Can Cosmetics Kill? Organic Panic Offers Information over Ideology

Organic Panic S1: Cosmetics

Five-part documentary series Organic Panic, offers a conscientious and provocative take on the ongoing organics debate. Viewing the organics industry through a variety of different lenses, each half-hour segment is an eye-opening journey into a business that over the past decade has grown not only in terms of production, but in the public consciousness as well.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the series, executive produced by Moses Znaimer and produced by Toronto’s Sixteen Films, aims to raise (and hopefully begin to answer) important questions. Whether dealing with cosmetics, personal care products, food, fashion or housewares, each segment examines the roles that fear, marketing, and science play in determining our preferences as consumers. And, in many cases, the results are likely to surprise.

Organic Panic Gill deacon

Author and radio personality Gill Deacon

The first of the series’ five episodes sets that tone. A newcomer to the organics debate learns that there’s more than one story to consider in every corner of the industry. In the series premiere, Gracie, an actor with a budding career, is curious about the long-term effects that cosmetics could have on her and anyone else wearing makeup on a daily basis.

She meets with Gillian Deacon, a broadcaster and author whose battle with cancer led her to question the safety of the makeup she wore every day of her career in television. After reading her book, There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, Gracie wants to learn more from the environmentalist and the two of them discuss what really goes into products we often assume are safe.

Organic Panic dr joe atom

Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Head of Office for Science and Society (McGill University)

However, Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the head of Office for Science and Society at McGill University, casts Gillian’s findings in a different light. Though Gracie was worried by the results of a look through her makeup bag, Schwarcz offers up his own evidence to try to assuage her fears. He asserts that the industry is responsibly self-regulated. Small amounts of chemicals found in certain cosmetic products aren’t nearly enough to harm us, and shouldn’t be cause for widespread panic. The risk of injury when putting makeup on in a moving vehicle is more what we should be concerned about.

The series also explores the rise of “greenwashing”, which has allowed manufacturers to capitalize on the public’s desire for more natural alternatives, without adhering to truly organic standards. It’s just one of many patterns that have further muddied the waters of the debate, making it more difficult for the public to discern the line between fact and fiction, and make purchases with confidence – regardless of their views on organic products.

In this episode and throughout the series, Organic Panic searches for the ultimate truth through the subjects and experts who offer and defend their views and findings. For the safety of our health, how discerning do we need to be in our choices of products that we use? Should we be more concerned with what’s in them or what’s not in them? What are the true effects of long term use?

Simply put, can using some cosmetics really harm our health or even eventually kill us? Is there anything really to be concerned with other than poking our eyes with a mascara brush while in traffic? What should we truly believe? After Organic Panic presents information and evidence from both sides, ultimately it’s up to Gracie, and all of us, to decide where the true risks really lie and whether or not we should alter our lifestyles to adopt more organic products.


– Kate Shepherd/Henry Lees

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