I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten one too many terrifying emails lately. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have to worry about pollutants in my water and contaminants in my food, now I’m getting emails asking, “Are Your Cosmetics Endangering Your Life?” I’m overwhelmed by the constant message of fear. It’s exhausting, it’s unproductive, and in my opinion, it’s manipulative.
A couple times a week I get messages about some chemical or toxic ingredient with the message, “Is this deadly product in YOUR home?” I read the article to find out how I’ve been slowly poisoning myself in my shower or kitchen. The sender lets me know step by step how to eliminate this threat to my family’s safety (and, more and more often lately, how to replace it with THEIR “safe” version of the same product). Disaster averted. But then there’s another, and another, and it becomes so hard to keep up–and the risks seem so complicated and serious–that I start to worry if I’m making the right decision. Wouldn’t it be easier if I let someone else make the decisions for me?
As I was chatting on Facebook recently, I realized I’m not the only one who is tempted to do this. More than once I’ve been referred to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their Skin Deep database. “Are your products listed there?” I’ve been asked. “Let’s check there to see what they have to say about this ingredient,” I’ve been told. I wondered what would lead people to put their complete faith in one source of information to the exclusion of everything else? What kept coming up was fear.
Have you ever wondered if fear affects decision-making? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Berkeley concluded that fear causes people to be pessimistic about taking risks: “the more fear participants reported, the more likely they were to choose the sure thing… Essentially, fearful people avoided uncertainty.” What could be more certain than a reference that says “yes” or “no” to product ingredients? A rating system that tells you what is safe and what is not removes all of the risk. The problem is that the information at Skin Deep is incomplete, sometimes incorrect, and often misleading.
The truth is, there is no one else who can make all of the right decisions for you. When we talk about product “safety” it is tempting to believe that there is one absolutely safe, risk-free product or answer, but that is simply not the case. When I was asked recently to confirm whether my moisturizing products contain wheat or gluten (they don’t), I was reminded that products I consider “safe” might not be “safe” for someone with celiac. Products containing nut oils may not be safe for those with allergies, and anyone sensitive to an essential oil or fragrance oil might not consider products to be “safe” if they contained them. What is “safe” to me may not be safe to you; you know best what might harm you, and what to avoid to stay safe. No one else can make those decisions for you. No one can make them for me.
I have the same responsibility as a manufacturer. If I read a report that says a particular ingredient is unsafe, I must decide whether to replace it, what to replace it with, and how to reformulate without it. I must consider whether the product will continue to perform as customers expect. I have to assess the risks of new ingredients. And I have to present all of this as openly and clearly as I can so my customers can decide for themselves if they are comfortable with my decisions. As manufacturers and consumers we have to make these decisions all the time; fear has no place here. I promise you that I am not so desperate to get your business that I will make you afraid for your health or the well-being of your family. I understand that you may decide that my products are not appropriate for you or for your family, for reasons of your own. And I’m okay with that. There are many other companies that offer many other products that may be perfect for you. I’m okay with that, too.
As consumers we need as much information as possible to make decisions. As a manufacturer, I also rely on many experts and resources to help me make informed decisions. I want to encourage you to use the resources you’re comfortable with, but also get second and third opinions from other sources. Here are just a few of the places that I return to for information about personal care products, ingredients, and safety.
Personal Care Truth – a new web site offering cosmetic safety information based on scientific research. Panel of experts with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Just launched today, but their experts put this at the top of my go-to list.
Essential Wholesale’s Blog – manufacturer of natural and organic personal products bases provides unbiased, science-based information.
Indie Business Blog – particularly helpful is the legislative advocacy section, which provides information about the impact that cosmetics regulation and legislation have on the small business owner, and the effect this will have on the marketplace.
Green Skin Care – the dish on eco-beauty, The Grapeseed Company’s blog provides ways to go green in everyday life, including your beauty routine. Recipes, tips.
Robert Tisserand – recognized aromatherapy expert, fantastic blog with information about essential oils and aromatherapy
The Southern Accent – Cactus & Ivy’s blog, manufacturer of natural, cruelty-free and vegan products shares information about ingredients, legislation, and green living.
Sagescript Institute & Colorado Aromatics – Cindy Jones, PhD is a biochemist, molecular biologist and herbalist. Her scientific point of view is fascinating and invaluable.
Cosmeticsinfo.org – The Personal Care Products Council’s resource for ingredient information, details about how cosmetics and ingredients are tested and regulated.
Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – the rules we live by.
There are so many other great resources online. I’d love it if you’d share your favorites below so we can all learn from them.