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The Price of Beauty: Chemicals in My Cosmetics?

Environmental groups are issuing frightening claims that there's a dark side to my morning routine.

by
Angela Logomasini

Bio

May 26, 2011 - 12:02 am
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I am not a morning person, but every day a host of personal care products — from toothpaste to mascara — help me transform from hermit crab to butterfly. Yet some environmental groups claim that there’s a dark side to my routine: I may be lathering up and caking on a host of dangerous chemicals.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman uses 12 personal care projects a day. I use about 18. They suggest that I and women like me should reconsider what and how many products we use, and they set up a database to help in the process called the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (EWG is one of 10 “founding members”) also suggests using this database.

But will it really help? Probably not. An examination of some of the claims these groups make reveals that their science is “skin deep” — in fact, much of it is plain wrong. There is little evidence that personal-care products are the bane that these groups claim.

For example, the “Skin Deep” database ranks my toothpaste 4 and my soap 5 on a one-to-10 hazard scale. Both products share the same “hazard,” 1,4-Dioxane, a chemical ranking 10 on the Skin Deep hazard scale. The group’s database indicates that nearly 12,000 products might contain this substance.

Am I concerned? Not at all. This chemical isn’t even an ingredient in these products; it is a trace-level contaminant associated with making other ingredients.

There isn’t any data indicating that trace exposures to 1,4-Dioxane pose any problems. Indeed, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “The 1,4-dioxane levels we have seen in our monitoring of cosmetics do not present a hazard to consumers.” Of note, FDA has the power to pull any product off the market that poses a real risk to human health.

To justify its ranking of 1,4 Dioxane, EWG cites research that is not relevant: a handful of studies showing that rats exposed to high levels of the chemical formed tumors and suffered kidney damage. But humans are not rats and our exposure is multitudes lower. At high enough doses, rats even get cancer from high doses of chemicals found in broccoli, carrots, and peas! Will EWG call those goods hazardous?

There aren’t any studies linking the chemical to cancer in humans. A few studies link it to kidney problems in workers exposed to it over a long period, which is not relevant to the trace amounts in consumer products.

EWG claims that another culprit is my moisturizer. Supposedly, it contains an allegedly high-level hazard chemical listed in the Skin Deep database: vitamin A. Listed as Retinyl Palmitate in the EWG database, vitamin A/retinol helps control wrinkles.

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