The Story of Cosmetics and the Dangers of “Scare” Legislation

If you read this blog, you’ll know that the beauty product industry and misleading claims of natural or earth-friendly really annoys me.

So, I was excited when I learned that The Story of Stuff Project, in conjunction with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, was releasing a new video – The Story of Cosmetics. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, 3 Green Angels has been hired by The Story of Stuff Project and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to host an #ecowed Twitter party to promote The Story of Cosmetics.)

The video is really great – informative, clear, concise. I was thrilled that the video targets some big name cosmetic companies. Absolutely thrilled it mentioned L’Oreal’s pinkwashing. Ecstatic that the video talks about misleading claims of natural. You really should watch the video:

But I do have an issue with the desired action urged – legislation to regulate the cosmetic industry based upon the precautionary principle. I do think that the current regulatory scheme leaves a lot to be desired. I do think that chemicals used as ingredients in beauty products should be more thoroughly assessed, particularly for endpoints such as reproductive harm. I don’t think that you should need a chemistry degree to buy products.

But I can’t advocate for legislation without knowing more. Without knowing exactly how the legislation is worded.

I am too familiar with bad legislation developed in response to scare tactics. Legislation that harms small businesses.  For example, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) seemed fantastic with its marketing spin – let’s get lead out of children’s toys. And with that I wholeheartedly agreed. But, of course, the legislation wasn’t just about getting rid of lead in children’s toys where there was a risk of exposure. No. The CPSIA went way too far. Even the lead regulations reach too far – beyond risk of actual exposure. Rick Woldenberg repeatedly blogs about it and the just plain stupid and unduly burdensome reach of the CPSIA. Like the impacts on the ATV industry. On bicycles for kids. Even the loss of bling (and while getting crystals out of children’s clothing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, without a risk of exposure, it is stupid). And the CPSIA imposes too many burdens on the smaller, often greener businesses that should be selling toys to our kids. The kinds of companies featured in the Handmade Toy Alliance’s blog week, which features some dynamite companies and products.

And all the money being spent on testing products for lead that pose no risk of exposure would be much better spent addressing lead based paint in residential housing. With a much more significant reduction in risk.

Now, I know that I often use my XRF analyzer to bring attention to products being sold that aren’t compliant with the CPSIA. That is because the CPSIA is the law we have, and companies need to comply with it. But I still can think the portions of the law are silly. Just like I frequently have to help companies comply with California’s Proposition 65 even if I think Proposition 65 is a bad law.

In any event, I bring the CPSIA up after watching The Story of Cosmetics because well intentioned legislation can go badly wrong.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t urge you to understand what it is you are buying. To adopt the precautionary principle in your purchasing decisions.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should advocate for sensible legislation and regulations.

But that’s it – the legislation and/or regulations must be sensible. And that is hard to do. The devil is in the details. Overbroad legislation has unintended consequences and collateral damage.

As said by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding

June Junk Claim #2: Aveeno Not So Natural

June Junk Claim #2 is Aveeno’s claim that “all of [its] products come from nature.”

Okay, so June Junk Claim #2 isn’t a specific product claim as discussed in the post for June Junk Claim #1. June Junk Claim #1 addressed Josie Maran Cosmetics’ false claim that the line’s Argan Mascara is petrochemical free.

But I wanted to talk about Aveeno. The Aveeno claims really bother me because people believe that the products are all natural.

So, Aveeno markets itself as using the science of Active Naturals, which are ingredients derived from nature and uniquely formulated by Aveeno to optimize skin’s health and beauty. Aveeno’s tag line is “that’s the beauty of nature + science.” And there is a little box on the website that states “all of our products come from nature.”

So the problem with the claim that its ingredients are “derived from nature” is that most of us picture flowers and herbs and similar items when we hear that the ingredients are derived from nature. We don’t picture petroleum derived ingredients. And there’s the rub. The claim that the products are “natural” or “derived from nature” has no legal or regulatory meaning. It means whatever the company wants, including long decayed organic matter (petroleum).

Aveeno has a reputation for being natural with a lot of parents and it isn’t deserved. If you buy the products because you like the smell or they work well, that’s great. But if you buy the products because you think that the ingredients are all natural, you might want to reconsider. Let’s look at the ingredients of Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream, described as naturally soothing and hypoallergenic. The ingredients are:

Water, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour (Oat), Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Ceteareth 6, Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Hydrolyzed Oats, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, PEG 25 Soy Sterol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Benzalkonium Chloride Solution, Benzaldehyde, Butylene Glycol, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Ethyl Alcohol, Isobutylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Stearyl Alcohol

So, petrolatum and mineral oil are derived from petroleum. And while that is natural, it isn’t what you expect, is it?

Cetearyl alcohol can come from vegetable sources, or can be synthetically derived. Without more information, it is hard to say how natural it is.

Dimethicone belongs to a group of polymeric organosilicon compounds popuarly referred to as silicones.

Ceteareth 6 is a polyoxyethylene ester where the “6” indicates the average number of ethylene oxide residues in the polyethylene chain. To get ceteareth 6, ethylene oxide is used, which is derived from ethylene, which is derived from petroleum. Notably, because ethoxylation is used to derive ceteareth 6, it can be contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane. 1,4 dioxane won’t appear on the ingredient list because it is a by product of manufacturing and is a contaminant, not an intentional ingredient.

Butylene glycol is derived from petroleum.

The production of phenoxyethanol involves ethylene oxide, which is derived from petroleum.

The various parabens in the product are synthetically produced. While some parabens are found in nature, all commerically used parabens are synthetically produced. And parabens are a group of compounds that many choose to avoid in products. One reason is that parabens have been detected in breast tumors, although no link between the topical use of paraben containing products and breast cancer has been found. Parabens do mimic estrogen, however. And, parabens can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in those with paraben allergies, which is at odds with the claim that the product is hypoallergenic.

Okay, so I think that advertising that pushes the natural basis for the Aveeno products is junk. And before you decide that it doesn’t really matter because the FDA makes sure that the products sold in the US are safe, think again. The FDA does not approve or evaluate cosmetic ingredients for safety before they are sold even thought most of us think that the FDA does undertake such a review.

If you want a more natural, soothing cream designed for baby, try Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Angel Baby Lotion.  (Yes, I’m an affiliate but this link is not an affiliate link.) Or  Weleda’s Calendula Baby Cream. Or erbaviva’s Baby Lotion.

Is that Siren Red Lipstick Toxic?

The urban legends website,, indicates the lead contaminated lipstick emails have been circulating since 2003.  At least one of those emails discusses a "sure fire" test involving a gold ring to detect lead in lipstick.  Be warned:  this test method is false.  It does not detect the presence of lead in lipstick.  But, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' report indicates at least some lead contaminated lipsticks are available on the marketplace.  Also, several Proposition 65 lawsuits (Proposition 65 is a California law) have indicated that testing have revealed the presence of lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.

For most of us, lead in lipstick may not be a big concern.  But if you are pregnant, or have small children, you might want to re-think that red lipstick.  Although, to be honest, if you are pregnant or have small children, you probably don't have time for a night on the town.  I don't think I even know where my favorite red lipstick is . . .