My personal take on "The Story of Cosmetics"

Posted on August 12, 2010 by Alyson Hancock | 1 Comment

In case you missed it, The Story of Stuff Project was started by filmmaker Annie Leonard in late 2007 and can be found here

The project consists of entertaining videos with a very specific perspective on production and consumption.  Educational materials are available to go with the videos, which are suitable for everyone from grade school-aged children and up. The first video, “The Story of Stuff,” has been viewed by more than 12 million people according to the Project’s website.  The Project has also produced similar short films about bottled water, “Cap and Trade” and now, cosmetics.

Like “The Story of Stuff,” “The Story of Cosmetics” is entertaining and reduces a complicated topic to a few basic ideas.  These include:

  • We often don’t know what is in the products we use on our bodies, hair and faces.
  • Some common products have scary ingredients
  • Anyone can label anything “natural” or “herbal"
  • The U.S. Government polices the personal care industry less than you might imagine
  • We should ask it to do more

“The Story of Cosmetics” has garnered more than 230,000 views since it was released on July 21st.  It has also enraged industry groups such as the Personal Care Products Council, which called the video “harsh and unscientific.”

Personally, I like Annie Leonard’s videos. She is not afraid to talk about the “elephant in the room.”  In the case of “The Story of Stuff” the elephant is that a lot of us consume too much without giving thought to where products come from and where they go when we are done with them.

She uses an upbeat tone. Instead of tapping into guilt, Leonard taps into our can-do spirit with a cheerful sort of, “we got ourselves into this and we can get ourselves out of it” message. This, I think, is the right way to start the discussion with the generations who will be inheriting this situation.

Of course, her video aimed at kids isn’t a highly scientific, nuanced or even thorough exploration of that problem. It just starts a conversation. The ways in which the Industrial Revolution brought profound gains in terms of health, safety and living standards for the average citizen would be a large part of that conversation, I hope. How can we keep what is good about our system and fix what’s bad?

In “The Story of Cosmetics,” the elephant in the room is that we love personal care products but we don’t know enough about what is in them.   Our conversation can start with how we can learn to read labels on shampoo and makeup.  We should also talk about what to ban, what needs more study and how to help individuals decide what level of safety certainty is important to them.

Of the areas administered by the FDA – food, drugs and personal care products included – only pharmaceuticals have rigorous safety testing for every product. It’s what makes them slow to market, extremely expensive and an industry dominated by enormous corporations.  Even then, as we know, giant pharmaceutical companies still seem able to get dangerous products on the market. I don’t really want a world where we get all our food and makeup from giant pharma-type corporations and I doubt this is what Leonard has in mind.

I am looking forward to the complicated conversation.  What do we want to see on labels? How can we educate ourselves as consumers without being frightened of everything? How can consumer groups and the industry work together with the government to get better science that doesn’t just benefit a few multi-nationals?  I hope that in the final analysis Leonard’s videos help move us forward instead of dividing us.

In the meanwhile, I make the kinds of constant educated guesses and judgments that life requires.  I am grateful for the wealth of information available on the web that makes it easier to eat, wash clothes, garden and keep house in a greener, safer way.

Plus, of course, I use only Alima Pure mineral makeup.


Recent hire and enthusiastic customer

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1 Response

Brandi Jasmine
Brandi Jasmine

August 13, 2010

I don’t think the solution has to be all that complicated. The FDA should look at what the Europeans have banned and why, and start with those ingredients. Most of this stuff has been thoroughly tested – we know what is the most dangerous.

As for labels, hello! … World Wide Web. Instead of having long labels on the products themselves, make manufacturers list the ingredients on their web sites. I won’t ever again buy a makeup product that isn’t open about its ingredients on its web site. I won’t name one of the more famous competitors you have that is always crowing about its “natural” ingredients … and there is TALC in almost everything they sell! But they don’t disclose this on their web site. I will never buy a thing from that company. The reason I came here is I have allergies to makeup and personal care ingredients. I found AlimaPure in the Cosmetics Database. If more women bought the way I am buying now, we wouldn’t need new laws, because cosmetics companies would follow the demand.

I am still testing the samples I bought – so far only one reaction, which may be something else I reacted to (I have to test several times before I am sure).

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