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

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