The Public Interest Newswire Fri Aug 16, 2002 Pacific Time
Groups Call for Labeling of Cosmetics and Toiletries, Citing
Cancer and Other Health Risks
CHICAGO, Aug. 15 (AScribe News) --
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) is to be commended for his May 2002 bill (S. 2499)
requiring consumer-friendly food label warnings for allergens, to which roughly
7 percent of the U.S. population are sensitive. Today, a coalition of public
health and environmental organizations are requesting Senator Kennedy to
consider legislation mandating similar labels for cosmetics and toiletries
containing ingredients that pose serious, irreversible health risks.
Millions of Americans are sensitive to
allergens in cosmetics, particularly in fragrances and perfumes. However, in
addition to allergens, cosmetics and toiletries contain numerous other hazardous
ingredients, including almost 100 carcinogens and 15 endocrine (hormonal)
disruptors, particularly phthalates.
"These ingredients pose risks of cancer,
genetic damage, and reproductive toxicity (including infertility) to
unsuspecting consumers, and their infants and children," said University of
Illinois School of Public Health Emeritus Professor Samuel Epstein, M.D.
These risks are high. This is due to:
the virtual lifelong use of many cosmetic products, such as shampoos and
lotions; their routine daily application to large areas of skin; the ready skin
absorption of some ingredients, facilitated by detergents in most products; the
inhalation absorption of volatile ingredients or their contaminants; and the
additive or synergistic interactions between multiple carcinogenic or otherwise
Strong concerns on these risks were
expressed by Senator Kennedy at hearings on the 1997 FDA cosmetics reform bill.
"Our message is that cosmetics can be dangerous to your health.--The American
people have a right to full and fair information about the actual and potential
dangers of the products they use every day."
Despite these considerations, FDA denies
consumers their right-to-know by refusing to require label warnings on the risks
of cosmetic ingredients. This failure violates the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and
Cosmetic Act which mandates that "each ingredient used in a cosmetic
product--shall be adequately substantiated for safety prior to marketing," and
which authorizes FDA to recall and seize unsafe products. Nevertheless, the
Agency merely requires a listing of the complex chemical names or their
abbreviations of the 10 to 20 ingredients on product labels. However, this
information is incomprehensible to consumers, let alone their physicians.
- A November 1994 citizen petition to
the FDA requested the agency to require that cosmetic talc products be labeled
with a warning that frequent application to the genital area significantly
increases risks of ovarian cancer. FDA declined to act on this petition on
grounds of the "limited availability of resources and other agency priorities."
- An October 1996 citizen petition to
the FDA requested the agency to require that cosmetics containing the common
detergent diethanolamine (DEA) be labeled with a cancer warning, as DEA reacts
with nitrites present in many products to form a potent (nitrosamine)
carcinogen. DEA itself was also subsequently shown to be carcinogenic when
applied to mouse skin. FDA similarly declined to act on this petition.
- More seriously, FDA has declined to
request Congressional authority to require label warnings on black and dark
brown coal tar hair dyes, which are technically exempt from the 1938 Cosmetic
Act. This reflects disregard of a series of studies over the last three decades
incriminating prolonged use of these dyes with breast and bladder cancers, and
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
FDA policies and those of the Cosmetic,
Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), the U.S. trade association, which
represents the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry, are mutually supportive.
The major priority of the CTFA is to prevent "new and unnecessary" label
Label warnings are even more critical in
view of the escalating incidence of cancer, now striking nearly one in two men
and more than one in three women in their lifetimes. Still sharper increases are
anticipated in coming decades.
Informed by user-friendly labels,
consumers could reduce their avoidable risks of cancer and other disease by
shunning unsafe products and shopping for safer alternatives. While currently
limited, their availability will rapidly increase with increasing demand; this
is well exemplified by the organic food industry which has escalated to its
current $8 billion market share over the last decade. Legislative action by
Senator Kennedy would not only protect consumers, but also stimulate overdue
recognition by the $20 billion mainstream petrochemical cosmetic industry that
In striking contrast to FDA policies,
the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products of the European Union recently
called for a blanket ban on all carcinogenic, gene-damaging and reproductive
controversial ingredients in cosmetics.
Finally, FDA's failure to require the
cosmetic industry to disclose information on risks of their products to U.S.
consumers is at least as critical as SEC's failure to require disclosure of
information on corporate accountability to public investors. Clearly, the FDA is
a lap dog, rather than watchdog, of the cosmetic industry.
-- Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor
emeritus, Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Univeristy of Illinois
Chicago, School of Public Health, Chairman, the Cancer Prevention
email@example.com, phone 312-996-2297
Mark Helm, Director, Media Relations, Friends of the Earth, Washington, D.C., firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-783-7400 x102
-- Bryony Schwan, National Campaigns
Director, Women's Voices for the Earth, email@example.com, phone 406-543-3747
-- Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth,
firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-783-7400 x251
-- Alise Cappel, Center for
Environmental Health, email@example.com, phone 510-594-9864
-- Gary Cohen, Environmental Health
Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 617-524-6018
-- Mary Lamielle, National Center for
Environmental Health Strategies, Inc., email@example.com, phone
-- David Monk, Oregon Toxics Alliance,
firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 541-465-8860
-- Barbara Wilkie, Environmental Health
Network, email@example.com, phone 510-527-3567
-- Janet Zeller, Blue Ridge
Environmental Defense League, BREDL@skybest.com, phone 336-982-2691
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