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Cosmetics and Your Health

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It may not occur to you that while you may be eating clean and healthy foods, that you may be lathering your skin with potentially harmful parabens, phthalates, sulfates, lead and thousands of various chemicals. Our skin is our largest organ and anything we put on it has the potential to absorb into our blood stream.

How many personal care products do you use in a day? According to Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) survey of 2300 people, on average, respondents use nine products daily. These contain 126 unique ingredients. One man in 100 and fully 25 percent of women surveyed apply 15 or more products each day - toothpaste, soap, deodorant, hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products and makeup.

And what about your children? Diaper cream, shampoo and lotion are common kids’ products.

Most people use cosmetics and other personal care items believe that the government oversees their safety. No health studies or pre-market testing are required for these products.

Americans’ frequent exposures to cosmetics and personal care products raise questions about the potential health risks from the myriad of unassessed ingredients in them. These ingredients migrate into the bodies of nearly every American.

In August 2005, scientists from the University of Rochester reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates which are chemicals found in personal care products and other consumer products that could cause the reproductive organs of male infants to develop abnormally (Swan 2005).

Studies have shown again and again that hormone systems of wildlife are thrown in disarray by chemicals from personal care products that rinse down drains and into rivers (NIEHS 2010).

Personal care products are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, toxic to the reproductive system or known to disrupt the endocrine system. Though some companies make products that are safe to eat, others choose to use dangerous ingredients like coal tar and formaldehyde, both human carcinogens, and lead acetate, a developmental toxin.

No premarket safety testing is required for the industrial chemicals that go into personal care products or the chemical industry as a whole. According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “…a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” (FDA 2012) The FDA does no systematic reviews of safety, instead authorizing the cosmetics industry to self-police ingredient safety through its Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel. Over its 36 years, this industry panel has rejected only 11 ingredients as unsafe in cosmetics (CIR 2012). By contrast, the European Union has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics (European Commission 2012).

When risky chemicals are used in cosmetics, the stakes are high. These are not trace contaminants that may be measured in parts-per-million or even parts-per-billion in food or water. They are substantial components of the product, just as flour is a primary ingredient in bread.

Cosmetic ingredients do not remain on the surface of the skin. They are designed to penetrate, and they do. Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue and persistent fragrance components in human fat. Do the concentrations at which they are typically found pose risks? For the most part, those studies have not been done. But a small but growing number of studies serve as scientific red flags.

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