New Safety Rules to Protect You from Cosmetics Now in Limbo

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November 06, 2013 | 46,195 views

Story at-a-glance

  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was in talks with the cosmetics industry to enact tighter regulations and safety testing, but the major players in the industry have backed out of the negotiations
  • There are no FDA regulations requiring cosmetics’ manufacturers to use specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients
  • It is the companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics that have an ethical responsibility to ensure the safety of their products
  • Known toxic chemicals, including parabens, phthalates, triclosan and formaldehyde are commonly used in personal care products
  • Your skin is an excellent drug delivery system, so you should be just as careful with what you put on your skin as you are with what you eat, if not more so

By Dr. Mercola

A group founded in 1894 called the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (which in 2007 changed its name to the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), is comprised of over 600 different distributors and manufacturers of personal care, cosmetic, and fragrance companies. The Personal Care Products Council claims, right on their Web site, that:1

The highest priority for personal care products companies is the safety and health of consumers of all ages who use and enjoy our products.”

If that is true, then it’s a mystery why, at the end of September 2013, they notified the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they would be backing out of a proposed plan that would have tightened US regulations and increased safety testing for cosmetics.

The industry has grown infamous for its lack of regulation that allows virtually any ingredient to be added to personal care products and cosmetics. The industry is littered with endocrine-disrupting chemicals and carcinogenic substances like phthalates, formaldehyde and lead… and it would appear that their manufacturers want to keep it that way.

Cosmetics Industry Backs Out of National Regulations, Safety Talks

Many people are initially surprised to learn that there are no FDA regulations requiring cosmetics’ manufacturers to use specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA.

In a blatant example of the fox guarding the henhouse, it is the companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics that have the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products.

But with no laws in place for doing so virtually anything goes. The FDA doesn’t even have authority to order recalls of cosmetics deemed hazardous, and there, too, still relies on voluntary actions taken by manufacturers.

We’re now dealing with a $70-bilion industry that is continuing to look the other way while consumers use products with toxic ingredients. To help ease some of the growing concerns, a national standard to improve safety testing was proposed.

And PCPC was in talks with the FDA to make the tighter regulations happen … that is, until September when they suddenly had a ‘change of heart.’ According to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a letter to PCPC’s chairman:2

PCPC's change of heart is truly unfortunate… Not only will the public not reap the benefits of an effective regulatory scheme, but your industry will not achieve the credible, national regulation that industry representatives declared was needed."

The industry has fired back, stating that they are still open to negotiations, but as long as their profits stay protected, I do not believe that they will be quick to voluntarily change.

Can the FDA Take Regulatory Action Against Cosmetics Companies?

Technically, yes, they have the authority to do so if they find that a product has been adulterated or misbranded. They can also inspect cosmetic manufacturing facilities as well as collect samples for analysis. That said, the FDA simply does not have the resources to "routinely" test such products or even to take regulatory action except under extreme circumstances. According to the FDA:3

“FDA takes regulatory action based upon agency priorities, consistent with public health concerns and available resources.”

Earlier this year, the FDA began talking with the industry about enacting legislation that would have given the FDA increased powers, including the ability to:

  • Widely test the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics
  • Inspect facilities
  • Require companies to file reports when consumers had adverse reactions to chemicals

With PCPC’s withdrawal, however, it’s unclear what the FDA’s next step will be, and there have already been several unsuccessful attempts to get Congress to pass tighter cosmetics regulations.

What Kinds of Chemicals Are Lurking in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products?

It is important to understand that of the 10,500 ingredients used in your personal care products, fewer than 20 percent have been reviewed for safety in the last 30 years, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis.4 The reviews that have been done were conducted the Cosmetics Ingredients Review, which is run by the cosmetics industry! Not all ingredients need even be mentioned on the label—if they don't want to include one for some reason, they can just leave it off.

