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Britta Aragon, makeup artist and creator of CV SkinLabs, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 16. Eight years later, her father was diagnosed with colon cancer. She recalls how her father suffered numerous side effects and cancer reoccurrences, as well as a secondary cancer in his brain. Britta says this experience put her on the path to what she does today.
How has your history with cancer and your father’s influenced your interest in skincare products that are free of harsh chemicals?
I think the ultimate lesson I’ve learned is that you just can’t take your skincare for granted. All products are definitely NOT the same, and just because they’re on the shelf doesn’t mean they’re safe. One of my worst experiences occurred when I bought a face cream for my father. He was suffering an acne rash from chemotherapy during his 8-year battle with cancer, and having been in the beauty industry as a makeup artist for years, I thought for sure I could find him something that would really help. But even though I bought a high-end product reputed to be one of the best, it burned and irritated his skin. I was lost! That’s when I really started reading labels and researching what was in these products. What I discovered really surprised me – namely, that many of the products we think are quality items have potentially harmful chemicals in them.
How else has your life changed since you became aware of the dangers lurking in so many products?
Everything changed for me after that moment. A cancer survivor myself, I, of course, was interested in being healthy, but after that experience with my father, I started looking more seriously into everything I was putting on my skin and into my mouth. As I started seeking out more natural cosmetic products with nourishing ingredients, it was easy to look more closely at my diet as well. Now, not only do I make sure that I’m getting all the nutrients I need every day with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, but I’m also examining very closely what works for me.
Just last year I learned that I have a sluggish thyroid, so I’m not eating soy anymore, and I used to love soy milk. Last year, I started working with Dr. Frank Lipman, founder and director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. I no longer eat gluten or sugar and rarely eat dairy (since I am prone to breakouts). I also get colonics once per month, try to eat everything fresh and nothing packaged (except the occasional Go Raw Banana flax bar), and practice yoga four times per week. These changes made a huge difference in how I feel, how my skin looks and how I handle stress. There are general guidelines out there for eating healthy, but we all need to find out more about our own unique physiologies, so we can do what’s best for our bodies. By finding what works for us, we can make lasting changes.
Tell us about CV Skinlabs. What does the “CV” in the name represent?
After my father passed away in 2007, I knew I wanted to honor him in some way. I founded and created CV Skinlabs and The Cinco Vidas blog as a way to help others like him who couldn’t tolerate the average products on the market today – or who just wanted to use natural, safe ingredients so they wouldn’t have to worry about potential side effects and reactions.
“Cinco Vidas” means “five lives” in Spanish, and my heritage is Mexican, so the name made sense that way. But more importantly, my father renewed his fight against cancer five times. He would go into remission, but then the cancer would return in another part of his body, and he would commit himself again to the battle. He did this five separate times! I so admired his strength and perseverance in the face of such difficult challenges, and it seemed the perfect name for the work I am doing in his honor.
How did you create the formulations for CV Skinlabs and when did the products officially launch?
When I started the line, I assembled a team of doctors and natural formulations chemists to study “bio mimicry,” the use of nature’s recipes for skin repair. I learned that applying the right combinations of bio-compatible ingredients was critical to restoring and healing skin without irritation.
But I wasn’t totally satisfied yet – I had every single ingredient toxicologically reviewed before clearing it for inclusion in my product formulas to ensure each one had a “100% clean assessment.” This was the only way I could make sure that my formulas were truly safe while clinical testing ensured the formulas worked.
The research and testing proved these products can be used with peace of mind by all – particularly those with sensitive skin, chemical sensitivities, or conditions like eczema and chronic dryness, to name a few. These skin types have very fragile skin. The outer layer has been damaged in some way and it’s less able to hold onto moisture, heal itself, or protect itself from contaminants like chemicals, pollution and bacteria. This damage can also make skin extremely thirsty and in need of nourishment, causing it to look dull, ashy, lined, and stressed. Potentially irritating and toxic chemicals can penetrate its weakened barrier and cause itching, burning, redness or allergic reactions.
We launched CV Skinlabs on March 15, 2012, so we’ve recently hit our one-year anniversary. We’re thrilled with the response to the line so far from devoted customers, doctors and beauty editors who are all hailing the noble qualities of CV Skinlabs.
What ingredients do you avoid in your forumulas and what are your star ingredients?
I have a list on my website of ingredients to avoid. I have several I stay away from, but probably the top four right now are sulfates, phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, for example, and it can be particularly dangerous because it’s usually not listed on the ingredients deck. It’s a by-product, released when you combine certain other ingredients, so this is why it’s important to not only read labels, but also buy from companies who are really conscious about creating safe formulas.
Phthalates are plasticizers that upset hormone function. These have been linked with diabetes, developmental problems, liver problems, birth defects, and more. Parabens are synthetic preservatives that are also hormone disruptors, and sulfates are in just about every cleansing product you can find, but they’re much too harsh and drying for skin.
As for star ingredients, right now I’m super excited about the Tri-Rescue Complex we have in our products. This is a synergistic combination of Reishi mushroom, bisabolol (from chamomile), and turmeric (spice from India). Reishi is a super powerful antioxidant that protects skin from free-radical damage and also hydrates and reduces the risk of allergic reactions. Bisabolol is calming and healing, plus provides antibacterial benefits, and turmeric has shown anti-cancer effects, while also delivering anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and antioxidant protection. These are three heavy-hitting ingredients that we’ve blended in a unique way to create radiant, stunning results.
Do you have a favorite product in the line?
Though we feel all four of our products are stars, the one that has really stood out for our customers is our Rescue + Relief Spray ($34 in the shop), I think because it’s just so unique. There really isn’t anything else out there like it. A combination of chamomile, cucumber, water lily, comfrey, and valerian, it’s a calming, soothing, and cooling formula that you spray onto irritated, itching, burning, rashy skin. We tell our customers to store it in the refrigerator, and use it after shaving, chemical peels, radiation treatments, laser treatments, and the like. But we’ve gotten even more feedback on its effectiveness against eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. I had a mom email me before-and-after pictures of her son who had eczema, and within three days this product had cleared it up. She was ecstatic.
Tell us about your philanthropic partnerships.
Our efforts to support other organizations that are trying to give back are hugely important to us. For example, we’re supporting a fantastic organization in Pennsylvania called “Horse Power for Life.” Founded by Shiree Sansone, a cancer survivor, and her partner Barbara Rosoff, the organization offers free horsemanship programs to cancer patients and their families. Horses are great healers, and working with them can help survivors recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Other organizations that we’re delighted to support include Brighter Days, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Gilda’s Club, Women's Voices for the Earth and other volunteer organizations around the country.
Are you working on any new product developments?
We are working on expanding the line this year and are very excited about what’s coming! I can’t give away any hints at this point, but our customers can expect all of our new products to be as safe as our four premier offerings – free of harsh chemicals and filled with nourishing natural ingredients that work with the skin’s own biology to create that youthful radiance and glow.