There’s a time in every young woman’s life when she experiments with being friends with the burnouts, the hippies, and the hopeful dreamers. About two years ago, I thought myself a modern witch. The popularity of American Horror Story: Coven, healing crystals, and aromatherapy made me temporarily tap into this spiritual side. I figured it was the next logical step from liking stars and black clothing. I joined the ranks of purple haired vegans, tarot reading skinny jeans enthusiasts, and yoga practicing trust fund babies. As it turns out, it was the clothing and community I was really after.
It was at this time that I decided to give up my entire makeup collection in favor plant based, “natural” products. I opposed animal testing, the use of petroleum- basedI thought it was the right thing to do, that I was the better person for having done so. I felt a sense of superiority, like I was baptized in toxin-free, ayurvedic waters to wash away my consumerist guilt.
I would still scoff at conspiracy theories and pictures of chem trails. I thought I was better than the likes of Food Babe or the anti-vaccination groupies. I was wrong. The more I read and understood about the chemistry inherent in all things, the more I saw the nuance between possibly carcinogenic solvents and complex, yet safe preservatives; between those things dangerous at any concentration and those toxic only when consumed in large quantities. Even water would kill you if you drank enough. Furthermore, a company can call any product all natural because it literally (and here I do mean literally, not figuratively) means nothing. There is no legal definition of “all natural.”
I want to see government regulation of personal care products, and I still think animal testing is unnecessary. I want to see the pseudoscience in cosmetics sales, like that chronicled by Pacific Standard, eliminated. I don’t want to do is make assumptions based on little personal expertise. What is most important is that I came to a point where a decision had to be made: would I change my thinking because I have found conflicting evidence, or should I continue reading what I want to hear. Because belief in the absence or in the face of fact is simply ideology, I chose the former. Many do not.
Then there’s the myth of “reading both sides of the argument” which comes with its own set of problems. One article says the sky is blue, another says it is purple. You’ve given equal time reading about whether the sky is blue or purple and think it’s probably somewhere in between. Reading a multitude of inaccurate information does not make you well informed, it makes you a connoisseur of yellow journalism. Not information is created equal.
As I’ve said, I still stand for reform in the fashion and beauty industries. I don’t want to feel bullied by large corporations into having to choose between style and good manufacturing practices. So, here are my suggestions for how to be conscientious and informed without falling into the land of id.
1. Become familiar with the scientific names of chemicals and how they act together. This isn’t just for safety, but to avoid paying for something that doesn’t work, or paying more for an item that works just as well as a cheaper alternative. I’ve seen a mask that touted the inclusion of rose “stem cells,” but it was unclear whether it meant the unspecified cells of roses or cells from the rose’s stem. I’m sure the ambiguity was planned. I use EWG’s skin deep as a reference because they cite their sources (though it sometimes uses hyperbolic language).
2. Fight for workers’ rights. In the nail and hair industry one see’s the state of salons in New York City and how the workers are treated. These manicurists are subjugated to little to no pay and experience health risks associated with handling the tools of their trade, like cancer, coughing fits, and miscarriages.
3. Work towards government regulation in the cosmetics industry. The European Union does a much better job of keeping cosmetic companies in check than the FDA. This is because in America, personal care products do not fall under the jurisdiction of the agency. Full ingredient lists are not even printed on product’s packaging under the guise of protecting “trade secrets”
4. Consider the environmental impact. This is one of the problems with plant-sourced oils, they require a plantation to make mass quantities of it. The Amazon rainforest is being cut down as I type to make room for palm tree plantations which will will produce palm oil, a very popular component in food and consumer goods. I would much rather use a synthetic oil made in a lab if it meant cleaner air for the entire world. Try avoiding things that have such a directly negative affect on the environment.