Therefore, most personal care product formulations are based on nothing more than marketing success, designed to smell good, look good and feel good when you rub them on your skin, regardless of their impact on your health. But in reality, many personal care products on the market contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity and other health problems. This includes:

  • Phthalates: Phthalates are one of the groups of "gender-bending" chemicals causing males of all species to become more female. These chemicals have disrupted the endocrine systems of wildlife, causing testicular cancer, genital deformations, low sperm counts and infertility in a number of species, including polar bears, deer, whales and otters, just to name a few. Scientists believe phthalates are responsible for a similar pattern in humans as well.
  • Triclosan: The active ingredient in most antibacterial soap and even in some toothpastes not only kills bacteria, it also has been shown to damage and kill human cells and act as an endocrine disrupter. Using these products also contributes to the creation of hardier, more resistant bacterial strains and, as if that wasn't enough, when triclosan mixes with the chlorine in your tap water, chloroform is formed, which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as a probable human carcinogen.
  • Lead: This heavy metal has been detected in many cosmetics, including foundation, concealer, mascara, lipstick, blush and even Halloween makeup kits marketed to children. Lead is known to cause damage to your brain and nervous system. Even small amounts can be dangerous, as lead builds up in your body over time. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to brain development, as permanent damage can occur. In pregnant women, lead is linked to miscarriages, premature birth, low birth weight, brain damage and reduced growth in young children.
  • Parabens: Parabens can be found in a wide variety of consumer products, such as deodorants, shampoos, lotions and cosmetics. Studies have shown that parabens can affect your body much like the estrogens, which can lead to diminished muscle mass, extra fat storage, and male gynecomastia (breast growth). Other studies have also linked parabens to breast cancer. The EPA has linked methyl parabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.
  • Quaternium-15, which releases formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, and a known carcinogen (formaldehyde exposure has been associated with leukemia specifically).

A Shocking Example of the Toxicity of Lipstick

If you’re wondering just how bad some of your commonly used personal care products may be, consider a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which confirmed previous findings that link lipstick to toxic metal exposure.5 California scientists found nine toxic metals in the 32 lipsticks and lip glosses tested, including:

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Aluminum

According to the researchers, some metals were detected at high enough levels to “raise potential health concerns,” and although no name brands were identified, they advised the public to “treat these results as applicable to all lipsticks.” According to their findings, a woman who frequently reapplies lipstick or lip gloss may ingest as much as 87 milligrams of the product each day. An “average user” may ingest about 24 milligrams a day. At the average rate, 10 of the 32 products tested would exceed your “safe” level of inorganic chromium, which has been linked to certain tumors. High use could also result in overexposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese.

Industry Isn’t Budging – It’s Time to Protect Yourself

It’s clear that the cosmetics industry is not keen on moving toward tighter regulations and cleaning up their safety profiles any time soon. This means it’s up to you to look out for yourself and your family. One of the core principles to remember when it comes to skin care is that whatever you slather onto your skin will be absorbed into your body and enter your bloodstream. This is why it's so important to avoid skin care products containing questionable chemicals! Your skin is an excellent drug delivery system, so you should be just as careful with what you put on your skin as you are with what you eat, if not more so.

Your gut flora and liver actually helps protect you against some of the toxins you ingest by filtering them out... a protection you don’t get when a chemical is absorbed through your skin. The safest way to ensure that you're not being exposed to potentially hazardous substances is to make your own personal care products, using inexpensive all-natural ingredients that you may already have in your home. Finding recipes for your own homemade bath and hand washing products isn't difficult if you have access to the Internet. Google "natural shower gel" or "natural body lotion" for tips and recipes.

When buying products, look for the genuine USDA Organic seal, and if those aren't available, select products whose ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. What you’ll notice if you browse through the ingredients in any of my personal line of natural skin care products is just that – ingredients you’ll know and recognize, like organic coconut oil, orange oil or rosemary extract.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself… "Would I eat this?" (I don't recommend you actually eat it, of course.) To see how your products rate for safety, I recommend checking out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database and a newer site called Good Guide. There’s no reason to be slathering questionable chemicals onto your skin every day. Choose your products carefully (or make them yourself) and one day, if enough people demand better, the entire industry will be forced to change.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1
  • 2 The Wall Street Journal October 23, 2013
  • 3 FDA Authority Over Cosmetics
  • 4 Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
  • 5 WebMD May 2, 2013