According to Dr. Epstein, the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act does not require cosmetics, personal care products or their ingredients be approved as safe before they are sold. The FDA’s oversight begins only after you, the consumer, have used the product.
People take for granted that cosmetics and personal care products are safe to use because they have been tested. We would like to believe the soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume and lipsticks that we use everyday are harmless and that we can enjoy them without concern for our health. But there are more than 10,000 cosmetic and personal care products on the market today in the United States and very few have ever been assessed for their safety.
Did you ever hear the saying, “Don’t put it on your skin if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth.”?
Our skin is only 1/10 of an inch thick and highly permeable. Skin is the body’s largest organ (approximately 10 sq. ft. if laid out like a rug) and this porous membrane is highly sensitive to toxic chemicals. What we put on our skin affects our health more than what we put in our mouth. Dr. Epstein discusses how the carcinogens in these beauty products create greater cancer risks than eating contaminated food. That’s because the chemicals you swallow can be somewhat detoxified by enzymes in the liver. We expose ourselves to the carcinogenic ingredients in commonly used personal care products daily, year after year. And the daily exposure is also frequently prolonged when we let the products sit on our skin rather than immediately wash them off.
This provides increased opportunity for absorption. To make matters worse, most of the products on the market today contain penetration enhancers – designed to deliver a more complete or lasting effect. But in doing so, they make our skin even more permeable, helping other ingredients to penetrate the skin more easily and deeply (very dangerous if those ingredients are toxic). The latest penetration enhancer: nanoparticles, added to make skin cream products absorb deep into the skin, into the bloodstream and through the entire body with unpredictable toxic effects. These toxic ingredients produce cumulative effects.
And we aren’t speaking only of grown-ups. Think of all the powders and lotions marketed for babies. A baby’s skin is dramatically more sensitive to carcinogens than adults and their fast metabolism means absorption of any kind of lotion or powder product is exacerbated. According to a 2008 survey in the PEDIATRICS journal, babies who were recently shampooed, rubbed with lotion or were powdered were found to have elevated levels of phthalates, a disease-causing chemical, in their urine.
In 1994 and again in 1996, the Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC) and the New York Center for Constitutional Rights (NYCCR) petitioned the FDA to demand talc genital dusting powder be labeled with a cancer warning. The FDA denied this petition. In 1997, Sen. Edward Kennedy publicly urged the FDA to place a cancer warning label on talc products (as well as other products containing known carcinogens) and to this date, the agency has still not responded.
Hormone disrupters (preservatives, detergents, solvents, sunscreens, etc.) are chemicals that are harmful to the body’s endocrine system (the adrenal, thyroid and pituitary glands, ovaries, pancreas and testicles). When our body mistakes these synthetic chemicals for its own natural hormones, our body’s natural process is disrupted.
While it is difficult to control our exposure to the carcinogens in our air and water, what we put on our skin is something that is truly up to us… should we choose to educate ourselves.
The sad fact that we have been losing the war against cancer is made more so because so much of this is avoidable. According to Dr. Epstein, a 1990 survey taken in many major industrialized countries showed that cancers not related to smoking are responsible for about 75 percent of the overall increased occurrences of cancer since 1950. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the prescription drugs we take, and the cosmetics and personal care products we use have become pervasively contaminated with toxic carcinogens and we are continuously (and unknowingly) exposed to a huge amount of ‘avoidable’ carcinogens that can have long-lasting neurological, reproductive, and immunological effects.
Toxic Beauty is an excellent eye-opening read that encourages us to learn about the harmful effects of the products we use almost every day. And because we cannot depend on the industry to take any action that does not serve its best interest, this book helps us in the absence of warning labels to identify those products that are killing us.
How bad can these products be? Dr. Epstein illustrates with an example from 1933. That year, dozens of women went blind as a result of using a product called LASH LURE, a synthetic aniline dye marketed as an eyelash and eyebrow colorant. Aniline comes from coal tar and is also used in hair colorings. But even after so many went blind and at least one woman died, this product remained on the market for almost five years because the FDA did not warn the consumers and there was no regulatory authority in place to remove products with dangerous ingredients from the store shelves.
CAUTION: Kisses may be poison
Attention Ladies: Does your lipstick or lip gloss contain lead lead? Attention Gentlemen: Have you kissed those lead-laced lips? In an analysis done of 33 different popular brands of lipstick by an independent lab, it was found that 61% contained lead. Lead is readily absorbed by the body and accumulates in our bones. It is highly toxic to the nervous system and can also cause serious gastrointestinal symptoms of lead poisoning including diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting.
The book highlights one of the biggest scandals for a cosmetics manufacturer that happened in the early 1800’s. There was a woman named Signora Toffana and she created a face powder full of lead and arsenic. The wealthy wives of noblemen couldn’t buy it fast enough! The more beautiful these women became, the more affectionate their husbands were with their kisses…..and the faster they died from the toxic facial powder. Toffana was executed as an accomplice in the death of an estimated 600 husbands.
