Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Do you think you have safe cosmetics? How would you know if they weren’t? In the United States, we spend around $50 billion annually on cosmetics and skin-cleansing products (according to the market research firm, Euromonitor International). With that much consumer spending in that area, you would think the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would regulate what we’re putting on our skin. The reality is that the FDA does not make a safe-cosmetics list its priority. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, cosmetics fall under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and are the act’s least regulated products. The FFDCA actually holds the manufacturer responsible for interpreting the terms “hypoallergenic,” “100 percent natural” and “organic.” These terms may be used without specifically defined guidelines. So whose job is it to determine which are natural, safe cosmetics and which are not? Apparently it’s ours.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
The Breast Cancer Fund has founded The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics , which attempts to open consumers’ eyes to unsafe skincare products and cosmetics. There is no “safe cosmetics list” on their website (, but what you will find are companies that have agreed not to use carcinogenic chemicals or ingredients that are suspected to cause mutation or birth defects. Furthermore, these corporations pledge to find alternatives to hazardous materials and develop substitution plans to incorporate safer alternatives. Many major companies refused to participate in this effort. For a directory of businesses that agreed to sign the pledge, visit Companies are arranged alphabetically with notes about products and include website links to help you locate them.

Toxic Ingredients
The state of California has developed a list of 65 unsafe chemicals and now requires cosmetic companies to reveal any products containing those ingredients to state authorities.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition notes that The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that 884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been reported as toxic substances. Some of those toxic ingredients include:

- Parabens – Commonly used in skincare and cosmetic products, these are believed to change how hormones function, acting like estrogen, which can increase the risk of cancer and cause infertility. Examples include propylparaben and methylparaben.

- Phthalates – The typical forms of this plasticizer are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP) and diethylphthalate (DEP). There is documented evidence that these chemicals can cause birth defects, low sperm counts, and contribute to reproductive toxicity in experimental animals. Most commonly found in perfumes, it is not always listed in ingredients or only listed as “fragrance.” A 2005 study conducted by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences indicated that phthalates are harmful to male reproductive development in unborn human babies.

- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol) – When formulated in products, it can break down into formaldehyde and can also cause the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines under certain conditions.

- Artificial colors - Some artificial coal-tar colors (made from chemical by-products of coal distillation) contain heavy metal impurities that can cause cancer when absorbed through the skin.

- Silica - Crystalline silica is carcinogenic.

- Bismuth Oxychloride – Although it is the ingredient that simulates a healthy glow in many mineral-based cosmetics, it also contains arsenic, which can cause serious skin irritation.

- Petroleum -. This ingredient actually causes the opposite effect of what it is supposed to be repairing. Rather than moisturizing, it causes chapped, dry skin with repeated use. Petroleum-based cosmetics may also contain the cancer-causing impurity known as 1,4-dioxane.

Playing it Safe
When examining the labels and ingredients in cosmetics, consider the following advice from Dr. Epstein and others concerned about safe cosmetic usage:

- Not all cosmetics and skin care products have ingredient labels. For example, salon products often are not required to print ingredient listings. Avoid using any product that does not list ingredients.

- The term “fragrance” can refer to any number of chemicals, including Phthalates.

- More expensive products are not necessarily safer products. Don’t assume that because you pay more, the manufacturer cares more about your safety.

- Advertising labels “organic,” “100 percent natural” and “hypoallergenic” are not clearly defined or regulated by the FDA. Therefore, manufacturers have no accountability for using such terms other than intelligent consumers. Treat these labels like all others and read them carefully before buying a product.

- Some companies carry both safe and unsafe products, so it’s important to read all labels

Do your research: To get a safety evaluation of a cosmetics company or a specific product, visit the Skin Deep safety database at sponsored by Environmental Working Group. If you don’t want to get the e-mail updates, simply click on “no thanks” and you’ll still be transferred to the database. You can do a search for each of your own cosmetics by name, then find out its hazard level. When you click on the product name, Skin Deep breaks down the active ingredients as well as any negative chemical connections, including cancer, reproductive toxicity and allergies.

- Better known, larger manufacturers do not necessarily create safer products. When the bottom line is money, many companies are not opposed to sacrificing quality and safety.

Safe Cosmetics List
While many companies have signed the pledge for safer cosmetics, you might want to start by checking out these safe-cosmetic manufacturers:

- Everyday Minerals -. Similar to the acclaimed Bare Minerals except for one major factor: if you read Bare Minerals’ ingredients list, you’ll find bismuth oxychloride. Everyday Minerals only contains titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica and iron oxide. For an added bonus, they’re less expensive. For more information, check

Cleure Cosmetics. You can find safe dental, skin and personal-care products along with a makeup line at this company. Download the company’s free e-book, “Product labels: A Cautionary Tale” and shop at

- Afterglow -.
This company has been featured in “Women’s Health” magazine and “Diet and Nutrition” which described the company’s products as “safe, organic protection for your skin, and are free of parabens, synthetic dyes and petroleum derived ingredients.” For more information, go to

- Myrtle Leaf -. Advertising that its makeup actually improves skin’s health with its all-natural ingredients, this company’s products contain the ingredients seabuckthorn oil and rosehip seed extract. You can find its products at

- Paul Penders -. This company not only states that it follows International Organic standards, but it also includes an easy-to-use glossary that describes every ingredient and explains the purpose of each. Visit for more information.

Like all healthy aspects of our lives, buying safe cosmetics requires extra time and energy. While it’s easier to just run to the drug or department store, the long-term effects may negate the value of that convenience. Educate yourself by reading labels and checking out lesser known but healthier makeup manufacturers. Live a healthier life by being a wiser consumer


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