I understand why all-natural and organic are desirable attributes for food. Organic farming practices are better for the environment, and organic and all-natural foods are less likely to contain strange substances that shouldn't be ingested. Certainly make-up ingredients that are not synthesized from petrochemicals are more sustainable. The environmental benefits of organic agricultural practices would hold for the ingredients in cosmetics too. Biodegradable substances are always good. But is all-natural likely to be healthier? Sulphuric acid is all-natural, but probably not so good for the skin. There may be synthetic products that would be better for the skin. So are the health claims for organic and all-natural cosmetics true?
To find an answer, I went to the website of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (message: your make-up is trying to kill you) and checked out the beauty industry's Personal Care Products Council (message: there are no bad ingredients, and don't regulate us). The FDA? Essentially: We are only authorized to step in if the ingredients are putrid or the label fraudulent.
So what's a consumer to think? Fortunately, I have a network of wise, accomplished friends to call on when I need to know more. I noticed that there were a lot of breast cancer groups signed on to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, so I contacted my friend, Sara Collina, who knows a ton about research into the environmental causes of breast cancer. Here's her intelligent response:
"I think there is reason for concern, yes. [The supporters of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics] exaggerate what they "know" -- "toxic" things are in almost everything we come across. It's almost impossible to demonstrate causation. It took decades of research to "prove" smoking and lung cancer are not only correlated, but that there is a causal relationship. There are just way too many variables. How would you design a study? So the extent to which they claim causation, they are being disingenuous.
But then there's common sense. Why shouldn't we have regulations limiting what goes into a product that goes on your lips? It's only because Revlon and the like are so powerful. The only reason to allow substances that have been shown to be harmful to humans in a product is if it would do more good than harm. Cosmetics don't "need" these substances.... I'd much rather live in a world where products that go on my body do not include known carcinogens.... Environmentalists... often turn out to be correct. Remember those crazy folks back in the 1980s who thought human beings were heating up the planet? As if..."
Thank you, Sara. That is the science-based and common-sense-based point of view I was looking for. I hereby resolve to look for natural and organic personal care products to replace the ones I am accustomed to. More on this to follow....