LORD - STAFF WRITER
FDA to assess cosmetics ingredients
Ingredients in the most popular
lotions, sprays, creams and cosmetics have never been tested by the Food
and Drug Administration, according to a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy
The government has not evaluated 89 percent of the 10,500 ingredients
in personal care products, the Environmental Working Group said. The
organization's leaders say they want the federal government to more
closely monitor the industry.
Local activists and health experts believe the report could offer some
answers to the region's elevated cancer levels.
Others dismiss the possibility that mainstream personal care products
could be harmful, pointing to a lack of conclusive research to support the
The nonprofit Environmental Working Group spent six months doing a
computer check of 7,500 products to see how many contain ingredients that
have known health effects on humans. The analysis examined ingredients
ranging from harmless table salt and oatmeal, to cancer-causing chemicals.
One in three personal care products has at least one ingredient
classified as a possible carcinogen and one in 100 has ingredients listed
by the government as known or probable cancer-causing agents. Still others
are known endocrine disrupters and are linked to birth defects.
"If we were serious about cancer prevention, we would not be taking
this chance," said Cindy Luppi of Clean Water Action, a Boston
EWG and other advocates are pushing the federal government to require
the same testing for personal-care products now required for additives and
pesticide residues in food.
While some environmentalists and public health scientists were alarmed
by the report, cosmetic industry spokespeople claim the report is
misleading and a disservice to consumers.
"It's alarming consumers unnecessarily," said Irene Malbin, vice
president of public affairs at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance
Association in Washington, D.C. She declined to comment further, instead
directing all questions to a statement on the association's Web site.
"The cosmetic industry is committed to providing the highest quality,
safest personal care products possible," reads the statement. "Cost is
never a consideration for a safety."
No independent tests
The report, titled "Skin
Deep," is available online at www.ewg.org. It ranks the safety of the
products according to how many harmful ingredients they contain. Consumers
can go to the Web site and find out how their favorite products stack up.
The FDA is required under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to regulate
the cosmetics industry, but is not required to test independently the
products, according to an agency spokeswoman
The FDA relies on the industry to police itself through its Cosmetic
Ingredient Review board, which is appointed by the Cosmetics, Toiletry and
Fragrance Association, an industry group. The board looks at products for
safety and effectiveness.
"I can't believe any reputable firm, if they found something was
intrinsically dangerous, would deliberately expose the public to it," he
said. "The big firms are very, very careful," British chemist Dr. John
EWG scientist Jane Houlihan took on the personal care products study
after it became clear the FDA does not have the authority to order
pre-market testing, Luppi said.
Clean Water Action has been working with the Massachusetts Breast
Cancer Coalition on a campaign for safer cosmetics and personal care
products. It was because of that effort that Houlihan agreed to take a
closer look at personal care products, Luppi said.
The FDA spokeswoman said the agency has seen the "Skin Deep" report and
is "assessing it for its merits."
The FDA is authorized to mandate warning labels on products, inspect
manufacturing facilities, seize illegal products and prosecute violators.
A survey conducted by Clean
Water Action in Boston after the report's was released found that most
people who were asked "assume that somebody is looking at the safety of
these products more than they are," Luppi said.
Boston College student Cynthia Loesch, who is a member of a group
called "Bold Teens" in Dorchester, helped with the survey. She said people
she interviewed were shocked to learn personal care products are not
tested by the government.
"It was a little bit of, 'are you sure?'" she said.
Her work made her take a second look at what she was putting on her
"I was using around 20 products a day, and I'm cutting down. I don't
use anything with fragrance any more and I don't need the different
shampoos and conditioners I used to use," she said.
Several women shopping in the CVS store on North Street in Hyannis said
the report will cause them to re-evaluate the products they use.
"It would make me want to look at it, definitely," said Jennifer Healy
of Cotuit as she browsed in the cosmetics aisle.
The EWG report fits with studies by Silent Spring Institute, a Newton
group trying to find a link between the environment and breast cancer.
State health department figures show that Cape women have a 20 percent
higher risk of getting breast cancer than their counterparts in the rest
of the state.
"The two pieces of work are complementary," said Julia Brody, executive
director of the Institute, which was founded in 1994.
In the group's "Household Exposure Study," Silent Spring researchers
collected air, dust and urine samples in 120 homes of Cape women, some who
had contracted breast cancer and others who had not. Of the 89 chemical
compounds they were looking for, researchers found 67, including DDT, a
pesticide banned 30 years ago.
Parabens and phthalates
Two of the more prevalent
toxic ingredients EWG found in personal care products and cosmetics were
parabens and phthalates.
Parabens, which are used as preservatives, have been shown to have
estrongenic activity. Breast cancer cells are known to grow in the
presence of excess estrogen.
Studies on phthalates have demonstrated that they disrupt endocrine
activity in the body and affect sperm quality and male fetal development.
The chemicals, which are also found in plastics, have caused cancer in
research animals, according to EWG.
"I took my reading glasses to the store recently looking for hand
creams that didn't have parabens, but it's difficult to find any," Brody
A study conducted by Dr. Philippa Darbre earlier this year found
parabens in samples of breast cancer tumors, according to Breast Cancer
Action, a nonprofit advocacy group in San Francisco. Although the study
sample was small, looking at just 20 tumors, it is the first proof
researchers have that parabens can be absorbed through the skin from
But Emsley, who has just released a book called "Vanity, Vitality and
Virility: The Chemistry Behind the Products You Love to Buy," disputes
that report. He said parabens, which cover a large number of compounds,
will not penetrate the skin by themselves. Even if they are mixed with
penetration enhancers, there is no scientific proof of "a cocktail effect"
from chemicals mixed together in personal care products.
He claimed phthalates have been tested by an independent Dutch
organization and found to be safe for personal care products.
"It's very easy to get people alarmed," he said during a telephone
interview from his home in Ampthill, England. "Even with natural products,
if you expose animals to incredibly high doses of them, they can be
Proctor & Gamble spokesman Kash Shaikh said the company carefully
evaluates its products.
"We have one of the most robust (research and development) departments
in the world," he said. "All products are checked off as safe before being
placed in the public domain."
But Silent Spring Institute Cape Cod Coordinator Cheryl Osimo said
while personal care products are tested by the industry for their
immediate effects, such as allergic reactions, no one has tested exposures
to the individual ingredients over time.
"No one knows how long-term exposure to low doses of known and
suspected carcinogens in these products affect us, particularly on top of
other chemicals in the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we
breathe," she said. "It makes common sense that we don't want these
chemicals in the personal care products we use every day."
Copyright © 2004 Cape Cod Times. All