The recent publication, in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, of a research concluding that some moisturizing creams may promote skin cancer in certain mice previously exposed to UV-rays, was followed by important media coverage.
Important media coverage
Most of the articles published on-line or in the press clearly recalled that the results where obtained in very specific laboratory conditions and on animals highly susceptible to develop skin cancers. Articles also often mentioned that the authors themselves indicated that similar findings have not been established in humans and that several scientists have expressed harsh criticism on the context and conclusions of the research. It is nevertheless unlikely that the general impression left in consumers’ minds would be highly positive.
However, for those curious to understand what’s inside the products they put on their bodies, the US, British and French associations representing the cosmetics industry have created dedicated online resources.
The first website of the sort, cosmeticsinfo.org, was launched by the former U.S. Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA), at the end of November 2007, when the trade body changed name to Personal Care Products Council. The site currently contains information on 13 personal care product categories and more than 1,500 ingredients, with the aim to educate consumers by giving easy access to safety information and the science behind the personal care products. The site also provides videos with interviews of cosmetics scientists explaining their job and how they work to make safe and reliable products.
According to Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of thePersonal Care Products Council, the launch of a consumer information website and CTFA’s name changing are illustrative of the trade body’s ethics. “We are a science-based, safety-first organization and industry with a long track record of safety initiatives that go beyond the requirements of the law. Our new name, motto  and consumer Web site are the latest expression of our shared core values of safety, quality, and innovation,” she explained.
The Personal Care Products Council had an earlier experience of this kind of counterfire websites when they launched germsmart.com, together with the U.S. Soap and Detergent Association (SDA). The purpose was then to respond to allegations that antibacterial soaps and washes would enhance bacterial resistance without providing additional protection against germs compared to traditional soaps.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, thefactsabout.co.uk was launched on April 2008 by the British Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA). The site is explicitly designed to react to scary issues released in the media. “Since 2005 the number of people that have seen media reports about the harmful effects of cosmetics and toiletries has more than doubled, from 14 per cent to 34 per cent today,” explains Chris Flower, CTPA’s Director General.
The CTPA therefore wish to help consumers to “sort out which are myths or scares and put what they read into perspective,” as the site claims. So far, the site has provided speedy reactions. CTPA was able to display detailed information about the research regardinga possible link between skin cancer and moisturisers on the day it was published.
In the meantime, CTPA also tries to educate the media. Actually, the industry often considers that media speculation about the safety of chemicals in general is one cause of the increasing consumers’ anxiety. The way chemicals are presented in most media commentary is perceived as mere sensationalism and attention grabbing. “With so many misconceptions people are often scared and anxious when they needn’t be and complacent when they shouldn’t be,” commente Tracey Brown, Director of Sense About Science, a UK Charity funded by British foundations, science bodies and big companies, with the aim to respond to the misrepresentation of science.
The French trade association,FEBEA (Fédération des Entreprises de la Beauté), launched parlonscosmetiques.com on February 2008. The site provides thematic reports, videos, advices and a FAQ section. There is also an ingredients database enabling consumers to search for what’s hidden behind a Latin or a chemical name written on a product label.
Three sites and three opportunities to become a cosmetics expert in just a few clicks!