Letters to the editor, whether to your local newspaper or to a magazine you read, show grassroots support for the overarching goal of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: government regulation over consumer products and a market that ensures and rewards safe products.
Letters to the editor should be prompted by a recent article in the publication. The letter should reference the article and either respond directly to or elaborate on a main point in the article. Newspapers list their letter guidelines online or in the editorial or letters section of the paper; usually they limit letters to the editor to 150 or 250 words.
- Keep it concise and make your most important points first — the paper will shorten the letter if it is too long, and then you’ll have less control over what gets printed.
- Keep it focused. Even if the issue is multi-faceted, a letter to the editor isn’t the place to cover all the angles. Just pick one main point and make strong, clear statements.
- Your opinion and unique voice matter, but make sure your letter makes a compelling case and refrains from sarcasm or whining.
- Remember to include your full name, address and phone number so that the paper can verify that you wrote the letter.
- Once you've mastered letters to the editor, considering moving across the editorial page to the Op-ed section, where you can publish a longer opinion piece under your own byline. How to write an op-ed.
Sample letter to the editor: ELLE Magazine
Thank you for your ELLE Beauty Green Stars report (May 2008). It is great to see that most of the companies in the report have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a commitment to make cosmetics free of carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins. Since there is no government regulation over the cosmetics industry, personal care product companies can make whatever claims they wish (Natural! Organic! Green!), with no agency following up to make sure the products are safe for long-term use. While ELLE’s selections for this issue were really quite green, I hope readers won’t necessarily trust the “natural” claims that so many other companies are beginning to make. Customers have to do research, and companies need to back up claims. Until we have FDA regulation over this industry we won’t know that all lipstick is free of lead or shampoo is free of carcinogens.
Mia Davis, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Boston MA
Sample letter to the editor: Town & Country Magazine
To the Editor:
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics would like to commend T&C for your reporting in “Natural & Organic Beauty Products: The Top 75” in your April issue. We were happy to see that nearly 1/3 of the products listed were made by companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, an agreement that, at a minimum, the company will be compliant with the EU directive that bans over 1,000 toxic chemicals from personal care products.
Your “Key to Synthetic Ingredients” was a great way to provide information on dangerous chemicals that can show up in products labeled “natural.” As you say in your piece, there is no legal definition of “natural,” so cosmetics companies can – and routinely do – use the word to market products that contain toxic synthetic chemicals.
It is equally important to inform consumers that the FDA does not test personal care products for safety, has only banned nine chemicals from this market, and 99 percent of all products on the market contain one or more ingredients that have never been tested for long-term safety.
Readers can visit www.safecosmetics.org for a list of safer companies, and to link to the database Skin Deep, which provides in-depth information on chemicals like phthalates and parabens, different product types and applies safety scores for specific brands and products.
With lack of safety data and no real definition of “natural,” these products are all over the map in terms of safety. We need FDA action and more companies making real commitments to safety and sustainability.
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Sample letter to the editor: Boston Globe
To the Editor:
RE: Should you trust your make-up?, Feb. 15
Carcinogens in baby shampoo? Reproductive toxins in makeup? The fact that hazardous chemicals are allowed in personal care products is the sad result of our nearly non-existent regulatory system for chemicals in the United States. We suffer the consequences in real time (exposure to chemicals found in consumer products have been linked to increased incidences of cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, attention deficit disorders), and we pass the burden on to the environment and future generations.
Children should not be in bubble bath that contains cancer-causing chemicals, period. Adults should not be exposed to carcinogens in the bathroom, in the kitchen or on the couch. It is possible to eliminate or substitute carcinogens and other harmful chemicals in consumer products. We need to demand that our legislators empower the FDA to make real safety standards, and call on companies to make safe products. If not now, when?
Opinion Editorials (Op-eds)
Op-eds can be more difficult to get published than letters to the editor, but offer a great reward: potentially hundreds of thousands of readers learning more about your viewpoint on an important issue. These are pieces written by you that are published in the paper's opinion page under your byline. Generally you'll write the op-ed, send it to the paper and follow up with a phone call to the opinion page editor to see if the paper is interested in publishing your piece. Op-eds are usually 600 to 750 words, but check your paper for guidelines.
- Begin with a brief illustration of how the problem affects individuals or a group. This helps to humanize the issues and pique the reader's interest.
- Keep your sentences interesting but short and clear, free of legal or medical terms.
- An op-ed should inform and offer solutions to the problem.
- Provide your name and a one-line bio stating who you are, what you do and where you live, and be sure to keep within the word limits or your submission will not be considered.
- Include your full name, address and phone number for verification.
- Place a follow-up call to make sure that they got your submission, and gently encourage them to print it.
Sample Op-ed: Something in the Water
By Diara D. Spain, PhD
Published in the Marin Independent Journal, May 2007
In honor of Mother’s Day, I offer this diagnosis: there must be something in the water. It seems as if most of my female relatives, friends and colleagues can be divided into four categories: thinking of having a baby, trying to have a baby, pregnant or has a young child. I suspect this sounds familiar to many women over the age of 26. My biological clock seems to be ticking faster each year and I am thinking of having a baby, too.
