- By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
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 bodies.
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 products.
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, phthalate.
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 dye use.
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
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 birth defects and lifelong reproductive
impairments, targeting every organ in the male reproductive system and
causing problems ranging from low sperm count to serious genital
deformities that can lead to an increased risk of cancer.
While the EWG only found four products
with phthalate listed as an ingredient (all nail care products), there
is no telling how many products actually contain it. The industry is
not required to list fragrance ingredients or "trade secret" ingredients on products, and phthalates often fall into one of those two categories.
In September 2004, the European Union
implemented a ban on all beauty products containing phthalates.
California Assemblywoman Judy Chu has proposed a similar bill (AB 908)
to be voted on later this year that would implement the same ban in the
Opponents of the bill, mainly the CTFA, argue that changing labeling
processes would present a huge economic burden and could infringe on
trade secrets. A similar bill failed just last year.
Four Steps of Action
1. Go to www.ewg.org
and check out the health risks of your favorite products. EWG has
compiled a guide of 7,500 beauty care products and has ranked them
according to their ingredients' potential to cause cancer, trigger
allergic reactions, interfere with the endocrine (hormonal) system,
impair reproduction or damage a developing fetus.
2. Visit the FDA's website at www.fda.gov and familiarize yourself with the steps that you can take in order to file complaints or concerns about consumer products.
3. Visit www.safecosmetics.org to learn more about how you can become involved with bill AB 908 to ban phthalates in beauty products in the United States.
4. Check out my recommendations for all-natural and safe products for both you and your family at www.scmedicalcenter.com. All products mentioned have been used safely and with wonderful results by my patients for years.
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.