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Safety of cosmetic products: Who is protecting us?

Posted by Safer States on Apr 8, 2010

Chemicals found in some cosmetics can be harmful to young girls and teenagers.

Our partner organization in Maine -- The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine -- has released a report which analyzed the safety of chemicals that are found in twelve cosmetic and personal care products.

The report outlines specific findings of the products, including a nail polish claiming to be formaldehyde-free which contained formaldehyde, a body lotion containing ingredients that have been banned in some countries, and a hairspray containing cancer-linked phthalates.

Not all news was bad. Burt's Bees Foot Creme tested well, and no harmful ingredients were found. Burt's Bees is a North Carolina-based company with a commitment to truly natural products.

Through lab testing and analysis, the report found:

  • That nearly each product contains ingredients linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system problems, and other health effects.
  • Some products contained ingredients for which no health and safety information is available.
  • Several products contained dangerous chemicals that are not listed as ingredients on product labels.

"We are recklessly placing young women and families in harm's way, and in doing so, driving up the health costs related to chronic disease and developmental problems."

-Mike Belliveau, Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine

The report brings into question the current labeling laws for cosmetics. Even careful shoppers who read ingredients may not be protecting their families from harm. Federal law requires some disclosure of harmful ingredients on labels, however 90% of ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products have not been tested for safety. And while the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of beauty products, they cannot require pre-market testing of ingredients or products, cannot force manufacturers to recall unsafe products, and cannot even require that product labels be approved for accuracy.

"Current labeling laws don't get us any closer to protecting our health. Many well-known dangerous chemicals aren't required to be listed on labels. There isn't good information on many of the chemicals that are listed on labels, and the labels on some products are blatantly inaccurate or deceptive."

-Sarah Hart, Colby College Student (via MPBN)

Only 11 cosmetic and personal care product ingredients, out of 12,500 used, have ever been banned or restricted by the FDA.

The federal government is currently in the nascent stages of overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- a decades-old law that should be overseeing chemical regulation and is in need of major reform. A strong TSCA law will help keep our families safe from harmful chemicals in products like cosmetics.

Hand-in-hand with TSCA, many states are working to pass strong chemical laws which will protect families from the worst of the worst chemicals. Maine has passed a Kid-Safe Products Law which establishes a system to identify and phase out the most hazardous chemicals endangering children. Some of the chemicals found in this report should be listed as Priority Chemicals and targeted for immediate phase-out.

You can help keep your family safe from the worst of the worst chemicals like phthalates, formaldehyde and dioxane by taking action today. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has already made strong statements which make us think she understands the need for a TSCA overhaul, however taking action will encourage the EPA to protect families and children.

Please participate in our campaign to ensure
swift and effective TSCA reform.


Further Reading

Maybe she's born with it ... maybe it's in her moisturizer. Planet Green, 04/08/10.
Report: Cosmetic products contain high levels of toxic chemicals. Maine Public Broadcasting Network, 03/31/10.

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