A guest post from Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org
Arsenic, lead, mercury, coal tar, petroleum, formaldehyde... What do these words conjure up? Most likely not cosmetics. Even so, these are just a few of the chemicals that are found in some of the most popular North American beauty products. Of course, it’s exposing the human body and more specifically, the skin to these products that poses the greatest risk. But at the end of the day, it’s difficult to hold the personal care products industry accountable for the health damage that they cause and this is what makes toxic beauty products all the more dangerous.
Beauty products, like lip balms and shampoos, are often – wrongly or not – associated with ideas of health and vitality. But what’s really in your drugstore body wash or your boutique bath bomb? Unfortunately, even if you try to read the labels on household cosmetics, many of the chemical ingredients are akin to gibberish if you’re not a scientist.
Since 2007, the Story of Stuff Project, created by Annie Leonard, has been aiming to pump up the public discourse surrounding sustainability and consumption. In 2010, the Story of Cosmetics was released, which is a video collaboration with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, but has gotten a minuscule amount of views compared to the Story of Stuff’s 12 million. In the video, Leonard – alongside some engaging animation – explains how beauty products (including baby products) contain all sorts of chemicals linked to cancer, damaged sperm, learning disabilities and asthma. The video then visualizes the commodity chain analysis to see how the toxins affect everyone on the chain – from the producers to the consumers.
It’s not just Leonard and her team that are standing up to the toxins present in beauty products. In April of this year, NYU student Jessica Assaf righteously slapped warning labels on Secret deodorant products, creating something of a guerilla marketing campaign.
Price and accessibility are obvious bones of contention when it comes to safe beauty products. Without question, companies in the cosmetic industry are huge multinational corporations with insurmountable influences on advertising, price points and even policy. As a consequence, switching to healthy cosmetics can put a dent in your wallet.
A lack of transparency and safety assessment only makes these mystery toxins worse. In the Story of Cosmetics, Leonard explains that the industry attempts to dupe consumers by placing words like “natural” and “organic” on labels, words that often have no legal meaning. With seemingly endless consumer choices on the shelves of mainstream drugstores and grocery stores, it’s a shame that many of the companies slide by on matters of health and safety.
Instead of putting chemicals on your legs and lips, wouldn’t it make more sense to slather on vegetable and fruit-derived products instead? Here are some safe product alternatives for your everyday cosmetic use: