How Much Do You Know About Your Shampoo?

A Short Film by Annie Leonard Looks at Personal Care Products

The Story of Stuff filmmaker and author Annie Leonard tackles cosmetics in her latest short film.©

On the top floor of the Spotted Pig in New York City were gathered about 50 people from the beauty industry, grassroots campaigns and the media for the premiere of the next Story of Stuff project—a short film about the chemicals hiding in our personal care products. Applause, hoots and hollers filled the room, and they weren’t all directed at the free "Tata" blueberry drinks or the fresh organic hors d"?uvres prepared by A Moveable Garden. This applause had to do with the beginning of a movement, one surrounding an issue that impacted every person in the room.

And so we watched the first showing of The Story of Cosmetics with sustainability spokeswoman and The Story of Stuff filmmaker and author Annie Leonard. Teaming up with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the project delves into key issues surrounding our cosmetics, not only makeup,. but shampoo, deodorant, hair care products, bath soap, baby powder and all the chemicals that go into their production.

"The average women in the U.S. uses about 12 products daily, the average man about six, each product containing a dozen or more chemicals," Leonard says in the film.

That’s a lot of chemicals to bathe our bodies in each day. What’s worse is that the youngest members of our society are now being born "pre-polluted," as the film calls it. So what’s being done to stop it? Not much. The Environmental Protection Agency has banned only a handful of chemicals since the release of the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976. This despite the fact that 80,000 chemicals are currently used in consumer products.


"Like most parents I try to keep my family safe, but now I found out that my bathroom is a minefield of toxins? What are we supposed to do?" Leonard says.

The filmmaker decided that she could raise public awareness. On this project, she teamed up with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which began in 2004 as an effort to protect consumers from harmful chemicals by calling for government reforms. That campaign and others by grassroots groups have fought chemical overload in consumer products for years now.

Says Mia Davis, the national grassroots coordinator for the campaign: "I’ve been working on plastics and cosmetics for about seven years now. We wanted to make sure [the film] was factual and fun and acceptable, and make sure that people understand that it is a confusing issue and that it’s not your fault that you have toxic products in your bathroom cabinet, like most of us do."

The film is not even nine minutes long, but it is packed with damning information. "There are too many people that have never heard of this issue, but it impacts all of us," Davis says.

Another safe cosmetic advocate in attendance was Tata Harper, founder and CEO of Tata Harper Skincare. "I was prompted after a close family member was diagnosed with cancer," Harper says of her introduction into natural skincare. "I was shocked to discover the toxicity levels in products I had been using for over 10 years."

In her search for chemical-free products, Harper says she kept coming up short. So she started her own line. Her products are 100% natural and made with nontoxic ingredients, and the facilities are located right on a certified-organic farm. The company’s mission? To provide women with skin care products without putting their health at risk and provide them with the information they need to make good choices about personal care products. Harper has teamed up with Davis and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and with the Story of Stuff project, to create an even bigger impact.

"I am hoping that the film will inspire change and help consumers understand that they do have choices, and that they can have a voice," Harper says.

It may already be making a difference with the new Toxic Chemicals Safety Act that was introduced to the House a few weeks back. Chemical regulation is finally getting the scrutiny it deserves. After all, this isn’t just about cosmetics; it’s about our health.

REBECCA WEBSTER is an editorial intern at E.