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Why The Mind Matters.

September 17, 2009

I am giving a talk next week at the Australian Society of Cosmetic Chemists (of which I’m a member) about how the cosmetic industry relates to its consumers and how its consumers are “consuming” it!   Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated as after all, I am just one girl in the world as my old chum Gwen Stefani once sang….

It seems to me that fear is right up there as the number one emotion being used to sell us our creams, balms, lotions and potions – number two is probably still sex and number three is about reward. I have a real problem with fear being used to sell cosmetics as aren’t cosmetics meant to be  fun….. Let me explain.


If I climb up onto my roof without securing my ladder correctly I could have a nasty accident therefore it is perfectly reasonable for a safe ladder company to sell their product by pointing out the dangers of not having a safe ladder = fear factor 9/10.


If I sell a product that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and evens out skin tone is it reasonable to sell that under the banner of “Anti-age” while depicting a model who is probably only in their early 40’s and has been blessed with excellent genetics?  Here  we are implying that ageing is bad, unnatural and undesirable.  And people wonder why we live in a society that is youth obsessed!

Consider this:

A product  prides its self in being “Paraben, Petroleum, Silicone, SLES and Mineral Oil Free” and touts that on the label.  What does that tell me as a consumer? If I’m a chemist I may think “oh, OK then big deal”, if I am an avid “googler” of cosmetics ingredients I would say “thank GOD for that, those other brands are trying to kill me” and if I am just a girl in the world I may think “Oh, so what is wrong with those and what have they put in instead” = fear factor 10/10.

Now my argument is that nobody comes out of that smelling of roses (can rose smell kill you?) because it increases feelings of:

a) fear – those other brands have ingredients that will make me sick.

b) Paranoia- if this brand has to point out that it doesn’t have those things in, the other brands must contain them. If the other brands contain them then they must be legal. ITS A CONSPIRACY. I can trust nobody – the government / industry are not interested in MY safety.

c) Scepticism – I trust nobody. Putting that on the label made me look at it, I can’t read what all of those ingredients do so I am not sure that any of them are any good. I am going to opt out!

The above two examples are not isolated to one product or one brand. I see many brands that use either one of those angles as their key point of difference. I also see many people that seek out products that are “free from” that whole list of chemicals or that do reduce the signs of ageing. This is what people want. Of course the industry is going to deliver – we asked for it.

Only my point is that we didn’t. When we asked for products to not contain parabens we did so based on a little bit of “evidence” and a lot of hype. What we wanted was products that didn’t just contain ingredients to “wow” us with science, we wanted the basics and we wanted them to be as natural as possible.We want to re-connect with nature, to use products that won’t impact negatively on the environment and that won’t change the sex of fish or mess with our homeostasis. We wanted products that were made thoughtfully, sustainably and that were about us as a whole and not just about us as a walking purse or wallet surrounded by skin.

When we asked for anti-ageing we did so because our lifestyles have moved on, we get married later, have kids later, enjoy careers, lovers and picnics by the beach later. We want to look as good as we feel and there is nothing wrong with that. However, we wanted to be empowered, to feel valued and to celebrate the achievement of growing older rather than feeling that we need to cling on to that 30 something us in order to compete and remain a viable option. We didn’t want anti – we wanted pro (and some brands have worked that out).

I am not saying that we should just buy products without looking at the label and that anti-ageing is defunct. What I am saying is Do think, Do use your mind and Do make decisions only Do that from a position of power rather than to satisfy a fear filled agenda. I am yet to be convinced that the world is an evil and scary place….

Well, this is just a taster of what I will be talking about on Wednesday night in Epping and like I said, I would love your comments. I am an advocate in the “eyes wide open” approach to consumerism. But that is not easy. It involves removing the ego from the conversation and then going in search of the facts in order to reach a decision that is right for the individual. To go along with another Australian ad ( the answers that we seek are right in front of us. We just have to stop and look.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2009 5:33 am

    Your work sounds so interesting! Women used to use much more horrible methods than we use now, so I think we have come a long way! We care more about what we put in our bodies and on our skin, though there are so many chemicals and ingredients that we don’t understand. I know I don’t understand what’s so bad about mineral oil! I came across a makeup website that was proud of its “no animal-derived ingredients” claim. Instead of beeswax they use synthetic beeswax and other things that sound like they belong in an oil tank than on my face. Why do women care more about protecting beeswax than their skin?


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