The Make-Up Labyrinth: Understanding Cosmetics and Your Body
Dineen, Shauna, E Magazine
Despite a scattering of media reports over the years, most consumers don't give much thought to the recognized allergens, probable carcinogens, hormone disrupters and inadequately tested industrial chemicals in the perfumes, nail polishes, shampoos and other personal-care products lining the shrives of U.S. drugstores, department stores and specialty retailers. However, this seemingly well-kept industry secret has been on the radars of consumer and environmental groups, as well as concerned doctors and scientists, for years.
So, who is responsible? Who is regulating the cosmetics and personal-care industry and looking out for consumer safety? The cosmetics industry will direct you to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FDA will direct you to the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) panel, and the CIR will gladly tell you about all the wonderful research they are doing in the name of safety to keep consumers happy and healthy. But don't count on being reminded that they're funded by the very companies whose ingredients and products must pass their review board prior to entering the consumer market.
Safe as Directed?
According to Clinique brand representative Darin Stechman, "Product safety has always been a top priority at Clinique Laboratories, and is ensured through state-of-the-art testing methods." However, this testing, according to Stechman, does not include tests that establish the long-term toxicity potential, carcinogenic properties, systemic absorption properties or chronic effects of daily use. Instead, cosmetics companies focus their research and both animal and human trial tests on assessing pre-marketed products for allergenic reactions and skin irritations.
As a result, according to Susan Roll of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, "one-third of personal-care products contain ingredients classified as possible human carcinogens." The FDA is largely focusing its attentions elsewhere. Of the agency's $800 million annual budget, less than one percent goes toward regulating the cosmetics industry. Despite common public perceptions, neither the FDA nor any other government regulatory body actively assesses the safety of cosmetics before they go on your skin, your eyelashes, into your hair or onto your lips.
Cosmetics companies have the privilege of choosing from thousands of ingredients to create and market a hip new shade of eye shadow that you can buy at your local drugstore for your big Saturday night out. According to FDA Consumer, "In 1994, FDA headquarters received approximately 200 reports of adverse reactions to cosmetics. Skin-care products and makeup accounted for about 65." Was the FDA able to pull these cosmetics from the market? No, because FDA Consumer put it, "The agency can't do much about isolated allergic reactions or irritation problems. It's up to the individual to avoid the product that caused the reaction."
In fact, there's no law that regulates corporate use of phrases like "hypoallergenic," "allergy tested," "dermatologist tested" and "no animal testing." According to John E. Bailey, director of FDA's Office of Colors and Cosmetics, "The term hypoallergenic can mean almost anything to anybody," and the same is true for the other terms. In individual cases, the use of these claims might be backed up by substantial research, or they may not.
Not Too Pretty
The CIR is internally funded, and the FDA is under-funded, so where can Concerned consumers turn to get third-party health and safety information on cosmetics? Cue the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG has been dedicating untold hours since 2000 to compiling health and safety information for consumers on personal-care products. A quick visit to www.ewg.org will provide you with copious information about cosmetic dangers and lax regulation.
One EWG project of particular interest is the Not Too Pretty campaign, launched in 2002, which raises serious questions about the safety of phthalates (pronounced tha-lates). …