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More common sense needed
on Cosmetics

By Christine H. Farlow

Note: On June 27, 2005, "Applying common sense to cosmetics" by Carrie Lukas, appeared in the North County Times. In this article, Ms. Lukas downplayed the concern for the safety of ingredients in cosmetics. The following article, which appeared in the North County Times on July 22, 2005, is my response to her article.

I read, with interest Ms. Lukas’ article, “Applying common sense to cosmetics.” I would like to present another point of view.

I’ve done considerable research into the safety of ingredients used not only in cosmetics, but also in foods. The concern about ingredients in cosmetics is not just another thing for women to worry about. There’s a valid basis for knowing what’s in the products you use and how safe the ingredients are.

There are over 12,000 ingredients that manufacturers may use in the cosmetics and personal care products you buy. Most of these chemicals haven’t been tested for safety. Many are harmful or contaminated with toxic by-products from manufacturing.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the industry’s self-appointed watchdog, has completed safety assessments for only 1269 ingredients in 29 years, merely 10% of the ingredients available for manufacturers’ use. Their assessments focus primarily on irritation and sensitization, ignoring risk of cancer, birth defects or other health issues.

Last summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) evaluated ingredients in 7500 personal care products. Almost all (99.6 percent) products examined contained one or more ingredients never assessed for potential health impacts by the CIR.

Ms. Lukas questions the European ban on phthalates and suggests that proving the safety of chemicals used in our personal care products “is an impossibly high standard.” What she failed to mention is that phthalates have been shown to cause reproductive damage in both females and males. One product testing program found phthalates in 75% of products tested and they weren’t listed on the label. Another test by the CDC, of 289 people, found phthalates at “surprisingly high levels” in every single person.
Take a look at the ingredients in the shampoo, conditioner and lotions you have at home. If you buy popular or common brands, you’ll probably find butyl-, ethyl-, methyl- or propylparaben in them. Parabens disturb hormonal balance, may impair fertility and have been found in breast cancer tumors. It’s not known if they were a cause of the cancer or were just in the tissue where the cancer developed. It is known that they are absorbed through the skin.

Parabens are endocrine disrupters. They mimic estrogen and interfere with your hormones. They’ve been implicated in early puberty in girls, and causing PMS, menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breast disease. They’ve also been associated with male reproductive disorders.

If you’re out enjoying the summer sun and lathering on the sunscreen, you might be getting a dose of endocrine disrupters from sunscreen ingredients like octyl-methoxycinnamate or octyl-dimethyl-PABA. These aren’t only strong endocrine disrupters but also have been shown to increase the growth of cancer cells.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals build up in fatty tissues of the body and may remain there for decades. Might this be a factor in the link between obesity and cancer that Ms Lukas refers to?

We live in a toxic world. We have no control over many toxins we come in contact with daily, like air pollution. But you do have control over the toxins in the products you buy. You just need to become informed and choose safe and healthy products.

Christine H. Farlow, D.C.
Author of  DYING TO LOOK GOOD and FOOD ADDITIVES: A Shopper’s Guide To What’s Safe & What’s Not
P.O. Box 462335
Escondido, CA 92046-2335

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