Chemicals in Cosmetics Concern Some Consumers
[Rachel's Introduction: Professor Bonnie Spanier is pushing for governments to adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to chemicals, essentially preventing their use in personal products until proven safe.]
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By Stephanie Earl, Albany (N.Y.) Times Union
Like their counterparts in elementary and middle schools everywhere (and Egyptians 5,000 years ago), sisters Kylie and Katherine Small loved their lip products. Especially lip gloss... the flavored kind that tastes like dessert.

Put it on, lick it off. Repeat. Yum.

One day about a year ago, though, Katherine checked out the ingredients listed on the packaging. Chemicals, preservatives, numbered dyes and things she couldn't even begin to pronounce. It scared her.

"I thought, 'I can't believe I put this stuff into my body,' " said the 12-year-old Alplaus, N.Y., resident.

On any given day, the average woman uses as many as 25 products, containing hundreds of chemical compounds.

After World War II, a boom in synthetics production (fueled by the pin-up and Hollywood culture) made self-care products -- makeup, perfumes, lotions -- ubiquitous, said Bonnie Spanier, associate professor in women's studies at the State University of New York at Albany.

And while the Food and Drug Administration was charged with cracking down on companies that sell poisonous, unsafe or dangerous products, or those falsely marketed, the federal agency does not routinely test or approve makeup before it hits the market.

A fact, say chemical-free cosmetics advocates, that opens wide the door for industries to use the newest chemicals, preservatives and colors. Spanier pointed to research that shows some of the popular chemical ingredients in personal care products -- including phthalates, which make plastics flexible; toluene, a solvent used in nail polish; and paraben, a preservative -- have been shown to cause birth defects or increase cancer risks. Hysteria du jour?

Very much so, according to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. According to its Web site, the trade group contends that its products are among the nation's safest available to consumers. It dismisses arguments to the contrary, namely the ones coming from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health and environmental consumer group (ewg.org). The industry is self- regulated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, established by the CTFA and funded by cosmetics research companies.

The industry group contends that "no credible research has ever shown that any cosmetic or personal care products cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. We don't use ingredients that would be harmful for use in cosmetics or personal care products. Ingredients and products must be substantiated for safety before they are marketed."

Organic advocates, however, say cosmetics companies are baby feeding carcinogens to the general public mostly unchecked, a tiny poison at a time.

"Technically," Spanier said, "what they're saying may be valid, but not because there's no evidence pointing to the toxicity of thousands of these chemicals. The claim may be valid, but it's misleading."

Some popular chemicals work as "endocrine-disruptors," which are structurally similar to the body's natural hormones, Spanier said. The body can mistake these imitation hormones for the real thing, which can lead to a range of abnormal responses, including cancer.

Spanier is pushing for governments to adopt a "precautionary principle" when it comes to chemicals, essentially preventing their use in personal products until proven safe.

Julie Ann Price, 36, founder of Beauty With a Cause, was spurred by a traditional makeup epiphany. The former nail technician took a closer look at what she was putting on her face. She turned to the Web site cosmeticdatabase.com, which provides a "hazard score" for thousands of products. Price was appalled with what she found.

Turned off by the prices of true organic products, she was determined to find and offer an alternative for those like herself who wanted healthy, affordable products and one-stop shopping. Price makes some of her own products; others she buys and resells from companies she has researched and verified. Her products are available at beautywithacause .com.

For Kylie and Katherine Small, after discovering the ingredients in their lip gloss, the siblings also went in search of affordable all- natural alternatives.

The girls began experimenting in the kitchen with organic bases: canola oil, organic soy wax, fractionated coconut oil. By last fall they'd perfected, bottled and packaged their own organic creations. With some help from mom Sharon, they'd also started their own company, Aphrodite's Elements, and set up a Web site, organic-girls.com.

BOTH SIDES NOW

For two often opposing looks at cosmetics and ingredients see the industry Web site cosmeticsinfo.org and the Environmental Working Group's cosmeticdatabase.com.

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