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Chemicals Found in Many Cosmetics Linked to Cancer

Mills College Weekly

Lagging behind European standards, cosmetics unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may contain a high amount of carcinogens.

Most Americans are unaware that many beauty products they use each day can potentially cause serious harm beyond the occasional clogged pore or the infamous chapstick addiction. Consumers of cosmetic and general hygiene products also should include the risk of cancer on their list of potential side effects when considering the array of products that many use daily.

In October 2004, the European Union, Europe’s equivalent to the FDA, banned all companies manufacturing products containing a brand of particularly toxic chemicals called phthalates, from doing business in any 25 member countries of the EU, and agreed to research and regulate some 450 other chemicals in beauty products. Mainstream companies such as Revlon Inc, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder Co., and Proctor and Gamble are among the companies who are being forced to reformulate their products in Europe, however, products being sold in the U.S. are not yet held to the same legal standards. Until recently, the FDA had turned a blind eye to the agendas of the big-business cosmetic industry, resulting in little government regulation of the chemicals that are included in beauty and hygiene products.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Working Group said that the wheels are in motion in the U.S., “the FDA is in the process of reviewing a petition and studies regarding the danger of the chemicals in our products, but it is a slow process.”

A surprised consumer, Dania Cabello, said, “I assumed that the FDA already regulated the products, I never thought that there would be carcinogens in them.”

For decades public health groups have been researching and testing the safety of the chemicals that make up beauty products. Other organizations besides the EWG, such as the Breast Cancer Fund and smaller campaigns like the Campaign for Safe cosmetics, have taken on this dire responsibility and their work is beginning to pay off.

These groups believe that the chemicals of most concern for the American public are a class of chemicals called phthalates. They are used to soften plastic, and many cosmetic companies put it in their products for added flexibility and absorption into the skin, hair, or nails. Most often the chemical is found in highly utilized beauty and hygiene products such as deodorant, nail polish, lotions, hair spray and perfumes.

Among the many potentially harmful chemicals that are in beauty products, phthalates are of particular concern because, according the EWG Web site, “hundreds of animal studies have shown that phthalates can damage the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the reproductive system, especially the developing testes.”

Phthalates are, on the one hand, a chemical that makes the product “absorb so well,” but on the other, they are also a vehicle for further absorption into the skin, taking other included chemicals with them and thus being released into your blood stream.

Due to the lack of public awareness about the chemicals such as phthalates in their beauty products, the EWG, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have created an interactive and informative Web site, where concerned consumers can find out what’s really in their specific products. This feature of the Web site reveals some surprising and frightening results.

Vista student Essence Harden is, like many young women, a regular wearer of eye makeup and other beauty products. Through investigating her specific products the most alarming result was learning about her “Neutrogena Healthy defense SPF 30 sunblock.”

“I purchase Neutrogena products because they are recommended by my dermatologist, and I assumed that they were gentler and safer than other products. However, I have learned that my sunblock, which I was using to prevent cancer, is one of the worst products on the market in terms of containing harmful chemicals,” she said.

Although the FDA is currently in the process of reviewing and reworking their involvement with regulating cosmetics companies, in the mean time, concerned consumers can utilize the EWG Web site to find out about the risks behind their beauty rituals.