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Colorado’s bid to save our skin

February 24, 2010

Note to self : There is no point in getting angry.

Musing to self: But I still have heaps of questions and that is frustrating:

1) What do THEY plan to achieve with this?

2) What does this say about society?

3) What will the consequences be for people on each side of the fence?

My dilemma this morning stems from an article I just read on Cosmetics Design regarding the state of Colorado, USA and their plans to quote ‘crack down on cancer-causing chemicals’.  Of course I am not opposed to this notion. Nobody wants cancer causing ingredients in their consumer products, especially not non-essential ‘just-for-the-fun-of-it’ products.  My dilemma concerns the premise that this proposed law is based on.

I have heard it said many times before (it has been said to my face) that the cosmetics industry doesn’t do “Real Science” like their  pharmaceutical industry cousins.  Cosmetic Scientists are akin to used car sales people selling hope in a bottle (they hope you don’t see through their bull and you hope that it will make you look 40 years younger).  Nice!

Of course I dispute the notion that we (cosmetic scientists) don’t do real science. However, I don’t dispute the fact that the pharma industry has to carry out a deeper level of research than we do as they create therapeutic goods who’s whole point is to alter our physiology in one way or another.  Cosmetics are by definition there to improve the appearance or smell of the body and that’s pretty much it.  But again,  that is not the point. Good science is good science. It is carried out systematically, using validated methodology. In addition to that,  cosmetic science is an applied science which basically means that all of that logical thinking and discovery takes place within a framework “this is going to be used in some shape or form to change a persons appearance”.  That means that the results that we find are applicable to a given situation e.g:

“Moisturiser B reduces the appearance of wrinkles”  applies to people who use the cream as supplied and directed.

As opposed to:

“Moisturiser B reduces the appearance of wrinkles and will probably lead to constipation, cramping and cancer if you eat enough of it”

It only makes sense when it is applied to the right context.

OK, so what is my problem?

My problem is that when I read that Colorado are planning to ‘take the law into their own hands’ for  YOUR safety all I saw was fear, lack of understanding, lack of trust and a mega-dose of anger.  I am not here to defend the cosmetics industry. I am not here to defend myself or any of my friends. I am not here to take the money and run. I am here because I want to share my passion for truthful, honest and ultimately useable science.  Being rather un-sensational,  that approach doesn’t usually win many votes.

So, let me ask the questions again and give you a couple of my thoughts.

1) What do THEY plan to achieve with this?

Safer products.

 Good but products are already put through their paces in order to produce safe and reliable products for people.  I read through the law and then looked up the list of known and potential carcinogens. Yes there are a couple on there that the cosmetic industry are aware of – some dye pre-cursors (for hair colour),  Acetaldehyde which is used in perfume manufacture (and also found naturally in fruit), alcohol (yep, it causes cancer so it’s on the list) and caffeine (don’t tell L’oreal as this is one of the actives in their roller-ball eye product).  Un-processed mineral oil was on the list too which is not surprising based on the impurities that it can contain however, the white oil used on babies bottoms is a different beast altogether.

Again it is all about context. Another example:

Table Salt can cause blood pressure problems if you eat too much. A little table salt in our diets is good.  Salt used to grit roads is not a wise thing to eat at any time.   Dose, context, purity.

This law undermines the whole industry including those that have signed up to the ‘campaign for safe cosmetics’ as clearly even the most innocuous product can be harmful if used incorrectly – mineral water can prove fatal if you breathe it in.

2) What does this say about society?

We don’t trust THEM (government), we don’t trust THOSE (in business) we can’t ever trust YOU (scientist) and we don’t  really want to trust ourselves because then we would have nobody to sue when it all goes wrong.  

Isn’t it sad that we have lost the ability to trust? 

3) What will the consequenses be for people on each side of the fence?

People making products can now get sued for trying to kill you. That’s fair isn’t it?  Of course if they were really trying to kill you but what would be the point in that?

People using the products are now more confused than ever because they have all the headlines but not enough evidence.

People enforcing the law will have a whole new income stream plus a mammoth headache as they try to make sense of each case of alledged malpractice.

And possibly many more unforseen outcomes.

Everyone wants safe products but few people really stop to understand what that means.  Life is complicated and it is impossible to make any activity 100% safe. We can’t legislate away risk. The law is there to deliver justice to everyone and for justice to prevail there must be a trail of clear and applied evidence based on realistic scenarios rather than discrete laboratory analysis. 

Good science can often  leave us with more questions than answers. As Einstein once said:

” As the circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it”.   

We have to accept that,  we will never live in a risk-free society and then allow science to happen.

Cosmetic Chemists are people too and believe it or not, we all want products that are safer for ourselves, our families and our environment.   So, what can we do to start re-building trust?

I’ll just sit back with my cancer causing coffee and wait for your call…….


The above bill was voted down on 1st March and has been postponed indefinately. This is good news as the bill seemed to be as leaky as a boat made out of tea bags. However, as I have never draughted a bill OR sat in a tea-bag boat, what would I know. Common Sense rules OK!

You can read an excellent blog post from Donna Maria, a lady that  was at the trial here and founder and CEO of the Indie Beauty Network.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kevin permalink
    March 2, 2010 2:51 am

    Excellent article, thank you for sharing.

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