When she was 14, Ava Anderson, like most girls her age, began experimenting with makeup. But when the Environmental Working Group’s 2008 Teen Study revealed that adolescent girls across America are contaminated with chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products, Ava began to look for safer alternatives. After throwing out most of her products, her mothers’ and grandmothers’ too, she still had nothing to replace them with, or to recommend. After months of research, Ava realized that she needed to create her own products. In 2009, with the help of a family friend in the cosmetic manufacturing business, Ava and her mother Kim started a line of personal care and home cleaning products and named it Ava Anderson Non-Toxic.
Now 19 years old and a sophomore at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Ava has become a thoughtful and articulate entrepreneur as well as an activist. I recently caught up with her and her mother to hear more about the company.
NH: I see you shy away from the word “natural” in your products. Is there a reason for that?
Ava: Yes; companies use labels such as “natural” and “organic” to greenwash consumers, tricking them into believing that the ingredients in a product have been tested and are safe to use on the body or in the home. When manufacturers list the words “fragrance” or “perfume,” the law allows them to include many ingredients that can be considered toxic without listing them separately. An example is phthalates, which are considered to be an endocrine disrupter. Use of such ingredients creates a global threat to fertility in humans and safety of our environment. And yet they are often omitted from ingredient lists.
NH: How do you conduct your research?
Kim: Currently we do our own and work with formulators around the country. The Environmental Working Group has a scoring chart for hazardous chemicals ranking them from 1 to 10. We use that list to check product safety. Consumers are tricked by companies that say only natural ingredients are contained in their products; when we research them we find a lot of false information. And plant ingredients can be more effective than synthetic: did you know that catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET in fighting insects? We learned that and came up with an insect repellent containing it.