Today there is such a preoccupation with appearing youthful that the cosmetic industry has been inspired to produce a line of products known as cosmeceuticals which are now the fastest growing sector of the cosmetic industry and yet one of the least scrutinized.
The most disturbing truth about these cosmeceuticals is that the great majority of them have highly questionable (if any) benefits and that many of their ingredients make them very toxic. Cosmetics are a huge and immensely profitable billion dollar business. Dr. Epstein quotes Sen. Kennedy’s warning to us more than 10 years ago… “The cosmetic industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health.”
According to Toxic Beauty, although manufacturers are not required by law to provide evidence of their product’s safety, the FDA certainly does have full authority (if it so chooses) to protect us from dangerous products by requiring clear warning labels on every product that contains dangerous ingredients. It also has authority to require product labels identify any ingredients that have not been tested for safety by including these words: WARNING. THE SAFETY OF THIS PRODUCT HAS NOT BEEN DETERMINED.
However, with very few exceptions, the FDA rarely chooses to exercise this authority. And if manufacturers do decide to test the safety of its ingredients, the results are kept confidential because, at this time, safety testing is voluntary. Not even the FDA has access to this information nor is the agency informed that the test was done. The industry is also not required to disclose the identification of a product’s ingredients because they argue doing so will expose the company’s trade secrets. But if companies do identify those ingredients, the labels are so chock full of complex chemical terms that very few of us could even understand what they were.
Toxic Beauty is intended to provide guidance on how to read and decipher these baffling and often misleading product labels. The cosmetics and personal care products industry continues to market its products by boasting that if the products were harmful, the FDA would certainly alert the public. We, as consumers, have a fundamental right to know and understand what toxins are in our cosmetics and personal care products. And buyers should know that while most of us would think the label “natural” would mean something taken directly from nature, synthetic chemicals may legally be tagged “natural” without repercussion.
And don’t be fooled when you see a product labeled “fragrance free.” Manufacturers may add unidentified fragrance ingredients to mask foul odors generated by other chemicals and still call it a “fragrance free” product because fragrances are treated as valuable trade secrets – and you know what that means: They do not have to list the chemicals on the labels. Watch out for products that are for “professional use only” because they don’t have any ingredient labeling requirements. And you probably were not aware that the FDA does not require manufacturers to skin test those products marked “hypoallergenic, allergy tested or safe for sensitive skin.”
And because hidden carcinogens are not intentionally added to the cosmetics and personal care products, labeling them is not a requirement. We must realize that we are foolish to believe and trust that the FDA would alert us to products that contain threats to our physical health and emotional well-being.
The authors tell us many European governments do what ours will not, enforcing a policy that declares ‘harm to consumer health should not need to be established before corrective action is taken and that manufacturers would need to prove their product ingredients were safe before putting the products on the market.’ However, the American public is beginning to wake up and a quiet revolution in our academic approach towards exposure to these toxic materials is now happening. Consumers are speaking up and banding together in efforts to punish irresponsible chemically-reckless companies by simply not buying their products. Everyday new companies with safe alternatives are emerging, and consumers need to make the intelligent choices. Products that contain toxic ingredients need to be labeled with red flag warnings similar to those cancer warnings on cigarettes.
These product warnings should not substitute a ban or a total phase-out of toxic ingredients in the products we use. Human health and safety must take priority. There needs to be restrictions on claims of confidentiality by corporations trying to withhold ingredient ‘recipes’ for the purpose of protecting their trade secrets. As consumers, we cannot believe that it is safe to use products that have the sometimes misleading labels “natural” or “organic” because we cannot assume the product contains only safe ingredients. Remember, arsenic is natural, but it is hardly safe to use in personal care products.
This book is an excellent eye-opening read encouraging us to educate ourselves about the harmful effects of the products we use almost every day and it shows us how to identify those products that are killing us when warning labels don’t. We cannot depend on the industry to take any action unless it is in its own best interest. The book provides an excellent resource with many charts of harmful ingredients, their effects, and a list of safe alternatives. It also refers consumers to useful websites (such as www.DRUGSTORE.COM) that feature cosmetics and personal care products along with a complete list of ingredients and relevant warning labels.
A former consultant to the United States Senate, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor, Dr. Epstein has authored/co-authored 15 books including The Politics of Cancer, Hazardous Wastes in America and What’s in Your Milk? He has also published hundreds of scientific articles and has appeared on national TV programs including Good Morning America, The Today Show, 60 Minutes and Meet the Press. Randall Fitzgerald has been an author, and investigative reporter for both newspapers and magazines since the early 1970s. He has written feature articles for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest. His most recent book, The Hundred-Year Lie, is available through Hippocrates Health Institute’s mail-order department (561) 471-8876.
Vol 30 Issue 2 Page 8