Beauty Myth: Chemicals and Cosmetics Get A Closer Look

By Christine Cupaiuolo — June 25, 2007 takes a look at everyday beauty products that aren’t worth the risk, including skin whitening cream, which may contain mercury or hydroquinone, a chemical used in photo processing. “Extended exposure to hydroquinone can backfire, leaving large dark patches of skin, or possibly worse: It has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. In 2005, a pair of Dutch researchers referred to the widespread use of hydroquinone in skin whiteners as ‘a potential time bomb.'”

Meanwhile, a biochemist who researches cosmetics and toiletries says women who use make-up daily are absorbing almost 5 lb of chemicals a year into their bodies and the combination of chemicals “could be much greater than the sum of the individual parts.” (Via the F-Word.)

And E Magazine reports on the political battle to ban certain chemical compounds from children’s toys and feeding products. Of particular concern are phthalates, which are also present in some cosmetics.

“Environmentalists and environmentally minded legislators are beginning to worry about long-term exposure to the chemical compounds,” writes Brita Belli. “Specifically, they worry about diisononyl phthalate or DINP, a plasticizer commonly used in soft vinyl products made for babies, such as bath books, rubber ducks and teething rings as well as bisphenol A (BPA), a building block for polycarbonate plastic used in shatter-resistant baby bottles. Studies have linked BPA to hormone disruption in rats, to increased breast cancer and prostate cancer cell growth, to early onset puberty and obesity; studies with phthalates have linked the chemicals to rodent cancers and genital abnormalities, especially in males.”

Earlier this year we pointed to this Women’s eNews story on the public relation efforts by the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association to reassure consumers that its products are safe.

Yet In 2002, writes Kara Alaimo, “researchers in Chicago tested 72 brand-name cosmetics and found that 52 contained phthalates, but none listed the chemical on their label.”

In August 2005, researchers including University of Rochester epidemiologist Shanna Swan published the first study to examine mothers’ prenatal exposure to phthalates in relation to the genital development of their baby boys. The small study found subtle changes suggesting the development of the genitals of boys whose mothers had high levels of phthalates was less complete than in those whose mothers were exposed to lower levels of phthalates.

Swan says determining whether exposure to phthalates is contributing to increasing rates of male infertility and testicular cancer–as studies on rodents currently suggest — is “one of the most important items on the research agenda.”

Wondering what’s in your cosmetics? Check out Skin Deep — a cosmetic safety database brought to you by the Environmental Working Group. And just in time for summer, here’s a look at safe and effective sunscreen products.

2 responses to “Beauty Myth: Chemicals and Cosmetics Get A Closer Look”

  1. I am so happy that women are starting to talk about this! The real issue is that in the United States there are no regulations from the FDA for cosmetics. Whereas Europe has strict requirements for cosmetic companies. The only time a company in the U.S. needs to change what chemicals they put in their products is after it is proven to be dangerous. However, there is no way to know these risks until after the product is on the market.

  2. Hey there,

    Thank-you for the great Blog. My name is Adam Cormier. I’m a filmmaker in Vancouver, BC and am working on a documentary about Phthalates, which as you probably know is harming the development of the male genitals in the womb. In order to make the best film possible I’m searching for people to fill out the following Survey Monkey survey:

    If you are concerned about Pregnancy and Chemicals please think about taking two minutes to fill out the survey. It would really mean a lot to me and actually help ensure the film gets made!

    Many thanks and much peace

    Vancouver, BC, Canada

    P.S. If you want to be a super star forward the link to some of your friends!

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