Over the past two years, I have vicariously enjoyed the ups and downs of the pregnancy, birth, and motherhood experiences of my best friend. Just last week I was playing with the baby during bath time and my friend mentioned switching from the lavender bubble bath. She had heard lavender-scented products were associated with estrogen-like chemicals causing premature sexual development. I found this puzzling and decided to do a little research.
I found a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine that concluded a few boys had developed breast tissue from using products containing lavender or tea tree oils. Numerous studies in pediatric journals provided examples of premature sexual development in girls resulting from personal care products containing estrogens or chemicals with estrogen-like properties.
More proof that the safety of our children’s products is in jeopardy? Earlier this year, laboratory tests identified a hidden petrochemical in dozens of children’s bath products. The chemical, 1,4-dioxane, is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects.
How are toxic chemicals making their way into our children’s bodies? There is almost no regulation of these products by the FDA or other federal and state agencies. And product manufacturers test for short-term exposure reactions, such as skin irritation. But what about the cumulative effects of decades of exposure to the chemicals in our products? Scientific research indicates that chemicals in bath products, lotions, hair products and cosmetics enter our body via our skin and scalp. Once in the bloodstream they are transported everywhere and may be used or excreted.
Indeed, there is something in the water … from the body wash used from infancy up to the hair products and makeup used by adults. I urge you to learn about an advocacy group called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org.) A national coalition, they are working to protect our health and safety by requiring the cosmetics industry to eliminate chemicals in our everyday cosmetics and personal care products linked to cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. What about all those chemicals on your ingredient labels that you can’t pronounce? Go to Skin Deep, an online database that provides safety rankings for more than 15,000 cosmetics and personal and the ingredients that form them (www.ewg.org/skindeep).
As a potential mother I worry about myself, my family and friends. What about you?
Diara Spain is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Dominican University of California.
Sample Op-ed: Fighting toxins: If moms don't do it, who will?
By Rachel Swain
Published in the Oakland Tribune, May 2007
IT'S A Monday evening two weeks before Mother's Day. I'm in the emergency room holding my 3-year-old as he gasps for breath. He started wheezing at three in the morning and isn't responding to medication. He sits hunched in my lap, his head against my chest, his exhalations whirring like a toy whose battery has run out.
I'm new to asthma, I'm scared and I'm angry. I know the stats: Asthma affects more than 6 million children nationwide. The Bay Area is the 15th most polluted region in the country, with several local counties scoring an "F" for particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association.
I also know that I can't pin my son's wheezing — like my father-in-law's brain tumor or my friend's breast cancer — on any one cause. On top of our sooty air, my kids are exposed every day to a cocktail of potentially harmful chemicals.
Earlier this year, laboratory tests identified a hidden petrochemical in dozens of children's bath products. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the chemical, 1,4-Dioxane, as a probable human carcinogen.
In 2005, the Environmental Working Group analyzed the contents of over 14,000 personal-care products and found that one-third contained at least one ingredient linked to cancer. My baby moisturizer contained three ingredients posing breast cancer risks and 12 ingredients that hadn't been tested for their effect on human health.
Phthalates, which have been linked to childhood asthma and male reproductive disorders, are used as softeners in kids' lunchboxes and raincoats. Bisphenol A, which hardens plastic baby bottles, has been linked to cancer in animals.
The effects are far-reaching. The average American girl will now develop breasts by the age of 10 — a year and a half earlier than her mother — thus increasing her breast cancer risk. This month, ecologist Sandra Steingraber will release a report that points to hormone-disrupting chemicals as a likely culprit. It's lax regulation that makes this possible. Synthetic chemicals have proliferated since the 1940s, and of the 100,000 in use today, 90 percent have never been tested for their effects on human health. In the cosmetics industry, any ingredient may be used, barring nine that are expressly banned. And labeling is opaque: The FDA does not require 1,4-Dioxane to be listed on baby bathfoam, for example, because it is a contaminant produced during manufacturing.
Meanwhile, breast cancer rates have tripled since the 1940s. Asthma in children under 4 exploded by 160 percent between 1990 and 1994. Brain cancers and other tumors in children's nervous systems rose by more than a quarter between 1973 and 1996.
Children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures than adults because their organs and cells are still developing. And so, we have turned this nation into a giant laboratory where children are the guinea pigs. As I watched my son slowly respond to the steroids coursing through his little body, I promised that this Mother's Day will be a day of action.
On Sunday, I'll urge the EPA to adopt higher clean-air standards, encourage my assembly member to support Fiona Ma's bill banning phthalates from children's toys, and call on Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to support the soon-to-be-reintroduced Kids Safe Chemicals Act, which limits the use of toxic chemicals. And I'm urging other mothers to do the same.
Like so many tasks that confront us every day, if moms don't do it, who will?
Rachel Swain serves on the board of the Breast Cancer Fund. She lives in Oakland. For more information, visit http://www.breastcancerfund.org or http://www.safecosmetics.org.