What’s that smell? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know. “Fragrance” is considered a trade secret by law, so companies are not required to disclose the chemical components that add scent to a wide range of personal care products. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, an estimated 80% of products – everything from colognes and body sprays, to shampoos, deodorants, and even make-up – contain fragrance. Even “unscented” products may contain masking fragrances, which are chemicals used to cover up the odor of other chemicals.
The media is abuzz with the latest bombshell about lead in lipstick — and this time, that’s just the beginning. A new study by University of California found many other toxic metals in products we put on our faces.
What’s going on? As I explained on Fox News recently, we’ve known about this problem for a long time. I was part of the team that broke the story about lead in lipstick in 2007. FDA followed with its own study and found even higher lead levels in hundreds of lipsticks. And now, a UC study is here to tell us that it’s not just lead but aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and other toxic metals too.
I’m working on my keynote talk for next week’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, and I got to thinking about the paradigm shifts in science that are changing the business of beauty. To sum it up: We didn’t used to know what we know now about the health risks posed by toxic chemicals. So, now that we know, what are we going to do about it?
We know, for example, that chemicals don’t act in the predictable ways once assumed. You’ve probably heard the old adage “the dose makes the poison” — the idea coined by Paracelsus in the 1500s (and oft repeated by beauty industry execs) that toxic substances are harmless in small enough doses, while harmless substances can be deadly if over-consumed.
What do climate-science deniers and “spin doctors” who attack environmental health protections have in common? They’re like moths to the flame of an activist victory for safer products. Ever since my organization succeeded in pressuring Johnson & Johnson to get carcinogens out of its baby products, the “boys who know best” are coming round to tell us not to worry our pretty little heads about cancer-causing chemicals in baby shampoo.
I’m glad to see the mainstream media finally giving some attention to the question of whether all these pink ribbons are actually helping the breast cancer cause. The New York Times gave serious ink space to the issue, although largely missed the point, with “The Pinking of America” by Natasha Singer last month. And Friday, Forbes posted this comprehensive piece by Amy Westervelt, “The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?” Serious liability, I say!