Are you familiar with The Story of Stuff? If you’re not, you should check it out. It’s a 20 minute film that chronicles where the stuff that we use every day comes from, and the problems with the system that produces it.
Just recently the people behind The Story of Stuff, in partnership with The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Free Range Studios, have brought us The Story of Cosmetics. The video details some of the concerns about cosmetics, including misleading labels, lax or nonexistent regulations and untested, possibly toxic ingredients.
Many of the concerns raised in the video were brought to light here in Canada over two years ago, when Health Canada found lead in lipstick. Of 26 lipstick samples tested, 22 contained lead. Health Canada claimed that the amounts weren’t high enough to be harmful. At the time that story broke, I was 7 months pregnant with Jacob. You can bet that I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of exposing my unborn child to lead, whether Health Canada said it was safe or not.
I doubt that I am the only person who feels this way. And yet, like many other people, I remain at a bit of a loss. Unlike in the US, Canadian cosmetics are required to list ingredients. But not all of them. And ingredients lists alone are not a huge help. I am not a chemist or an environmental scientist. I don’t know which unpronounceable words signal danger. I don’t know what kind of impact this product or that product has on the planet or on me.
Organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society do a good job of explaining why we need clear labels. But we need more than that. We also need regulations that protect the health and safety of individuals before they protect the interests of private industry. We need to test the stuff we slather ourselves with before we slather ourselves with it. We shouldn’t need a PhD in order to choose a safe baby shampoo.
If you’re concerned about the safety of your cosmetics and personal care products, what can you do? First of all, you can check out the Cosmetics Safety Database. The database allows you to search for specific products or ingredients, and outlines any concerns surrounding them. You can join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. You can contact your elected representatives and share your concerns. You can share The Story of Cosmetics. If you’re in Canada you can sign Environmental Defence’s Just Beautiful Petition, to let our lawmakers know about your concerns.
We can also re-consider the number of personal care products that we use. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and smell good. I want to look and smell good myself. Sometimes it’s fun to dress up and wear lipstick and nail polish and hair products. But we must recognize that the beauty industry is trying to sell us stuff, just like any other industry that markets consumer goods. They want us to believe that we are flawed and need their stuff. If we aren’t concerned about the state of our skin or the shininess of our hair, we’re not going to shell out for products to fix them. Even initiatives like the Dove Movement are marketing campaigns aimed to make us feel favourable towards a certain brand.
My daughter Hannah is 5 years old. I don’t want her to feel that she needs to coat herself with stuff to be OK, and I especially don’t want the stuff she coats herself with to contain toxins. That’s why I want to see change in the cosmetics industry.
Have you seen the video? What do you think? And how do you make decisions about what cosmetics to buy, and what cosmetics to avoid?