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The Greenwash Brigade

Burt’s Bees takes on cosmetics

Heidi Siegelbaum Feb 7, 2008

The Burt’s Bees new ad campaign, fashioned by Pool advertising in New York, raises some magnificently sexy issues that are better than a dog-eared copy of some Danielle Steele paperback.


Burt’s Bees advertisement

Good for Burt’s Bees who has decided to “show one ingredient vs. another ingredient,” rather than attacking other brands.

I decided to look up all of Burt’s Bees products versus Aveda products (now owned by Estee Lauder) to see what the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database revealed. Burt’s Bees had 72 products rated low health concern, although a goodly number were of moderate concern. Aveda products — which are solely advertised as plant-based aroma therapy and whose very expensive products line our bathroom rack — miserably failed with only two products of low concern. Now there’s an ingredient vs. ingredient offensive.

Contrary to Mr. Bailey’s assertions, personal care products are the least regulated FDA products on the market and that deal was sealed in a 1973 trade-off between partial labeling and an industry self-regulatory mechanism called Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Burt’s Bees is doing us a favor because as Stacy Malkan noted, it will create a seed of doubt in consumer’s heads and prompt them to ask some questions — hard ones.

The real villains here are the FDA, which has utterly failed to protect the American public from barely tested personal care products — and the freshly PR’d Personal Care Products Council and many of its members who continue to put profits before consumers. In its defense, FDA doesn’t have the regulatory authority to properly regulate these products so let’s throw Congress into that boiling cauldron of water as well.

Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face (the Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry) revealed some truly horrifying stories, including the American Cancer Society’s joint program with the PCPC called Look Good…. Feel Good in which women with cancer are plied with up to 25 cosmetics (probably untested) to help them feel better. And they probably do feel a tad better but I found this feel-good gesture obscene, particularly since the ACS will not address the issues related to avoiding cancer (which tighter toxics regulation could help accomplish).

Ms. Malkan also went undercover for the 2006 industry Health & Beauty America conference where, at the regulatory panel, she heard that people are sick because they have horrible diets and that the people behind the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics were run by “the bored and the lonely with Internet connections” which I found amusing. More telling, she heard from Mr. Bailey about the new Consumer Commitment Code, which includes a website that will “enable consumers to search for cosmetic ingredients and get a message about safety.” (p. 114, Not Just a Pretty Face). Now there’s a trusted source of consumer information! Go Burt’s Bees! Maybe Clorox will help them tame the pretty council.

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