Story of Cosmetics – How we can really make cosmetics safe

There has been a lot of publicity on Twitter recently about a video called the Story of Cosmetics.  It is fronted by someone called Annie Leonard in association with an organisation called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  I am not sure of the precise structure of the affiliations or how it all fits together, but they seem to come from the same place as the Environmental Working Group, who maintain a database online of cosmetic ingredients with an assessment of the risks they might pose.

Critics are great things to have. If you are doing something wrong, and someone points it out you are in their debt.  So in principle, I welcome people taking an interest in the industry I work in and if they pick up something that us insiders have missed then they are doing us a great favour.  And if someone wants to provide a reliable database of toxicological information that saves me having to go to proper journals to find it, well I would be only too grateful.

So do the EWG/Annie Leonard/Capaign for Safe Cosmetics group play a useful role as critics?  I regret to report that they don’t even come close.

I first came across the Skin Deep database while googling something and didn’t know anything about who was behind it.  (I still don’t know much about them).  The very first thing I looked up I found was completely wrong.  I had a further look and found so much rubbish information I quickly moved on, and gave it no more thought.  As it looked so poor to me I just assumed that nobody else would take it seriously.

But it turns out that the database is part of a wider movement that seems to be intent on campaigning for safer cosmetics, despite the lack of any particular evidence that they are dangerous.  There have been people who have suggested that they have a less obvious agenda.  There is the video called called The Story of Cosmetics the Critique which after demolishing the suggestion that there is any science behind the lurid claims,  goes on to suggest that they have a hidden agenda to push for more government legislation generally.  Some people on Twitter certainly seem to be pushing the video as a way of promoting their products.

But I am going to take the video at face value and assume that Annie Leonard, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group are sincere.  And I certainly agree with their stated aims.  Cosmetics should be safe. And relevant and accurate information should be in the public domain so people can make their own judgments.  So having established that I am on their side I have some advice for the people behind this video.

Don’t use emotive language.  Stick to facts.  If you think that there are carcinogens in cosmetics name them.  If there is evidence then I for one won’t wait for them to be banned.  I’ll reformulate tomorrow.  Literally.  And that is a promise.

Don’t use meaningless phrases like toxins-in, toxins-out.  That conveys no information whatsoever.  But they do sound like they are designed to be frightening.

Don’t use graphics of skull and cross bones all over the place.  It makes you look like a scaremonger.

Don’t claim the scientific consensus supports your case when it doesn’t.  It makes you look dishonest.

Don’t make personal attacks.  It isn’t conducive to a good debate.  For instance you state that the cosmetics industry is stuck in a 1950s mindset.  You can no more prove that than I can prove you are a deliberately stirring up fear to scare people into eliciting donations for your organisation.  That is just my opinion.  A fact would be that every time I get an e-mail from the EWG it contains no useful information but always asks for a donation.  Throwing insults about makes it difficult to have a reasoned debate.  If you say I have a 50s mindset all I can do is get angry.  If you tell me that a particular chemical poses a particular risk, then I can assess it and take action.

The Story of Cosmetics video has made no contribution whatever to making cosmetics safer.  In fact the opposite is true.  It is so poor a piece of work that it will play into the hands of anyone resisting legislation.  It doesn’t help consumers make informed choices.  All it does is create anxiety for anyone who sees it not knowing the background.

So if you really want to actually help, do another video sticking to facts and avoiding emotion. If you have any specific issues raise them specifically.  If you do that I promise you have a better chance of influencing people positively.

I don’t expect any reply to this blog post from the supporters of the EWG.  One thing I have noticed about people who use the internet to spread scare stories is that they never, ever, ever, ever respond when challenged.   And that is the one fact that I personally find the most interesting.

3 thoughts on “Story of Cosmetics – How we can really make cosmetics safe”

  1. Thank you very much for this post. It was very informative. I literally just finished watching this video on an organic cosmetics website and was particularly scared when the word carcinogens was mentioned. Now it just seems like a strategically placed marketing tool. I’m glad I stumbled on this post!

  2. Jeannette Tolomeo

    Good on you Colin….well said. You are 100% correct when you say ‘just state the facts’ I have my own skin care range in which I choose to use organic ingredients because I love the ingredients for what they are, definitely not scare people into buying my products. Do people honestly believe that the FDA would let cosmetic companies use ingredients that pose a danger to humans….I think not. Please,……we’re not in the 1950’s!

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