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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Saving Face: Girls Girls Girls (and everyone else)

The first question I asked last week when I started the Saving Face project was about gender inequality in the skin care industry. Things might be a bit different for children and preteens now, but here is a brief summary of how I understood things in primary school:

Girls wore products and makeup as a rite of passage in our teens even if it pissed off our conservative parents and even if we were much more interested in spending time and money on things we actually gave a shit about. If we didn’t, we were tomboys and/or lesbians. If we wore a lot of visible products when we were young, we were slappers. Boys shouldn’t wear make up because it’s effeminate, so if they did they were gay. They should, however, take pride in their masculinity and buy products to look like a proper dude.

Aside: did anyone else have the playground rumour that boys having a pierced ear on a certain side made them gay?

Thank God for rock ‘n’ roll… and exposure to the Internet. Men can use products. Women don’t have to. The gender binary is actually a spectrum, and cosmetics shouldn’t be gender-specific because a man will not morph into his wife if he borrows her face cream, and a straight woman will not turn gay if she starts using men’s razors (she will, however, save a lot of money. More on that in the next post).

I’m less inclined to buy into early-2000s school gate ignorance now, but my biggest issue with cosmetics has lasted for years, and I’m not sure if it’s a gender equality issue or just me. Remember when Ellen and Isobel gave me a makeover? It was a lot of fun, but I resented hints that I should always straighten my hair, or wear make up more regularly. The way compliments about how I look get phrased always seems to be “you look great with that make up/hairstyle/clothes on, you should wear it all the time!” Wait, so I don’t already look great? I’m way too stubborn to cave into those implications (especially when it’s from friends and family who are paying me compliments that I might just be incapable of receiving) but pressure from friends and family can have a detrimental effect. Maybe it’s not just me, because someone’s even made a video about it:

This post was nearly done, but then I went on the ‘natural hair’ Tumblr tag and found this (along with some brilliant examples of afro hair):

BLACK shesgotsomuchsoul.tumblr.com

It made me sad, because it’s true. We are all taught to be dissatisfied with what we have so we’ll pay to change it. Women seem to be targeted more, and at risk of sounding like a disenchanted radical, I reckon it harks back to that pesky opinion that men are naturally perfect and women naturally inferior. But it’s evolved into a race inequality issue, because the companies selling products need to make us all feel as though there is something wrong with our natural aesthetic, so we’ll be willing to pay for something new. We’re made to want what everyone else has while despising what we have.

The funniest part is, we can dye our hair or wear a product to express ourselves, to tell a story, to make us feel more confident. If you’ve got acne that you dislike or hair somewhere that makes you shy or insecure, you can buy concealer or get hair removal. But what they don’t tell us is that you should do it because you want to look good for you. Not for a boyfriend who wants you to shave your bikini line, not because an advert has implied you’ve got the wrong hair type or skin colour, not because friends of family have hinted they prefer one ‘look’ over another. The writers over at Rookie are doing an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating that cosmetics are a brilliant way to help you be yourself, but that attitude seems pretty limited to the Internet.

I feel like I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. Why aren’t all women of all races, or backgrounds, or hair types or whatever, telling the media and social opinion to go fuck itself and concentrating on complimenting each other’s natural look?  Am I overreacting to people’s compliments when I do my hair differently? Are men targeted by the cosmetic industries as much as women? I can only speak from experience as a cisgender girl (told you I read up on the spectrum!). I kind of feel like companies use consumers’ ignorance (and maybe indifference, actually) to sell products we don’t need, and it’s fueling social inequality.