The Story of Cosmetics: What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Did you lather up with a carcinogen today? Dab a little endocrine disruptor under your arm? Those are the things you might find yourself thinking about when you watch Annie Leonard’s new video, The Story of Cosmetics, The Ugly Truth of Toxins In, Toxins Out. Leonard, the creator of The Story of Stuff, is using her latest in a series of illustrated videos to take aim at the unregulated personal care products industry. 

Many of the products we slather on our bodies come with labels touting “Gentle,” “Natural,” “Made With No Harsh Ingredients,” Leonard says. “But when you turn the bottles around, get out a magnifying glass and read the fine print on the back (and get online to do some research) it's a different story: sodium laureth sulfate, diazolidinyl urea, ceteareth-20, PEGs, quaternium-15—all these are typically contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde or 1,4 dioxane…Carcinogens in baby shampoo? Are you kidding me?”

The problem, Leonard points out, is none of the stuff we put on our bodies is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. But that could change. The newly introduced Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) sets out to discontinue the most menacing chemicals, require companies to be transparent about the ingredients they pour into bottles, create a system to test the safety of cosmetic ingredients, and provide resources for the FDA to monitor the industry. You can add your support for reform here. Also go to for help finding products that are less toxic.

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