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Safe Cosmetics, Toxic Chemicals and why now is no time to fight.

December 15, 2013

I started this blog in 2008 with the lofty idea that “I can save them from themselves’, that somehow my words would ‘fix’ people’s fear and loathing of cosmetic chemicals,  lead them to the light and put right the wrongs done to science.   I soon learned that was a stupid idea.

It took me a while to realise how silly it was to make it ones life’s mission to ‘change’ other people’s minds, especially given that mine was clearly wonky in ways that I hadn’t imagined possible at that point but anyway….

It took me a while to get over that.  Ego’s don’t like to be challenged and I didn’t want to accept the fact that I had one and it was standing in my way.

It also took me a while to realise that I didn’t believe the bull that ‘they’ were saying either.  In fact I didn’t believe much of what was said about chemicals in social media and blog land be it in their attack or defence.  That took me a while to get over too as for a while there I felt like the only pea left on the fork of life.  It was neither secure or comfortable.  I felt like I was……..forked?

Barbed Wire fence

So I started to question a little more deeply, to delve into detail, analyse, question and structure the information that I sought.  I used the logical half of my brain for that (as if you can….)  and saved the artistic side for the much more fascinating stuff – how this information made me (and from what I can gather others too) feel and act.

Take a chemical, any chemical be it freshly squeezed from a plant or bolted together in a plant and look at it, really look at it.  You can find out lots of facts about it as a solo being – name,  structure, price, solubility, pH,  reactivity, action,  aroma profile, colour, purity,  etc.  This is relatively easy as these are all FEATURES of the chemical, features that are usually known by the manufacturer or distributor and listed on an MSDS, Technical data sheet, C of A or Product Bulletin.   Knowing these feature facts is useful and interesting but it isn’t the whole truth.  Let me explain.


I can tell you about a man:

  • He is 180 CM tall
  • Brown Hair
  • Brown skin
  • Brown eyes
  • weighs 80Kg
  • Is 25 years old
  • Works for the Cancer Council
  • Sings in the local church Choir

Now what can you tell me about the man?

It isn’t rocket science,  you can only tell me what I’ve just told you right?   After all that’s all there is to know at this point isn’t it?

Only our brains don’t work like that.  I just made this man up but in making him up I found myself imagining what 180cm tall looked like, how that would relate to a weight of 80Kg (would that make him athletic looking and strong or slim or average).   Something as simple as a number for height or weight was turned into a 360 degree character in my crazy creative brain and this isn’t unusual.  I started to imagine his face – does he have kind eyes or does he look street-hardened?   What about his family – does he live with his mum?  Has he got a girlfriend, is he handsome?  Then I gave him a job – a nice ‘friendly’ sounding job.  I did that on purpose but then my brain starts thinking like this guy is real – but is he a computer programmer there or is he a lab based scientist?  Maybe he is in finance or maybe he cleans their toilets?????  I gave him a nice approachable hobby – singing in the church choir but then started to see the whole fictional guy in a different light.  Maybe he’s a mummies boy?  Maybe he is a wanna-be opera singer,  maybe he’s got no family and the Church is his family……   None of this is logical but all is understandable and has grown up from my expectations of the world, my previous experience, my reality.   My left/right brain and I have managed to take a set of factual features and turn them into a living, breathing person that we have decided to like or not like based entirely on fiction.

Chemicals are no different and we haven’t even got the whole picture yet.

I realised early on in my consulting career that this ‘fact/fiction’ ratio exists and that it is powerful,  emotive and reality-changing.

And this is why I believe that now is no time to fight.

Time after time I read  articles penned by cosmetic scientists  dismissing the fears of the general public when it comes to the ingredients that we use.   I see articles written by  NGO campaign groups that understand this ‘fact/fiction’ ratio perfectly and use it as a sales tool.  I see bloggers and brand owners who are on a mission, guided by their ‘gut feeling that this is wrong’ and desire to speak up for the good of the nation.  It is no wonder that meanwhile back in the lab nothing gets done.

Of course the above are sweeping generalisations that don’t do justice to each and every individual and each and every motivating vibe of energy but as a rule that is how it looks to me.  A sea of confusion stirred up by anger, fear, confusion and a surge of ‘attack and defend’ enthusiasm.  A battle of the ego’s.

So what do I believe?

With a few more years under my belt I believe that our future depends on our ability to make good, clear, rational yet thoughtful decisions. In us getting to a point when we know what we know and what we don’t know and no longer feel frightened by that gap, no longer feel the need to embellish it with fictional detail.  In us being able to communicate all of that in a way that is honest, un-sensational, real and true.  In us respecting rather than abusing human triggers.  In us wanting to know the answers.

So, rather than fight maybe we should all just sit down and talk person to person, make plans, do some work while remembering to ask each other ‘how does knowing that make you feel?’

When you shoot an arrow of truth, dip its point in honey. – Arab proverb. 

Now that would be beautiful.

Amanda x

PS: I no longer feel that I can save anyone from themselves. I like you just the way you are x




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