Lee Doren of How the World Works Slams Annie Leonard's Story of Cosmetics


Image: How the World Works critiques The Story of Cosmetics

Lee Doren, at How the World Works, has produced a critique of Annie Leonard's The Story of Cosmetics. Always wanting to hear both sides of the story, we took a look.

We discovered the usual arguments against consumer safety regulations. But we were in for a surprise. if you follow the recommendation of Lee Doren to condemn Annie Leonard and turn to more reliable sources, you come to the same conclusion: more work is needed to ensure that everyday chemical products are safe.Lee Doren Misses the Point
Lee starts by criticizing Annie for throwing up "scary words," when she reads the back of her Pantene bottle, and then failing to provide information about those chemical ingredients. But that is the point of The Story of Cosmetics. Annie keeps it simple. The average person does not know:

  • that although sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) has been deemed safe, the manufacturing process uses a known carcinogen (ethylene oxide) to ethoxylate the too-stringent sodium lauryl sulfate, thereby creating a known carcinogen (1,4-dioxane) as a by-product -- potentially contaminating the SLES.
  • Or that EDTA is a strong chelating agent, which means it can grab contaminants and protect them from removal by water treatment, or even "mine" heavy metals out of sediment and bring them back into water sources.
  • Or that isothiazolinones are preservatives that can cause allergies.

The average person may not know that the government recommends 1,4-dioxane should be monitored and kept out of consumer products, but that the consumer is dependent upon the companies that supply the products to comply with this recommendation. The average person just wants legislation that allows them to sleep at night knowing their products are safe.

The Usual Rebuttals
Of course, Lee presents the usual rebuttals against chemical legislation. Lee dismisses comparisons of cosmetic safety with airline safety because it's not the same as "falling from 30,000 feet." Setting aside the question of whether falling out of a plane is worse than cancer or neurotoxins, we worry about cosmetics every day; we only worry about airplane safety on the rare occasions when a loved one is in the air. Some peace of mind would be welcome.

Lee asks why activists compare the levels of lead in lipstick with the FDA limits for lead in candy? Could it be because the FDA has no limits for safe levels of lead in lipstick (or any cosmetics)? The FDA does have a limit of 20ppm lead in color additives. But color additives should be a small percentage of the total ingredients in lipstick, typically around 5%. A color additive having 20ppm lead at 5% in the lipstick should lead to a maximum lead concentration of 1ppm. What do you know? The same as the FDA recommends in candy! All of which completely dodges the real question: why not just make the lipsticks that do not contain lead?

When Annie points out that some companies are leading towards greener chemistry, Lee remarks: "If companies are doing it without a law, why do you need a law?" How about so that a level playing field for safer chemicals can bring the "green" products into the price range most consumers can afford?

The best one, though, is Lee's reaction to the comparison with the more precautionary European approach. Annie points out that European companies have figured out how to comply with safety legislation. Lee retorts: "They certainly do not comply. They go out of business or they get their products banned." Come on, Lee: this writer lives in Europe. The cosmetics market is alive and well here.

And after Lee gets done "generously" crediting Annie with ignorance for being lax on some of the scientific details, he might want to review the science-intensive process Europeans use for implementing the "precautionary principle". Because when Lee asserts that if someone says a chemical is bad, it gets banned, sowing fears about giving government such power, it sounds -- well -- ignorant.
Lee Wins One, then Really Blows It
We grant Lee the point that The Story of Cosmetics does muddle the issue of how much testing has been done. A tremendous amount of time and money has been spent on testing and assessing test results of chemicals. But the science of risk assessment, and the correlations of demographic disease trends with modern lifestyles, are advancing. As Lee would say, more on this later.

But Lee proceeds to blow it so badly, you may question his grasp on reality. In Lee's critique, as Annie's character approaches the store shelves, wondering how best to choose a product that is safe, Lee remarks, "Annie hasn't demonstrated that the products aren't safe -- in fact, just the opposite." Perhaps the commentator is confusing his argument that cosmetics are safe with Annie's; one thing is is certain: Annie Leonard does not prove that cosmetics are safe.

The Core Argument
Lee then pulls out lobbyists' favorite counterpoint, the one that goes to the heart of the issue: "consumers have most of the power. If consumers purchase more of one product, producers would work to continue to provide that product to meet the demand."

The argument that consumers must prove products are unsafe before action is taken is exactly the reason the system is broken. The argument that consumers have the power, so companies can do nothing to control the products that succeed in the market, places the cart before the horse. It is exactly this logic that drives intelligent activists, like Annie Leonard, to present an oversimplified case for change. People can understand and embrace Annie's message.

Lee Supports Annie's Case
In the final analysis, most of these arguments will not convince anyone who has not already taken sides. Those still deciding must do exactly what Lee Doren recommends: find experts whose opinions can be trusted.

Many people trust Annie Leonard to open their eyes and mobilize their action. Lee Doren trusts "groups like the Society of Toxicology...(which) have worked diligently to inform the public with facts, not fears."

So we will leave the final argument to the Society of Toxicology. The image below shows an excerpt from the Society of Toxicology brief on Phthalates (pdf) in which they highlight the "need to consider the broader issue of exposures to mixtures of phthalates and to other chemicals":


Image: Position of the Society of Toxicology

It appears that no matter what experts you consult, the answer is we need to Take Action. A final hint, if you want to engage in deeper discussions on the topics of the hazards and risks of chemicals in consumer products: phthalate is pronounced "tha-lāt," not "fatal-ate," as Lee Doren says. Your Freudian slip is showing, Lee.

More from Annie Leonard:
Annie Leonard Tells The Story of Stuff
Annie Leonard Bringing Out More Stories of More Stuff
Story of Stuff Goes Mainstream, Called "Anti-Capitalist"
Annie Leonard Releases New Video on Story of Bottled Water for World Water Day
More on Toxins:
5 Ugly Truths You May Not Know About the Beauty Industry
7 Frightening Signs Harmful Chemicals are Sneaking into Your Beauty Regime
No Safe Amount: The Handshake Theory of Chemical Toxicity
Why Is There Still an Endocrine Disruptor In My Toothpaste?
Lead Levels in Lipstick Much Higher Than Previously Reported, Says FDA
More on Better Products:
How to Go Green: Natural Skin Care
No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Beauty Products
Natural Beauty Book Authors Reveal Shocking Truths About Cosmetics
5 Greenwashed Myths of the Beauty Industry (And How Not to Fall For Them)
More on Better Regulations:
Seventh Generation CIP Jeffrey Hollender Speaks Out on Chemical Reform
Should Manufacturers Disclose Secret Chemical Ingredients?
No Data, No Market: the EU Gets Serious About Chemicals
European Parliament adopts REACH - Chemicals Management By The Precautionary Principle
REACH for Greener Chemistry

Tags: Chemicals | Cosmetics | Documentaries | Toxins

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