by Laura Pilati
Doubtless, many of you caught wind last week of the findings of the recent FDA study-to-be-published on lead in lipstick. If you didn’t have a chance to read about it, here’s the scoop: as a follow up to a similar FDA study conducted in 2009 (where lead was discovered in twenty out of twenty lipsticks tested), the FDA tested about four hundred lipsticks for lead. They found that nearly all of those tested contained at least some level of the contaminant. Were you surprised to hear the study’s findings? Happy? Sad? While I totally felt like this the first time I got an email about it from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (because, wow! attention! press! women’s rights!):
I found a voice inside of me saying things like “OOOOMMGGGG”, especially by the end of the week. Huh? As a consumer education and women’s health advocate, I should have been thrilled to see this kind of attention on the issue, right? Well, sort of. To help explain what I’m getting at here, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my own story.
In 2006, I thought I found my true calling as an Environmental Organizer when I joined up with my university’s Ecology Club and, as an extension of that, the youth environmental movement. I went to clean energy/anti-coal protests in DC and Richmond, designed awareness posters for campus, and even (kind of painfully) remember doing outreach for our group by screaming “do you hate global warming?!?!?!” at the top of my lungs. Yeah, I was that girl. But, as incredibly passionate as I was about energy and environmental issues (and still am!), I eventually shrank away from the larger environmental movement because of one thing: reaction*.
When you get wound up in social justice issues, which are emotionally painful and directly tied to personal stories in health and social welfare, it’s hard to keep your cool. You get angry. You can’t understand why the rest of the world won’t seemingly take any action to stop obvious suffering and inequity. And it’s easy to become what I call a reactionary–someone who tries to draw attention by highlighting the most show-stopping statements he/she can possibly think of (e.g. “COAL KILLS!”, “Tell your congressman to stop supporting big coal!”, etc.). Saying things like this get out the angsty energy and they get reactions. And sometimes they get behavioral changes. I get that, I’ve been there. But what I realized was that this approach was ultimately not going to create any long-lasting, revolutionary changes. Why? Well, it wasn’t effectively changing the way people deep-down think about what they do. It wasn’t giving them the right tools to do that. And the press that this lipstick study was getting wasn’t any different.
So, what does this have to do with lipstick and being an informed consumer? And what does that term even mean?
Well, let’s talk about the latter question first. What does it mean to be an informed consumer? To me, it means to stay constantly curious about the things we do and say and think. There’s no “limit” to being informed…the world is constantly evolving, and there will always be new information. So the best we can do is to stay abreast of what’s going on, ask questions, and never assume anything about the things we buy or people we encounter. And that’s hard. But it’s about learning to pick up those tools that I mentioned and remembering to just not put them down.
When we adopt this approach–of staying constantly curious–being an informed consumer comes naturally, and it takes out our need for the “reactionary” types and tactics that I described before. For example, when I’m looking for a new shampoo at the store, I don’t rely on a single source–a commercial, the bottle’s branding, word-of-mouth recommendations–to make my decision on whether or not to buy it. Nor do I let the latest headline affect my purchase: I research ingredients and companies way beforehand, think about where I’m buying the product (because that’s part of the price, too!), and then experiment with it at home to find out if it’s right for my body. If I don’t like the result, I take it back and never buy it again. As a result, there are–hopefully–no surprises (like the FDA study) for us. And we are not acting reactively–we are acting PROactively.
So how often do you find yourself doing research on YOU? What influences you to make a purchasing decision? And where do you find information to help you make that decision? Some of my favorite resources are the Cosmetics Database, holistic health remedy or cosmetic recipe books like Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair, and of course, my body!
Psst-looking for more resources? Follow GCG on pinterest to see the latest articles, recipes, and ideas that we’re discovering!
*Note: the author does not condemn those taking part in the environmental movement or peaceful protests of any kind. Every day is Earth Day, amiright?