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The Ugly Side of Cosmetics

February 3, 2005 the Food and Drug Administration issued an unprecedented warning to the cosmetics industry stating that the Agency is serious about enforcing the law requiring companies to inform consumers that personal care products have not been safety tested. When risky chemicals are used in cosmetics, the stakes are high. These compounds are not trace contaminants. They are the base ingredients of the product, just as flour is an ingredient in bread. Many of these chemicals are found in percent levels in personal care products, nearly all easily penetrate the skin, and some are ingested directly after they are applied to lips or hands. And increasingly, companies are adding customized, futuristic “penetration enhancers” to drive ingredients even deeper into the skin, like Loreal’s new nanoparticle technology — a miniscule, fluid-filled sack designed to burrow deep into the skin to deliver its “active ingredients.” No safety testing required. Scientists find common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, like industrial plasticizers called phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue, and persistent fragrance components like musk xylene in human fat. Do the levels at which they are found pose risks? Those studies have not been done. They are not required.

Make-up and body care products contain ingredients suspected of causing cancer; potential neuro-, liver-, and immunotoxins; and suspected hormone disruptors that could cause birth defects in any children she might bear in the future. Many consumers may be surprised to learn that the US federal government doesn’t require health studies or pre-market testing on personal care products. Manufacturers are free to put just about anything they want into cosmetics—a far-reaching category used by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to include everything from make-up and deodorant to lotions and mouthwashes.

Instead, the safety (or not) of the ingredients in these products is looked into almost exclusively by a manufacturer-controlled safety committee called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. Consequently, “89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution,” says the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). “The absence of government oversight for this $35 billion industry leads to companies routinely marketing products with ingredients that are poorly studied, not studied at all, or worse, known to pose potentially serious health risks.”

For example, EWG found ingredients certified by the US government as “known or probable carcinogens” in one of every 120 cosmetic products on the market, including shampoos, lotions, make up foundations, and lip balm. What this adds up to, says the group, is that “one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products.”

Also of particular concern are the inclusion of phthalates—a group of industrial chemicals linked to birth defects that are used in many cosmetic products, from nail polish to deodorant. Phthalates are not listed as ingredients on product labels; they can only be detected through laboratory analysis. In April of this year, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC)—a coalition of environmental, social justice, and consumer groups—learned that the FDA has completed a study on the safety of phthalates in cosmetics but is refusing to release its findings. According to preliminary information uncovered by the CSC, two-thirds of health and beauty products analyzed by the FDA late last year contained phthalates. Two of the most toxic phthalates, DBP and DEHP, have been banned from cosmetics products sold in the European Union (EU) but remain unregulated in the US. In response to the FDA’s refusal to publicly release this information, Friends of the Earth, a founding member of the CSC, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the study.

Another class of chemicals that’s gotten some press recently is parabens, short for “para hydroxybenzoate.” These preservatives are widely used in cosmetics, particularly nail polish. Recent studies have implicated parabens as being associated with breast cancer, though more testing is needed.

Though there isn’t always definitive evidence that a given chemical can cause adverse health affects, the fact that so few have been studied for safety is of significant concern. Plus, there’s the effect over time of all these chemicals we’re applying to our bodies to consider. The average person’s morning routine puts him/her into contact with over 100 chemicals before breakfast, according to Aubrey Hampton and Susan Hussey, founder and vice-president of marketing, respectively, of Aubrey Organics. The cumulative effect of all of the chemicals in these products can add up over time, and no one truly knows what the results are.

April 6, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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