For many, the New Year brings a familiar rattle of insecurity and sudden drive to be, as Gwyneth Paltrow puts it, "look the best version of yourself as you age.” Groan.
It’s not easy. Women are busy and many don’t have the money, time or even the narcissistic inclinations to work that hard at looking good. Yet now, the alarmists are telling us it’s best to give up entirely since maintaining one’s looks is dangerous. Consider this December piece in U.S. News and World Report ("The (Health) Price of Pretty," Dec. 9, 2014), which warns readers against a number of spa and salon services.
Quoting a deeply flawed study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the writer claims that skin cancer caused by tanning kills more than lung cancer caused by smoking. Yet, according to the American Cancer Society, 159,260 people die from lung cancer each year, and most of these deaths are related to smoking. That’s more than 10 times the total number of skin cancer deaths in the United States, which kills 12,980 annually. And the majority of skin cancer deaths occur in men over age 50, hardly the core sun tanning bed consumers.
The piece also exaggerates risks associated with the Brazilian blowout, which involves the application of formaldehyde on the hair before being dried. While there have been a few cases of misusing the product, that isn't a reason to outlaw it entirely. The writer similarly stokes fear about mercury lurking in over the counter face creams. But is mercury ubiquitous in these products? No. While mercury is banned in United States and discouraged by many other countries, sometimes bad products — in this case, face cream containing mercury — imported from other countries slip through the cracks. Bad? Yes. Rare? Yes. This hardly translates into poison lurking on the drug store’s cosmetic shelf.
The piece goes on to warn that 60 Californians have been diagnosed with mercury poisoning from skin creams over the last four year. So 15 people out of California’s total population of 38 million got sick each year. That’s a reason to read your face cream label, not give it up entirely. Need some more perspective? More people are killed each year by cows, jellyfish, ants and horses. Hippos kill 2,900 people annually. Death via hippo — now that’s scary.
The writer last takes on teeth whitening, saying it’s risky while inadvertently hinting at the obvious – that teeth whitening “has led to some troubling results for those who go overboard.” She fails, however, to recognize that it's the going “overboard” that is harming people, not the product itself. Instead of telling people to use whitening kits the way manufacturers instruct, the writer advises avoiding these affordable, over-the-counter products in favor of a dentist. Translation: It’s nice to be rich.
These types of articles distract from real dangers and efforts that people can make to live healthier lives and even feel good about their looks. My advice: Ignore the alarmists and do those beauty treatments that, as Gwinnie says, make you a better version of yourself.
Director, Culture of Alarmism and senior fellow
Independent Women’s Forum