Beauty to die for: health hazards of cosmetics and skin care
|Your medicine cabinet is one of the most
dangerous areas of your house, and not for the reasons you may think.
Lurking just behind your bathroom mirror, where all of your favorite
beauty products are housed, is a virtual toxic nightmare. The growing
list of synthetic ingredients manufacturers add to their products is
turning the most innocent-looking shampoos and moisturizers into
cocktails of toxins that could cause cancer or reproductive damage over
years of sustained use. Modern cosmetics contain a host of dangerous
ingredients, which would be more at home in a test tube than in our
Like most people, you probably assume that the ingredients found in
beauty products have been thoroughly tested for safety well before they
land on your grocery store's shelves. After all, the government has
regulations in place for the water we drink, the food we eat and the air
we breathe. One would assume that the FDA would also be overseeing the
cosmetic industry to ensure the health and safety of consumers.
Unfortunately, the FDA has little power when it comes to regulating the
ingredients found in your beauty products. In fact, the only people
ensuring the safety of personal care products are the very people who
govern the industry: The Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA).
Scientists paid by the CTFA make up the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel
(CIR) and are charged with regulating the safety of the industry's
In 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the findings
of a study it conducted regarding the safety of beauty care products.
Comparing approximately 10,000 ingredients found in 7,500 different
products against lists of known and suspected chemical health hazards,
the research revealed that the CIR was falling tragically short of
ensuring consumer safety.
|Of the 7,500 products tested by the EWG, a
mere 28 had been evaluated for safety by the CIR. The EWG found that one
in every 120 products analyzed contained ingredients certified by the
government as known or probable carcinogens
and that nearly one-third of the products contained ingredients
classified as possible carcinogens. Astoundingly, 54 products even
violated recommendations for safe use that the CIR had put in place, yet
these products are still available for sale today.
Of the products tested, the worst offenders were those containing the
cancer-causing ingredients coal tar, alpha hydroxy acids and beta
hydroxy acids, and those containing the hormone-disrupting ingredient,
Seventy-one hair dye products evaluated were found to contain
ingredients derived from coal tar (listed as FD&C or D&C on ingredients
labels). Several studies have linked long-time hair dye use to bladder
cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
A research study conducted in 2001 by the USC School of Medicine
found that women using permanent hair dye at least once a month more
than doubled their risk of bladder cancer. The study estimates that "19
percent of bladder cancer in women in Los Angeles, California, may be
attributed to permanent hair dye use."
A link between hair dye and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was established in
1992 when a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that
20 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be linked to hair
While the FDA has not stepped in to prevent the use of coal tar in
beauty products, it does advise consumers that reducing hair dye use
will possibly reduce the risk of cancer.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) & Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids are commonly used in products
advertised to remove wrinkles, blemishes, blotches and acne scars. With
consumer complaints of burning, swelling and pain associated with AHA
and BHA flooding into the FDA, the regulatory body began conducting its
own research about 15 years ago. The findings linked the use of AHA and
BHA with a doubling of UV-induced skin damage and a potential increased
risk of skin cancer.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, skin cancer has
reached "epidemic proportions," with 1 million new cases occurring each
year and one person dying every hour from the disease. The agency
estimates that, at the current rate, one in five people will develop
skin cancer over their lifetime.
The FDA's study findings were presented to the CIR, but the panel
approved the continued use of AHA and BHA "in spite of serious safety
questions submitted by a consumer group and a major manufacturer,"
according to an FDA spokesperson.
Even though one out of every 17 products analyzed by the EWG study
contained either AHA or BHA (with nearly 10 percent being moisturizers
and 6 percent sunscreens), the most that the FDA could do was
suggest that products containing the ingredients carry a warning to
use sunscreen and to
limit sun exposure while using the product. A puzzling solution, since
some of the products containing the dangerous ingredient are designed
specifically for use in the sun.
Phthalates are industrial plasticizers widely used in personal care
products to moisturize and soften skin, impart flexibility to nail
polish after it dries and enhance the fragrances used in most products.
Studies indicate that phthalates cause a wide range of body care
Many hair products
contain harmful carcinogens and allergens
Dr. Connealy, M.D., M.P.H., began
private practice in 1986. In 1992, she founded South Coast Medical
Center for New Medicine where she serves as medical director. Her
practice is firmly based in the belief that strictly treating health
problems with medications does not find the root cause of the illness.
Dr. Connealy writes monthly columns for Coast and OC Health magazines,
and is a bi-weekly guest on Frank Jordan's "Healthy" radio show. She
routinely lectures and educates the public on health issues.
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