I saw this article about Bodisafe Cosmetics which claims their products are natural and chemical free. Normally, I would just file this away with all the other scaremongering, BS, natural cosmetic marketing, but this article featured quotes from a cosmetic chemist. I was horrified by what he said.
I won’t do a detailed debunking of the nonsense claims attributed to here. In this post, I want to talk to my fellow cosmetic chemists.
Hey chemists, listen up!
Behave like a scientist
If you are going to represent yourself in the public as a scientist, then behave like a scientist. You have a responsibility to be truthful and as accurate as you can be. Society elevates scientists to the level of experts who are expected by the public to provide reliable information in whatever area you are discussing. Don’t lie to people or spread misinformation just because it may help with your company’s product marketing.
I know we cosmetic chemists work in an industry that uses misleading claims to get consumers to buy one company’s products rather than a competitor’s. I also know that the R&D groups in the industry have very little say in what claims are made and how they are written. It’s true, we are sometimes required to find ways to support dubious claims our marketing departments want to make. Yes, we’ve all done something like adding a drop of aloe to a standard lotion so your marketing people can call it Aloe Vera Lotion. And we’ve done things like adjusting the levels of some ingredient in a non-significant way so your company can proclaim that it’s an “all new formula.”
I get it. These are the things we have to do to stay employed as cosmetic chemists.
But you know what we don’t have to do? We don’t have to outright lie to consumers or the media.
Don’t do that.
Don’t tell uninformed reporters that “…60 percent of those chemicals cross the skin and get into the body.” That’s not true. Don’t mislead the media by telling them that chemicals in cosmetics are dangerous or that your natural products are somehow more safe. They aren’t.
It is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics in the US. Replacing parabens and other preservatives or using organic ingredients does not make your products more safe! It just doesn’t.
Your products aren’t more safe
And if you are under the delusion that your products are somehow more safe than products put out by large, multi-national corporations, I’ve got news for you…they aren’t! In fact, if you work at a small company it’s more than likely that your products are less safe since you undoubtedly haven’t done the amount of safety testing as the big corporations.
Now, I understand that sometimes you can be misquoted when interviewed for articles. The press doesn’t always do a great job of getting the quotes just right. You can even be edited to seem like you said something but you meant something else. I understand. However, it’s pretty rare for the media to get it so completely wrong that it represents the opposite of what you are trying to say.
If you’re going to be out in the public as a scientist you need to hold yourself to higher standards than other people like politicians, lawyers, or even the police. Society relies on the expertise and reliability of science and scientists. When you lie, mislead, or obliviously pass along myths as facts, you are undermining not just your own reputation, but also those of other cosmetic chemists, our industry, and even scientists in other fields of study.
Now, in the event that you are not lying but are simply misinformed, I encourage you to go get informed. Get informed by scientific organizations. Avoid NGOs like the EWG or the marketing departments of your competitor’s. Learn about parabens, sulfates, petrolatum, talc, and any other vilified cosmetic ingredient. See what toxicologists have to say about the ingredients based on actual scientific studies.
Before you spread misinformation in the public…get educated!
We are scientists. The public still (at least for the moment) trusts us to be a reliable source of information that will help them make decisions about their lives. We have a responsibility to tell the truth and to not mislead people with myths, unsubstantiated accusations, and outlandish claims. I know you might feel pressure from your company to stretch the truth to elevate your products, but I implore you, don’t do it!
Make a commitment to first know what is and isn’t true and then when you ever get the chance to talk to reporters, tell the truth.
In this time of “alternative facts” it is even more important for scientists to be a beacon of truth. Society is relying on you.
Don’t let them down.
PS. If you need a brush-up on ethics, the book Ethics in the Real World is an excellent read.