Are we really living better and prettier through chemistry?

| July 22, 2010 | 7 Replies

At Democracy Now, Amy Goodman has put the spotlight on the many toxins currently used in beauty products.

It’s just amazing that the cosmetics only now being sought to be regulated by the federal government are not currently being regulated. At present, any corporation can put any petro-chemical into any beauty product, yet it can get away with calling it “Natural” or “Herbal.” Stacy Malkan indicates that many of the ingredients contained in cosmetics aren’t even listed on the labels. She summarizes her point with this: “There’s no need for it. There’s absolutely no reason on earth for baby shampoos to contain carcinogens.”

As expected, the industry rep counters that we can generally trust the industry and that there is no cause for concern:

The levels are very low. The exposures have been assessed and determined not to be a health risk to children. And the notion of cumulative exposure, I think, is one that needs to be explained a little further, because normal safety assessment by toxicologists will take into account margins of safety that will address issues of a cumulative exposure. So this is not really a problem with regard to these trace contaminants . . . We know what materials are unsafe. They are not used in products. This has been known for a long time. And the industry practices help.

Check out the excerpt for “The Story of Stuff” early in the video. Many of the ingredients we put on our skin are demonstrably dangerous. If you doubt this, check out your favorite personal care products at the Environmental Working Group.

How does the U.S. compare to Europe regarding regulating these products. Stacy Malkan reports:

Europe has banned about 1,100 chemicals that are known or highly suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. And many other countries have followed suit. Japan has banned formaldehyde. These are chemicals—some of them are still being used in the United States. For example, we find dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, coal tar in dandruff shampoo, lead acetate in men’s hair dyes. Those are products you wouldn’t find in Europe. And so, the US is much further behind.

Image by UKRPhotos as Dreamstime.com

Image by UKRPhotos as Dreamstime.com

On a separate segment today at Democracy Now, Amy Goodman features Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group. Here’s what Jane has to say about dangerous products:

Dark permanent hair dyes are linked to cancer. When you use those for a long time over your lifetime, those can be quite toxic. Nail care products tend to contain some of the most hazardous ingredients. But we also find carcinogens in baby products. We find skin lighteners that contain chemicals linked to cancer. So, a really broad range of issues. One very problematic area is sunscreens, which are poorly regulated in the US. We found that we could recommend only eight percent of sunscreens on the market that could really give you broad spectrum protection you need to prevent—help prevent skin cancer and also that don’t contain hazardous ingredients that can seep through the skin and pose other kinds of health concerns.

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Category: Environment, Health, Risks and Dangers

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Jesse G. says:

    Highly informative and scary… As always. Thanks!!

  2. Perry says:

    Why would you give any credence to what non-scientists have to say about the subject?

    I understand you might not trust the government or industry but listening to people who know nothing about science is just silly.

    Consider what toxicologists, the people who independently study these things, have to say.

    http://stats.org/stories/2009/Survey_7.09.pdf

    When asked, 66% of scientific experts disagree that cosmetics pose a significant risk to our health.

    79% of scientists say the EWG overstates the risks.

    Forget what industry and government have to say. But don't ignore the science.

    It's true no one needs cosmetics so if you're afraid of them, don't use them. Just know your fear is not based on the scientific evidence.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Perry: EWG is an organization that includes some excellent independent scientists. I would also note that INDUSTRY scientists (including toxicologists) who assure us that everything is OK, have a tremendous bias for saying this. Think about all of the industry scientists who helped write reports indicating that tobacco and Vioxx were OK. And it looks like YOU are an industry scientist.

    You failed to indicate in your comment submission that you work in the cosmetics industry. Interesting how you didn't disclose that in your comment. Who's payroll are you on? Your website, "Chemist's Corner" contains the following in its "About" page:

    "Hi, I’m Perry Romanowski one of the chemists who write for Chemists Corner. This site was created to be a resource for scientists working in (or trying to get in) the cosmetic industry. I have written books, articles, and taught classes on the subject of cosmetic chemistry and working as a cosmetic chemist.

    Chemists Corner is a website written for cosmetic chemists by cosmetic chemists. It is meant to be a resource and gathering place for cosmetic chemists to learn tips, swap stories, and find out how to survive and thrive in the cosmetic industry.

    Our mission is to help you land a job in the cosmetic industry and become a better scientist once you get there. Here you will find articles and tips in the following categories."

    Who paid for the toxicologist's survey that you are urging us to read?

    Next consider that toxic cosmetics are merely one part of the vast chemical stew in which we choose to live. We cover ourselves and our children with numerous questionable chemicals, and we have no idea what they are doing to us in the aggregate. That was the conclusion of the government’s 240-page report, by the President’s Cancer Panel, which says the proportion of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been “grossly underestimated.” http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp08-09r

  4. I’m on no one’s payroll (I no longer work for any cosmetic company) and I didn’t do anything to keep my identity secret.

    The EWG is run by attorneys. No wonder you find what they say so compelling. Attorneys begin with a belief then only select information that supports what they want to believe. This isn’t how science (or scientists) operate.

    If you were sincere in your quest for truth you would be able to answer a simple question, “what evidence would convince you that cosmetics are not dangerous?”

    If you are afraid of cosmetics there is a simple solution. Don’t use them. You don’t need them to live a healthy life.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    For those who are interested, there are a few attorneys on the staff of EWG. There are also MANY other people on the Environmental Working Group staff, including chemists, biologists and environmental scientists. http://www.ewg.org/about/staff And notice that Perry gives no evidence for his attack on EWG, other than to take a swipe at attorneys in general. And he admits that he used to work for a cosmetics company (something he failed to disclose in his initial comment).

    And, Perry, to your question about what information I’d trust regarding a product, I would say that I’d almost always take the advice of a non-profit entity with a track record of shooting straight over for-profit businesses that hawk that product. My opinion is based on a long track record of lies by for-profit companies that downplay the dangers of their products, e.g., Merck regarding Vioxx. And there are many many more.

  6. Right, you take someone’s word over actual evidence. That is the difference between a scientist and a lawyer. Show me the evidence of harm, I’ll believe it. I haven’t seen any. Life expectancy continues to increase each year, cancer rates go down.

    Just because the EWG has a few people with degrees in science doesn’t mean they are scientists (or have ever worked as scientists). It also doesn’t mean they run the EWG. Of the 12 people on the management team, none have degrees in chemistry. Where are the toxicologists? There are a few staffers with PHD’s but no one who runs the organization has one. You don’t find that a little odd?

    Perhaps you could explain why the EWG rates certain sunscreen products as toxic, then has an Amazon affiliate link to buy that same toxic product for which they get a kickback. Why would the EWG be selling toxic products? http://bit.ly/pAPA1S Are they just in it for the money too and don’t care whether people buy toxic products?

    Like I said, if you’re afraid of cosmetics don’t use them.

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