The Story of Cosmetics: Canadian Edition

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?

I wrote this post as part of the Green Moms Carnival. Check out Lynne’s blog Organic Mania on Wednesday, July 28 to read more posts about The Story of Cosmetics.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. I had seen the original “Story of Stuff”, but not the cosmetics one until now. Luckily, I’m far too lazy to apply makeup or hair product daily. Many days I’m lucky if I even manage to take a shower. Watching this video did really set off alarm bells though for me regarding “baby shampoo”. Because I use that stuff on Peanut. Not daily at least, we only wash his hair every third day or so, but I remember thinking that I should look into alternatives to the standard J&J baby shampoo when he was first born, but then I never did.

    Off to google natural baby shampoo products now! (Unless any other readers have good suggestions?)
    Anna’s last post … Note to self- Laptops do not need to be oiledMy Profile

    • Earth Mama Angel Baby makes Angel Baby shampoo & body wash which is a castile soap for all over baby. It’s very gentle and has a hazard score of 0 on the Cosmetics Safety Database. I use it on my baby, and think it’s great! It’s not “tear-free” though, so you’ll have to try to keep it out of their eyes. =)

      Thanks Amber, for writing this! I’m glad people are paying more attention to what we put in and on our bodies, and I appreciate you educating us all about it.

  2. I am with you about educating my daughter on cosmetics! It gets a lot more challenging as she gets older and can’t be protected from advertising. That’s why we need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act. Parents shouldn’t have to worry that every product their kids use could harm them. Thanks for writing.
    Diane MacEachern’s last post … Beautyor the Beast Depends on the Safe Chemicals ActMy Profile

  3. Well that was a disturbing video. I remember when all that stuff came out about toxic baby shampoo so ever since I’ve tried to buy the only two on the list that were given the okay. But I haven’t been as particular about my own cosmetics. I know product lines like Green Beaver only use ingredients that are safe enough to eat so I try to use them when I can, but they’re not readily available everywhere and they don’t make every type of product I need. This has renewed my determination to seek out companies like Green Beaver for our personal care items.
    Marilyn’s last post … How Not to Complete a Kids CraftMy Profile

  4. Firstly, I don’t think women need to wear make-up. I understand cosmetics make some people feel better about themselves, but ithey really aren’t necessary. The natural look trumps everything (however, that rule does not apply to shaving…in that case, natural isn’t as good as smooooth 🙂

    It’s really frightening when you think about how many chemicals we add to our lives. Cosmetics, foods, consumer “stuff”. And behind it all is a company making massive profits… go figure.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this. I enjoyed “The Story of Stuff” and will definitely check this out.

    One thing I’ve done – largely for my health – is to quit dyeing my hair. At 43, I consider myself a bit “prematurely grey” (though it may be on time and I don’t know because everyone else my age is dyeing their hair). In the past, I dyed it for fun, but once I started getting lots of grey in my late 30s, I started dyeing it on purpose to cover the grey. Soon enough, it was a regular thing and I started dyeing it about every six weeks for a couple of years.

    Finally I just said “forget it!” and cut off all my dyed hair. Now the buzz cut has grown out, as you will see on my gravatar avatar, and I’m just going to stay with my silver locks. There’s an entire industry designed to make me feel like I look flawed now, and I’m glad to say I don’t care!

    When it comes to make up, I don’t wear much – but I always buy it from The Body Shop due to the no testing on animals aspect.
    Susan’s last post … Arguing about poo on TwitterMy Profile

  6. I posted that video on my blog as well, and I could probably spend hours on Cos Database. Luckily I’ve been transitioning our bathroom products over the past few years so it isn’t a total freak-out when I look things up.

    I may have commented with this fun fact before, but one of the grossest things I learned researching baby products is that Johnson and Johnson actually ADD a chemical to their tear-free baby formula to inhibit tears. EEW.
    Janine – Alternative Housewife’s last post … Sunday Link LoveMy Profile

  7. Yeah – instead of having to avoid lipstick with lead in it, how about just NOT MAKING POISON LIPSTICK? Tear-free is definitely a trade-off though. It all makes me so tired.
    allison’s last post … Throw the Book at HimMy Profile

  8. Ack, I’ve gotten careless again with the brands of sunscreen we use. Time to do some more looking-up of contents.
    Lady M’s last post … Preschool Follow-upMy Profile

  9. I honestly never have really considered what’s inside cosmetics. Thanks for this post.
    Francesca’s last post … Where are my vegetablesMy Profile

  10. Oooh- thank you for sharing. I hadn’t seen this one yet. I always try to buy as natural as possible for all my cosmetics and personal care items. It’s kind of like, once you are aware and know the truth, you can’t go back.

    Adventures In Babywearing’s last post … life inspiredMy Profile

  11. Thanks, Amber, as always. You put it together and make it easy for all of us to understand and take action. Thanks.
    Sarah@EmergingMummy’s last post … In which she gets a gold medal for singingMy Profile

  12. Love Story of Stuff and have enjoyed using it as a teaching tool in class. Thanks for pointing out the new video! The last one I knew of was “water” — I’m behind!
    Cold Spaghetti’s last post … Sam- the mystery manMy Profile

    • I’m not American, and so on some level I feel unqualified to comment.

      However, I will say that after reading that it sounds a lot like the CPSIA and its relationship to handmade toys. Clearly, there needs to be better regulation and oversight to keep consumers safe. But it also clearly needs to be done in a way that doesn’t unduly penalize small business.

  13. Amber,

    Thanks so much for your contribution to the carnival. I especially appreciated your insights into how things are regulated in Canada. I can add another tip of the hat to the Canadians who wrote “Slow Death by Rubber Duck.” I had the opportunity to hear them speak when they came to DC, and their experiments slathering themselves with high doses of “everyday products” was both entertaining and sobering. If anyone can get you to laugh over the sad state of our cosmetics regulation, it is those Canadian guys from Slow Death by Rubber Duck!

    I also appreciate your last comment. I was stunned by the opposition to the SCA. Many small indie cosmetics makers are saying they would have never signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics if they had realized where they were heading with regulation – and now they can’t get their names off the list of supporters.

    Ironically, if the SCA is defeated, it may not be due to the lobbying of big cosmetics makers – it may be due to the Campaign’s failure to keep the indie cosmetic makers involved in the legislative process.

  14. Jeepers, I had no idea there was lead in lipsticks! I’ve always followed the animal testing/animal ingredients thing but stopped there. Ack. The only kind of make-up I wear is lipstick. I use Clinique. Is that on the list? Maybe I should just go for a health store kind instead. Oh bummer!

I love comments! If yours doesn't appear immediately, it was caught by my spam filter. Drop me a line and I'll rescue it.


  1. […] of our Carnival members from outside the United States. In Amber’s post at, Story of Cosmetics:  Canadian Edition,  she blogs about the situation in Canada – how in some ways it parallels the situation in […]

  2. […] of Big Green Purse Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish Lisa from Condo Blues Katy at Non-Toxic Kids Amber from Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama Micaela from Mindful […]

  3. […] was the safety of their personal care products. I know that a lot of shampoos, body lotions and cosmetics contain toxins, including known and potential carcinogens. I find this […]

Share Your Thoughts


Subscribe to followup comments

CommentLuv badge