Sunday, November 4, 2007

Kiss of Death

Love that red. Oh, my yes. Red shoes are magic (just ask Dorothy), red nails are fierce, red lingerie is the very best kind for wantonly flinging over bedside lamps to give them a flattering ruby glow, red cowgrrl boots are a trademark (I own two pair, counting the new red velvet Pliners), and red hair is -- for me, anyway -- simply a matter of truth in advertising.

But it's the red lipstick that keeps Mr. R coming home at night. (He was always one for the classics.) It's a Very Big Deal with him. I must own a dozen different kinds -- glossy, matte, winter dark, summer bright, wear-all-day, stay-on-all-night -- tucked into various drawers and purses. It's not just wax in a tube around here. It's the gluestick that holds an old marriage together.

And now, via Rick Perlstein, we learn that tested 33 brands of red lipstick from all over the country -- and found that over half of them contained toxic amounts of lead. The average woman inadvertently consumes roughly four pounds of lipstick in her lifetime -- it's probably going to be double that for me -- and now it turns out that, thanks to the E. Coli conservatives running our government, cosmetic industry oversight has completely vanished. That Pure Food and Drug Act they passed over a century ago? Forget it. These days, there's no enforcement -- nothing to keep L'Oreal (the biggest offender of the bunch) from putting anything they damn well please into the stuff we put on our hair, face, and skin.

This is a coming issue for those of us who've been watching our intake of pthalates and hormones. It's bad enough that we can't trust meat or bottled water or household products that offgas or aspartame-laced diet drinks that turn to formaldehyde if left out of the fridge too long. Now, the everyday toxic load includes the stuff we put on our bodies to make them clean, sweet-smelling, and attractive. (You want the whole story? Click here -- and then reserve some time for a thorough clearing of your bathroom shelves.)

It's even in our fucking lipstick. (And, yes, I do kiss my mama with that mouth.)

This is what the unrestrained free market leads to. This is what "voluntary oversight" and "industry standards" descend to. People who are in business for the money have every incentive to do harm if they don't believe they'll be held to account for it. Teddy Roosevelt's Congress passed the Pure Food & Drug laws in the first place because the country was overrun with snake oil salesmen selling "tonics" laced with morphine and alcohol, and cosmetics full of lead.

And goddamn if they're not still out there, a century later, selling their dangerous potions. The stores have nice lighting and the salespeople don't dress or talk like carnies and the packaging makes it look pristine and safe -- but increasingly, the crap in the tube or bottle isn't any safer than the stuff Dr. Feelgood was peddling out of his gypsy wagon a century ago. This isn't progress. In fact, it's just another data point proving that we're going backwards.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go toss a bunch of lipstick in the trash. The wailing and gnashing of teeth you are about to hear is my husband. The Bush Administration has destroyed our way of life on so many fronts we're losing count -- but in his eyes, denying red-blooded American women their God-given right to blood-red lipstick may be the very last straw.

Oh, that photo? It's the first-ever Internet face photo of yours truly. With, of course, red lipstick -- manufactured in Germany, which has cosmetic laws with real teeth, by Chanel.