The Story of Cosmetics

I was so excited to wake up this morning and find a link to The Story of Cosmetics in my inbox. You may know Annie Leonard from her famous (and some say controversial) videos The Story of Stuff, Cap & Trade and The Story of Bottled Water. She is now tackling the cosmetics industry, and I’m thrilled to see it!

Unfortunately, the website doesn’t let you embed the video, and would only let me post the video as a separate blog post. So click here to watch it. The video is about 8 minutes long and filled with information. I want to tackle some of the points she brings up here.

::Toxins, including carcinogens in baby products? Yes. Click here for more information. Or here. Or here.

::Our beauty routines affect more people than we realize. Maybe you saw the link I posted on Facebook yesterday about cancer in cosmetologists? A great post at Cheeseslave if you have a moment to read it. The video is about 10 minutes long and is eye-opening.

::Want to help our society become independent from the oil industry? Especially now, after the horrific oil spill in the Gulf, you may be as eager as I am to wean yourself off oil as much as possible. Sadly, many beauty products contain chemicals that are made from petrochemicals! Is that as disturbing to you as it is to me? Here’s a snippet from this article by the Environmental Working Group:

According to Hankins, over 90 percent of all beauty and cosmetic ingredients are derived from petrochemicals and other synthetics.

“The manufacturing and processing of these compounds is not only bad for people, but it creates an unsustainable business considering we have hit peak oil production,” he said.

What else can you do? Eschew plastic containers whenever possible. Why? You guessed it – plastics are made from petrochemicals. Just say no to the oil industry by filtering out petrochemicals from your life wherever possible.

::The FDA doesn’t take care of us when it comes to cosmetics. says:

The agency charged with oversight of cosmetics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has no authority to require pre-market safety assessment as it does with drugs, so cosmetics are among the least-regulated products on the market. The FDA does not review – nor does it have the authority to regulate – what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for salon use and consumer use. In fact, 89 percent of all ingredients in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution.

Talk about disturbing!

::There are no regulations for using the words “organic,” “natural,” “herbal,” etc. True, true, true. I’m always reluctant to say this, as I don’t want people assuming that I buy my products from pesticide-ridden farms and slap a happy, eco-friendly label on it! However, it is important for all consumers to know that labels don’t necessarily mean a thing.

When you see these labels in traditional stores, for instance, beware! Most items that are in large chain stores are made to sit on the shelves for a long time. That means that they need to be filled up with preservatives to keep them fresh for as long as possible. Manufacturers can legally use preservatives and other synthetic petrochemicals and still call their products “natural,” and “organic.” They don’t even have to use ANY certified organic ingredients in their products and can still call their product “organic.”

One of the simplest ways to avoid misleading labels is to simply read the ingredient list. This doesn’t completely put you out of harm’s way, as I’ll describe in the next bullet point, but it can help. If the ingredient list is full of chemicals, then pass. You don’t need that stuff on your skin! Look for the official organic logo, though many companies who use certified organic ingredients (like Five Seed) don’t use the organic logo for any number of reasons.

Also, don’t be afraid to call or email a company to talk to them about their products, their manufacturing process and their suppliers. Here at Five Seed, my door is always open to you. I’m happy to provide you with any information you need to feel secure about my products.

::Beauty manufacturers do not have to disclose all the ingredients on their labels. You may have heard this on The Story of Cosmetics video and scoffed. Not true, right? WRONG! This is actually true. The FDA allows beauty manufacturers to petition for the right to keep their “trade secret ingredients” to themselves. (I could say something cynical here, but I’ll refrain.) So if you’re a big beauty company and you don’t want reveal your secret chemical cocktail to your consumers…you don’t have to! You can simply petition the FDA and print “and other ingredients” on your label. (Think about cleaning products like Comet or window and surface cleaners. Have you ever noticed that the non-eco-friendly brands don’t provide a list of ingredients on the label? They only list the percentage of the most toxic chemical in the mixture and nothing else.)

So yes, reading the ingredient list on products isn’t a 100% guaranteed way to keep yourself safe from toxic products. However, I’ve found that the burgeoning eco-friendly beauty product market is all about full disclosure. They know their customers are sick of toxic chemicals and that they want to know exactly what they are putting on their bodies. You can be comforted to know that many green businesses will, indeed, give you their full ingredient list.

This includes small businesses, as well, like Five Seed and other Etsy businesses. But just like in a store, read Etsy listings very carefully. Some “natural” beauty businesses still use fragrance oils (which are usually made from synthetic chemicals) and other chemicals in their products. Some even fail to list ALL the ingredients in their products. Be savvy no matter where you shop!

The good news? Reps. Jan Schakowsky from Illinois and Edward Markey from Massachusetts are introducing the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 to Congress. If it passes, it will tackle many issues, including phasing toxins out of personal care products!

Want to keep up with Annie Leonard? Become a fan of her Story of Stuff Facebook page.

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9 thoughts on “The Story of Cosmetics

  1. oh wow. Yancy you have OUTDONE yourself. This is such a fantastic post. I can’t wait to watch the video when I get home. I love how you went through certain points to confirm. It is crazy how the beauty industry has SO MUCH petrochemicals.

    love love love this post. :)

  2. great post. maybe i’m oversimplifying but here’s a thought for everyone: while i understand the human desire to ‘adorn’ oneself, i think we need to take a long and hard look as to why we are wearing cosmetics. it pains me when women say ‘i can’t leave the house without mascara/foundation/etc.’ or ‘i need to put my face on’ or even the subtle insults to women who don’t wear makeup, as if exposing one’s actual face is criminal. the more we encourage each other to love the face we were given, the less need overall there are for cosmetics. putting something on your skin is the same as putting it in your body – the skin is an organ and it absorbs, so i’ve always found it a mystery why the FDA is not involved. Again a great article, thank you!

  3. Great info Yancy! I’m a huge fan of Story of Stuff and other videos … Will definitely be checking out the video the next time I’m on my computer! (I’m on my iPhone now) thanks to you, my beauty regimen is far more green & mostly organic already!

    • @Namaste~Heather: I’m so glad you found a beauty routine that works for you. I’m hoping you’ll write about it for Five Seed someday, hint hint! ;) LOL.

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