2009 Annual Public Lecture
Stacy Malkan, the featured speaker at BCAM's annual Lanie Melamed Memorial Lecture confesses to being a "make-up diva" in her teen years, using as many as twenty products a day. On April 16th, she spoke about "The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry and Hopeful Solutions for a Healthier Future to a welcoming crowd, recounting how her fascination with cosmetics eventually led to involvement in the creation of the U.S.-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC).
Malkan, an activist and author of the award-winning book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, was introduced by Deena Dlusy-Apel, welcomed by the moderator, Francine Pelletier (an Honourary Board Member), and thanked by Maychai Brown.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has spent years investigating harmful ingredients in personal care products and, with its partner, the Environmental Working Group, has put together a comprehensive web-based database (‘Skin Deep’). In addition, the CSC takes up the issue of toxins in cosmetics directly with the cosmetic companies themselves. In her book, Stacy tells of women who have undergone bio-monitoring (measuring synthetic chemicals in the body) to determine their ‘body burden’ of hidden toxic chemicals. The children of these women have also been found to contain alarming amounts of toxins (e. g., mercury, lead, dibutyl phthalates and flame retardants) resulting from both exposure in utero and from their own environments.
Malkan warned about the ugly side of the beauty industry – harmful ingredients in the most benign-appearing products, like baby shampoo (containing formaldehyde), lipstick (often containing lead), skin-whitening creams (containing hydroquinone, a contributor to skin cancer) and hair dyes (particularly darker shades). When such products are used on or by children and young people, even a slight exposure can add up over years and years. Malkan urges us to protect our children and youth by advocating the banning of products with known carcinogens.
“The message I want to get out today is that we have the power... to decide which products we put on our bodies, which companies we allow into our homes, and which companies we support with our money,” she said. We have the power to change the beauty industry through information, innovation, activism and politics. Malkan believes that it will take collective action, that changes in the laws are necessary, requiring companies to make safer products and to properly label them. She is delighted that much of the work of “green chemistry” (the design of products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances) is being done by women, and holds out the hope that, with increased economic and political clout, women will give the beauty industry a much-needed “make-over.”
Malkan’s presentation was followed by a lively question-and-answer session, after which she was available to sign copies of her book, with proceeds from the book sale coming to BCAM.
Prior to her lecture, Stacy Malkan agreed to speak at two local high schools, to deliver a message about how the beauty industry uses concepts like self-image and self-worth to market their products. Over 200 girls and their parents came to hear her message at Westmount High, and almost as many again to the Spring Forum of Girls for the Cure held at Villa Maria. Stacy believes that young women can be key in organizing the community to challenge the beauty industry to create safer products.