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A Precautionary Tale

October 28, 2010

OK so how many times to I have to hear these words: ‘we formulate using the precautionary principle’ before I am allowed to vomit/ hit something/ bang my head against the wall? Well……. I’d love to know as it seems that EVERYONE is doing it and yet when I try to get all deep and meaningful, very few people have a clue what they are taking precautions against.  Result = a moral panic, a storm in a tea-cup and a lot of unnecessary angst.  Nice!

I try to think about it rationally and end up thinking about other scenario’s where it pays to take precautions:

  • Avoiding pregnancy
  • Mixing grape and grain
  • Getting married
  • When choosing sushi
  • Walking into Prada with a de-iced credit card………

In every one of these situations it pays to take precautions. FROM WHAT?  Well from being left holding the baby, with a hang-over, with a miserable old boot of a husband, with gut ache or with a bad case of the ‘whoopse, I spent my mortgage money on a pair of sunnies’.   Oh yes, it really pays to take precautions.

So why do I hate the precautionary principle way of formulating so much?

Because it usually isn’t applied sensibly.  I mean, it would be stupid to go into Prada wearing a condom and rather dull to ban alcohol at your wedding (well, I guess it could have it’s up side…..).   My point?  Well,  in order to take precautions you have to understand and quantify the risks.

The problem with the precautionary principle for a cosmetic is in working out what it is that you should take precautions with.  I mean, are we trying to prevent ourselves from drowning in our cleansers,  mistaking our toner for a night-cap, using our moisturiser as cooking oil or from slipping on our bar soap?  

ANY of these things could cause REAL harm.

But no.  We are worried about evil, toxic ingredients that will do untold damage to our delicate skin, invade our crevasses and turn us into the living dead.  How do we know all of this? Because we did some thorough research on the internet, looked to see how many frowny faces the ingredients had on our database and then decided to give anything with a ‘history’ a wide berth.

The precautionary principal of cosmetics is all about avoiding ‘nasties’ and that sentiment is more than sensible, it’s ESSENTIAL.  Cosmetics shouldn’t make us sick.  The only flaw in this cunning little plan is that the chemicals used in cosmetics ARE generally safe when formulated effectively, this view is however rather un-remarkable and very un-sexy.

Everyone (OK, those of us with freedom of purchase choice) has the right to choose what they will or won’t put onto their face/ hair/ bodies. Some ingredients perform better / are  greener/  more equitable / cheaper than others and that matters.  In the same way that ingredients differ so do our personal circumstances, our skin, our health and our age.  An ingredient that is safe for me may give you hives, safety is relative – broad brushing precautionary principles often aren’t.

And so, we come to the end of the post and I still have my hair intact,  no steam coming out of my ears and zero chance of vomiting on anyone, yet.  I have made my point that the precautionary principals un-thought out as sensible as standing in the middle of a stampeding heard of bulls, jumping into a swimming pool with no water or flushing your own head down the toilet. 

It pays to take precautions just so long as you understand what it is that you are trying to prevent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2010 9:19 am

    So basically what you are saying is that cosmetics can now get us pregnant? Just kidding.

    I understand your rant. I spent many years doing risk analysis as a project manager and I’m amazed at how few people understand the concept of managing risk. They will often throw the baby out with the bathwater. (see, I’m back to pregnancy again)

    I would rather have parabens in my lotion than a staph colony growing in there. Is that the kind of precautionary formulating you refer to?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      October 29, 2010 4:08 pm

      Hi there, I am sure that cosmetics can get you pregnant – especially as they help us to attract a mate in the first place! Yes the parabens thing is all part of the precautionary principal, it starts with things like that and ends up in a real mess as it becomes very difficult to split fact from fiction. Thanks for your feedback.

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