Are Cosmetics Safe?
By Claire Franklin
From the Looking Good Blog Series
Cosmetics are the darlings of many women’s beauty routines. They enhance eyes, camouflage blemishes, and add an attractive glow. To illustrate the appeal of these products, the average woman applies 12 beauty products to her body daily, while men only use six. Yet, few consumers know the chemicals that go into these everyday cosmetics.
Beauty products contain an ugly side concealed by their pretty packaging and promises of perfection. A daily beauty routine involving facial powders, eye shadow, and blush can unknowingly create Dust Bowl conditions in your bathroom, sending questionable, invisible particles airborne, where they’ll likely wind up inside your body.
Cosmetic Dust Hazards
While dozens of harmful ingredients are tarnishing the cosmetics industry’s image, nanoparticles in makeup are a particularly hot topic lately. These tiny particles can damage cells and organs by crossing the blood-brain barrier. Although they’ve been used to create tiny versions of ingredients used in everything from cell phones and microchips, to odor-fighting socks and underwear for about a decade now, scientists and doctors still haven’t determined if they’re even safe.
For the cosmetics industry, nanoparticle-sized ingredients are mainstays because they help products stick to the skin. But in July 2012, researchers from universities in New Jersey learned more about how nanoparticles in cosmetics behave once they’re applied to the skin. A surprising percentage of these particles actually clumped together to form larger fragments. Instead of penetrating deep into the lungs, the clumps tended to stick around in the nose and upper airways.
New Regulations in Sight?
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a stand when it comes to nanoparticles used in food packaging, regulation for their presence in cosmetics is not yet in sight. However, Congress is expected to pass a bill allowing the FDA to regulate cosmetics in terms of requiring labeling of all ingredients and prohibiting chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive problems.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who introduced the bill, said the measure would provide some protection to consumers and give the FDA the ability to recall products that contain dangerous ingredients for the first time.
This is in stark contrast to present conditions, in which the $60 billion cosmetics industry is one of the least regulated in the United States. Officials don’t know how many companies currently manufacture beauty products or what is in those products. As such, consumers are at risk for exposing themselves to any number of hidden dangers.
Carcinogens and Neurotoxins
To protect their interests, cosmetics agencies have spent $3.5 million lobbying against the bill, saying it would curtail innovation and compromise trade secrets. However, supporters of the act tell a different story. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, for instance, states that such chemicals as dioxane and formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, can be found in some shampoos. Lead can be found in lip products and parabens, which have possible links to cancer, can be found in deodorant. Nail polishes and perfumes are additional culprits.
What Should I Do?
The European Union has banned 1,200 different chemicals commonly found in cosmetics, but the U.S. has only banned 10. To avoid the hazards of cosmetics, health professionals suggest women look for labels with shorter lists of ingredients, as well as those they can pronounce and recognize. For added protection, minimize your daily use of cosmetics and purchase these products only from reputable retailers.