Tag Archives: beauty

Are we being conned into thinking more about our daily moisturiser?

I like to think of myself as a consumer who is fairly conscious of health and environmental issues. I am a recycling obsessive, I carefully consider what I eat and I avoid buying products which I know could be difficult to dispose of once I’ve finished using them, such as detergents and aerosols.

But a recent trip to the US has reignited my ongoing concern with the chemicals in the beauty products which we use daily, and which seem largely to go undiscussed in the mainstream beauty media in the UK. Many US companies are now mentioning the absence of these ingredients, such as parabens, sodium laureth sulphate and others, as part of the marketing campaigns for their products.

I first became concerned about this problem after watching (the arguably over-exposed but, I think, ethically sound) Sarah Beeny in her 2007 programme for Channel 4, How Toxic Are You?  As a ‘celebrity’, she gained a mixed reaction from the press, who largely chastised her for what was perceived as unscientific naivety. She was worrying about the fact that the products we use on our bodies, including deodorants, moisturisers and shampoos, are not ‘natural’ when we are constantly surrounded by chemicals and artificial products.

(c) miss_yasminaSome scientists have suggested that there could be links between the parabens (which act as preservatives) used in deodorants and breast cancer risk, as they may mimic the effects of oestrogen. However, scientists and charities, such as Breast Cancer Campaign in a letter responding to a Sun report on the topic, are quick to emphasise that these claims are not backed up with reliable evidence and cannot be used to proclaim the use of these products dangerous, since there are so many other sources of parabens within our environment.

So, I am undecided really. Having spent quite some time scanning the ingredient lists of UK beauty products, there are definitely beauty brands in the UK which avoid some of these so-called dangerous chemicals. These include Good Things and some very high-end products like Avène  and La Roche-Porsay. However, it does not seem to have reached the levels of the US market where television adverts mention the ingredients (or lack thereof); we seem to hear more about things being ‘Organic’  or ‘97% natural’, which could mean that the other 3% is bleach after all.

I’m not a scientist and, as far as I can see, the jury is still out on whether these chemicals really do cause us harm directly. Is this just a case of ‘time will tell’, an approach which ought to cause concern when we consider that the PVCs in cling film, for example, were once thought harmless. I do have a sneaking suspicion that the US marketers are pandering to consumer concerns rather than addressing any scientific need, though. It’s no coincidence that the brands which use fewer of these chemicals seem to be more expensive.

What do you think? Do you worry about the ingredients in your shampoo? Or do you feel more inclined to stick with a brand you’re familiar with and can afford, rather than lose sleep over whether there are risks?

Time will tell, I suppose.

Stereotypes of Attraction

Last week I went for a meal with a group of four female friends. The conversation turned to the generalisation that men become more attractive as they get older whereas women peak in their late twenties (thirty at the latest). Despite my profound disagreement, the four others at the table agreed that this was a fact, an unquestionable truth. Men become sexier; women go southwards, was the majority view.

By perpetuating the idea that women are at their ‘peak’ at twenty-five we are not only short selling our beautiful mothers, and our future selves, but placing too high a value on youth and superficial appearance as important. And maintaining ever-damaging double-standards, too. A man’s wrinkles give character, experience, more authority (and patriarchal power). But our mothers make them look old. What is this about?

Leaving the cinema with my friend having watched the brilliant Please Give, we commented on the breath of fresh air which Catherine Keener’s face provided. Stunning high cheek bones, great hair, she’s undoubtedly never seen any side of the ugly stick. But the humanness of her face, the lack of bizarrely oversized lips / cheeks and small nose which becomes a familiar sight with women of forty-plus on screen, was brilliant. The storyline in which her character’s husband cheats with a younger beauty technician points, again, to the problem.

Conversely, on seeing the pitiful The Women (a film about how women relate to men, i.e. a film which is not about women at all), the statuesque American Beauty power of Annette Bening had long since gone, leaving a face with an uncanny difference to her former self. I winced, watching, wondering where her features had gone – into the surgeon’s bin presumably.

Not only is this about appearance. So smooth skin and plump lips are an ‘beautiful’, but, by making signs of experience ugly in women, we also suppose that elements of naivety and lack of learning, which youth perhaps reflects, is the pinnacle of how culture values women. Experience is threatening, and this is why it cannot be exposed on our faces.

I vehemently believe that these value judgements are incredibly damaging, and entirely arbitrary. Who’s to say that experience is not something to be proud of as a woman? Why do we race through our twenties before our ‘peak’ is over? What rubbish! It’s time for changing these views, and that means no more dinnertime conversations which treat these stereotypes as truth.