Try and picture a wolf – a big, starving wolf.
When it comes across a man, alone and unarmed, in a vast plain without anywhere to hide or shelter, it is absolutely clear that the animal represents a real danger for the man’s health, or even his life.
Now, imagine the same man comes across the same starving wolf, only this time it is imprisoned in a perfectly closed cage with solid bars made of steel. Here, the risk that the animal might bite and eat the man can be considered as minimal, or even nonexistent.
It is obvious that both situations, which stage the same characters, have nothing in common as regards the man’s future.
The difference is the same when it comes to cosmetics.
In this case, the wolf represents the ingredient that is suspected of having an effect on human health.
When used pure and in high quantities, certain substances incorporated into product compositions can be hazardous. But at limited concentrations, when they are part of a formula that contains many other ingredients, what risk do they represent?
That is what is at stake when the safety of cosmetics is assessed, which must be done before products are placed on the market.
Here, it can be said that the cage that transforms a known hazard into a negligible risk is regulations: they are based on the scientific knowledge we have on ingredients, impose concentration limits on the substances likely to damage human health, ban their use in certain product types… and, in short, are meant to follow the principle that defines the spirit and goal of the official text (European Regulation no. 1223/2009) that governs the industry: a cosmetic product must not harm human health.
Of course, there is no such thing as an indestructible cage, and there is no bar solid enough to be unbreakable. And no scientific knowledge is totally absolute. Zero risk just does not exist. The cosmetics regulatory system is not flawless either, and it can also be a bit slow or inadequate…
Still, regulations are supposed to protect humans from the hazards of certain ingredients and ensure the risks associated with the use of products are minimized.
Everyone should bear this in mind before banning certain ingredients and products… and cry wolf!