This is the question that forms the basis of a new video from Annie Leonard called ‘The Story of Cosmetics’, which has so far been viewed over two hundred thousand times on YouTube.
According to Leonard, the story of cosmetics is something like this: Lots of nasty chemicals with very long sounding names are incorporated into our products every day. These chemicals are toxic or even super toxic, and are making us toxic too. Industry continues to use them because it is stuck in a 1950s time warp where chemistry is seen as the path to better living and human health impacts are disregarded. And, nothing gets done about it because the industry regulates itself.
Concise and well presented, the video is illustrated with little stick men and women who use lots of toxic and super toxic products daily. It is easy to understand and reinforces its core messages very well. In fact, the only problem with ‘The Story of Cosmetics’ is that not very much of it is based on independently reviewed scientific fact.
As far as I am aware, there is no universal law that says the longer and more complicated the chemical name, the more toxic a substance.
In addition, the video says many of these chemicals are dangerous. Some are carcinogens and others are neurotoxins and reproductive toxins, proven to mess up brain development and reproduction in animals, according to Leonard. ‘Wait a minute, we’re animals too,’ she says. Sadly, Leonard does not go into details about how the results of toxicity studies in animals are interpreted for humans, viewers are left to assume that if it is toxic for a mouse when eaten in huge quantities, it must be toxic for humans when applied to the skin.
Unfortunately, the absence of the necessary scientific research in ‘The Story of Cosmetics’ will not take away from its negative force.
Over two hundred thousand consumers, and counting, are viewing, reading about, tweeting about, and having facebook conversations about this version of the cosmetics’ story. But, the industry needs to be involved in these conversations.
The cosmetics trade association in the US, the Personal Care Products Council, has reacted to the publication of the video by releasing a statement refuting a number of the claims made, and referring to it as a ‘shockumentary’. In addition, John Bailey, chief scientist with the organisation, has appeared on US TV programme Democracy Now, a clip of which is posted on the organization’s website.
While these actions and the reactivity of the organization behind them deserve to be applauded, they are not sufficient to halt the misinformation currently travelling across the globe via the internet.
A video critique of ‘The Story of Cosmetics’ can also be found on YouTube which tries to draw attention to the lack of substance behind a number of the claims made. But, it is not produced by the industry. Instead it is from blogger and member of activist group the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Lee Doren.
Although Doren’s critique is valuable, his agenda is obviously not that of industry.
In general Doren fights against over regulation. About the only thing the industry and ‘The Story of Cosmetics’ agree on, is the need to update and tighten the current system of cosmetics regulation in the US. Indeed, the Personal Care Products Council published only last week, details of how it thinks the FDA’s role in regulation should be tightened.
Industry needs to find a way of engaging with consumers to try to pull apart, with scientific fact, some of the allegations made in this video. Either with its own video, or another format, the industry needs to respond, taking full advantage of the communicative power of the internet.