Saving Face: Everything is Chemicals

I haven’t done as much scientific research for this project as I would have for an essay at school, mostly because the novelty that I never have to write an essay again still hasn’t worn off. But there has been one piece of information that didn’t need any research:

Tim is right. Everything is chemicals. I can actually scientifically back this up; a medical school friend said the exact same thing without any mention of Minchin. Chemicals are everywhere. They make up everything, including all make up. (Want to make an MCR joke? Me too. All romance is technically chemical. Ahhh.) So if it’s quite obvious that everything’s chemical, why has there been a recent movement toward ‘all natural’, ‘organic’, ‘toxin-free’, ‘green’ cosmetics and skin care produce?

Well, because some companies are literally full of shit, and put toxins or carcinogens in their products. Beauty Lies Truth, a US site aiming to educate women about America’s awful cosmetics regulations, explains the crap ingredients pretty well. The EU has done the smart thing and banned over 1000 ingredients that are unsafe to use as cosmetics, and has made a handy list to take to the supermarket to check. But for consumers in the States, ‘chemical-free’ or ‘all-natural’ has become synonymous with ‘won’t make your babies grow a third eye’, so has naturally – hardihar – evolved into a turn of phrase.

The funny thing is, the cosmetics industry has existed as long as civilization. Wikipedia is for once quite helpful (and its sources are sound) for info about where different products originated. It wasn’t until people started to combine scientific advances with business acumen (aka marketing) that unsafe crap got into our products, and because we’re lazy and uninformed, it’s been an uphill struggle to educate the masses about safe chemical products.

So what are safe products?

For those of us protected by EU law, we can purchase cosmetics and skin care from the shops without too much hassle (take that, Eurosceptics who like beauty products). For those of us who want to know exactly what’s going on our faces, or who risk potential illness by buying branded products, there is a lot of information out there to help… there might be a bit too much, so don’t forget to apply a large helping of salt to everything you hear. But as a general rule of thumb, I have found the following helpful:

  • Books. Not hippie ones where the author wants you to sign up for a spiritual cleanse costing £3000, but regular books. Go to your library, have a look at the beauty/cosmetics/science sections and steer clear of anything that looks self-published.
  • Blogs. Deliciously Ella, the food blogger, has a great section on lifestyle, and knows a thing or two about transforming food products into beauty products. Bloggers and YouTubers are good resources once you’ve established which ones actually know what they’re on about. Some are kind of insane, so if you find one recommending that you eschew toothpaste and vaccinations, go somewhere else. But you can find great people if you use…
  • Word of mouth. 90% of everything I use or consider using has been given or recommended to me by people I know. My MCRmy friends pointed me to a few decent places and I’m trying out a few things… give me heads up if you want me to Instagram my cleanser, yeah.

Everything is chemicals, but some are safer than others – and they are usually the ones that have stood the test of time. Want to get even more science-y? The Royal Society of Chemistry did a debate about cosmetics, and that’s probably as legit as you can get. Or it’s as legit as I’m going to get, anyway. Happy Tuesday!

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