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Not in my cosmetics: The Series

Monday, November 23, 2009

By Leeann Brown with Travis Mitchell

If you love EWG's Skin Deep database, then this series is for you. If you've never even heard of our Skin Deep database, this series is also for you. And for pretty much anyone else on the planet who uses toothpaste, shampoo, diaper cream, lipstick, cologne, shaving cream, nail polish and basically any other "personal care product" you can think of.

We're kicking off the series with a True-False Quiz because, well, so few people know how bad it really is in the cosmetics aisles. How wildly unregulated. So if you get them all wrong, you're not alone. But you do need help. Ready? QUESTION 1: Ingredients in personal care products are required to be proven safe for use before being sold in the US.

FALSE! "Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives." - Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Nearly 80 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the industry's own public research organization, the FDA or any publicly accountable institution. QUESTION 2. If you use a product without having a noticeable adverse reaction, it's safe.

FALSE! As you can tell from the first question, we really don't know. What is known is that common ingredients in personal care products have been linked to various concerns, such as reproductive issues, cancers and allergies. We also know that some of these ingredients can accumulate in our bodies. For example, phthalates, a group of common plasticizer, have been found in breast cancer tissue.

QUESTION 3. Avoiding a few key toxic ingredients will allow you to reduce your toxic exposure.

TRUE! While you can't shop your way around chemical exposures completely, you can avoid key cosmetic ingredient offenders, like fragrance and triclosan. You'll be doing yourself and the environment a huge favor. Hint - sign off one ingredient at a time. It's a lot more manageable, and allows you to focus your attention on one area while shopping, instead of examining every 15-letter word on the label.

QUESTION 4. Products labeled as having "natural" and "organic" ingredients are always safer than conventional ones.

FALSE! Just as ingredients aren't required to be tested for safety, there is no recognized standard for organic personal care products, either. A "natural" ingredient is not automatically safe. These ingredients can still be biologically active, and thus, have a strong effect on the human body, e.g. poison ivy.

Your best bet is to go with companies that fully disclose formulations, many of which proudly advertise certain missing toxic ingredients. QUESTION 5. Personal care products can make their way inside your body. TRUE! Whether a chemical is soaked in through the skin, or an aerosol spray is inhaled or suds wash down the drain and back into the drinking water supply - they can easily end up in your body. The musk xylene, which is commonly found in fragrances (and paint thinners!) has been found in human fat (link: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/research/whythismatters.php).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists the skin as the "most common path of toxic substance exposure." No wonder, as it is the body's largest organ and has impressive absorption abilities. Medicinal dermal patches are an example of how reliable of an exposure route it really is. No need to swallow, inhale or inject - just apply to a small area and the skin will do the rest.

Stay tuned for future installments of Not in my cosmetics: The Series. Got a question you hope we include? Stop hoping and tell us - in the comments, please!

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