aveeno Skin-Brightening Daily Scrub going for a single dollar, I figured it was worth a try. "This daily facial scrub helps improve skin tone, texture and clarity to reveal brighter, more radiant skin," the website's product description promises. And it's true! It scrubs! It brightens! It smells nice! I noticed an improvement immediately, and the irritated reaction I was expecting never came. I loved it so much I was prepared to pay the full price (usually between $8 and $9) to replace my $1 container when it ran out. And then, yesterday, I read this article, in which environmentally conscious party-pooper Hillary Rosner explains that my beloved Aveeno Skin-Brightening Daily Scrub might as well be called Aveno Ocean-Life-Killing Daily Scrub and Earth-Destroyer. Oh, she doesn't name this product or brand specifically, but I had a sinking feeling that, if I checked the ingredients list, I'd find the offending polyethylene. And I was right. The "smooth, round microbeads" that "gently exfoliate while [I] cleanse" could be toxic to ocean life. I am not especially fond of the class of animals that Rosner describes as "invertebrates near the base of the food chain," but I don't want to poison them with plastic, either. So, Aveeno, until you switch to something biodegradable, I guess it's back to my former, non-exfoliating face washes. Maybe I'll pick up something new at the next beauty sale... But I'll check the label first.