Return to Right to Know

<--Return to Latest News

2010 The Bod Squad: How Safe Are Your Beauty Products?  By: Elana Verbin from I



If you're like most women, by the time you climb into bed at the end of the day, you've applied ‑- and removed ‑- anywhere from 12 to 25 beauty products. Even those of us who wear little makeup rely on shampoo, conditioner, body wash, styling products, deodorant and a bevy of moisturizers to keep us looking our best. But lately, reports linking cosmetics ingredients to cancer and birth defects are giving us pause every time we indulge in our favorite potions..

The Safe Cosmetics Campaign (SCC) has been exploring the health of our beauty regimens since its launch in 2002. Back then, environmental and public health groups tested beauty products for the presence of phthalates, a family of industrial chemicals linked to birth defects. What they found was surprising: Nearly 75 percent of the products tested positive. Eventually, after these chemicals were banned in Europe, most American companies agreed to remove two types of phthalates, DEHP and DBP, from cosmetics. However, DEP ‑- or diethyl phthalate ‑- is still a staple ingredient in many beauty products, despite its reported hazards.

"While the cosmetics industry maintains that the tiny bit found in any given product is harmless, growing awareness in the scientific arena is that these small doses add up and can have a large effect on our health," explains Stacy Malkan, director of communications for Health Care without Harm. The European Union's Cosmetics Directive, signed in 2004, requires products to be free of chemicals that "are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer or birth defects." And while legislation is pending in California and New York to help safeguard consumers from these chemicals, no protective federal policy is on the horizon.

"In general, what I tell my patients is that cosmeceuticals, including cosmetics, are not regulated the way that other drugs are regulated," says Dr. Joely Kaufman, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Miami. "The FDA does not require cosmetic companies to obtain preapproval for a new cosmetic product before its release on the market."

As a result, 89 percent of the ingredients found in most cosmetics today have not been tested for safety, according to Malkan. Meanwhile, the list of ingredients turning out to be potential or confirmed carcinogens continues to grow. Tim Kropp, a toxicologist with the Environmental Working Group, singles out parabens and phthalates as the most worrisome cosmetic ingredients. In addition, the SCC cautions consumers about the use of products containing formaldehyde, coal tar, lead acetate, silica, propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulphate.

Given that U.S. legislation is slow in coming, the SCC has been appealing directly to manufacturers to phase out the use of these and other carcinogens. Thus far over 100 companies have signed the organization's Compact for Safe Cosmetics, pledging to replace any potentially controversial ingredients with safer alternatives within three years.

"Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in the body care industry," reports Laura Genoway, product consultant for Avalon Organics, one of the compact's signers. Genoway explains that the "knowledge that paraben preservatives act as endocrine disruptors and estrogen mimickers" led the company to revise its formulations.

Many concerned consumers are opting for organic brands, but these products don't necessarily guarantee safety. "Unfortunately, the label 'organic' or 'all-natural' doesn't mean a lot in the world of cosmetics," says Malkan, explaining that the strict rules governing the organic food industry don't apply to personal care products.

"We suggest using the Environmental Working Group's database to find products with better safety scores," says Lauren Sucher, director of public affairs for EWG, which has done rigorous testing of various products on the market. Sucher also suggests switching to milder soaps, minimizing use of powders and dark hair dyes and choosing products that are fragrance-free.

"In general, the more words that you recognize on the label the better," says Malkan, noting that, in the end, the best line of defense is educating oneself about which ingredients to avoid and then reading labels diligently.

For more information, check out the Safe Cosmetics Campaign at, where they rate and review products for safety, or the Environmental Working Group at


Visit Stacy Malkin's website and read her book

My favorite company products are here



top of page

Copyright All rights reserved.

Telephone: 310-457-5176 or 888-377-8877 | Fax: 877-885-4657 | For General Information:

Webmaster for Shelley R. Kramer