How Safe are Your Personal Care Products? Part Two

When you buy personal care products, do you look at the ingredients? If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it is usually a chemical, which could be dangerous. In Part One we covered bath products, shampoos and fragrances. Now, we will look at lipsticks, nail products, men’s products and nano technology.

Lipsticks contain a multitude of ingredients that wind up in your body as it is applied a number of times daily – and one of the dangerous contaminants is lead.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states: “No safe blood lead level has been identified.” The agency suggests avoiding all sources of lead exposure.

Yet the FDA has no standard for lead in lipstick. “Pregnant women using lipstick are unknowingly exposing their fetuses to unknown and unregulated levels of lead. The FDA should immediately set standards to require manufacturers to make lipstick as safe as possible,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund.

The FDA study found an average level of lead in lipsticks of 1.07 ppm – more than 10 times higher than its own standard for lead in candy. FDA’s standard for candy is based on the lowest lead level that can be achieved. A similar standard should be applied to lipstick.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also urged the FDA to release the names of the brands tested in the study and lead levels found in each: “The public deserves to know which lipstick contain the most lead. The FDA used taxpayer money to conduct this study and the results should be fully and readily available to the public,” Archer said.

San Francisco – A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found lead in lipstick at levels much higher than those detected by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) in a 2007 study that received international attention.

FDA found lead in all 20 lipsticks it tested, at levels ranging from 0,09 parts per million (ppm) to 3.06 ppm – more than four times higher than the highest lead level of 0.65 reported in the 2007 CSC study. FDA used a new testing method to analyze lipstick and concluded that earlier methods likely underestimated the amount of lead in lipstick.

The FDA noted that three manufacturers had the highest levels of lead, but they did not name those brands. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report also found that a few brands had consistently higher lead levels, including L’Oreal, Maybelline and Cover Girl.

“Since recent science studies suggest that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. He continued. “Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems, such as, lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development.”

Senators, Kerry, Feinstein and Boxer demanded that the FDA take action on lead in lipstick, following the release of the CSC report. in 2007 Nearly two years later, the FDA study was released in the July/August issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science, and made available at a cost of $35.

What you can do! Write, email or call the companies that make your favorite lipstick shades and tell them lead-free products are important to you.  Check out:

Next let us cover nail products and salons. I am sure that those who have walked into a nail salon have noticed the smell and wondered, if it was safe to breathe. I have always felt concern for those who work there. They are facing future health problems from this chemical air that they are regularly breathing. Nail polish, polish removers and artificial nail products contain a host of toxic chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, reproductive harm, asthma and other negative health affects.

Nail salon workers are particularly at risk for exposure, as they work with these products all day every day, often in poorly ventilated spaces. We know little about the actual health impact, because so little research has been done, but the few preliminary studies that have been conducted indicate a cause for concern. Nail salon workers have reported decreased attention and processing skills and increases in asthma and other breathing problems.

The good news is that some nail polish manufacturers have reformulated their products to remove the “toxic trio” of ingredients: dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene.

* Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) adds flexibility and moisture sheen, and helps dissolve other cosmetic ingredients. DBP is a reproductive and developmental toxin that has been linked to feminizing effects in baby boys.

* Formaldehyde is found in some nail products, such as, nail hardener. It is a known human carcinogen. It is also an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat; and can lead to skin irritation and an allergic rash called dermatitis.

* Toluene helps suspend the color and form a smooth finish across the nail. It also effects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Toluene is a possible reproductive and developmental toxin.

Nail care products like strengthener, remover and glue can also contain a host of other toxic chemicals, including organic solvents like xylene, methyl ethyl ketone and acetone, as well as acrylic polymers, such as, methyl methylacrylate and ethyl methylacrylate.

In 2006 OPI Nail Polish – the leading salon brand – was rated as one of the most toxic products in Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database of cosmetic products. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics took on a multi-year campaign to pressure OPI Products to reformulate their products using safer chemicals. They wrote thousands of letters, went to nail salons, demonstrated in shopping centers and launched an ad campaign to convince the public and OPI that safer products are good for customers and business.

OPI was already making safer products for the European market as required by EU law. The company was initially unwilling to reformulate globally. Then in August 2006, OPI announced it would remove DBP from all its products. A year later, OPI announced that it would also remove toluene from its products and was marketing a formaldehyde-free nail hardener. Today OPI advertisements proudly proclaims its nail polishes to be free of DBP, toluene and formaldehyde.. Its competitors, Orly and Sally Hansen followed suit, writing to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that they would remove the “toxic trio.“

What you can do: BYOP – bring your own polish or have your nails buffed. If you do your own nails, make sure you do it in a well ventilated area.

What about Men’s Personal Care Products? The average American male uses six personal care products a day containing more than 80 unique chemicals. Many of these chemicals are absorbed through the skin, winding up in the bloodstream…and inhaled into the lungs. The vast majority of cosmetic chemicals have not been assessed for safety.

Problematic chemicals:

Diethyl Phthalate:

* found in fragrance-containing products such as, cologne, aftershave, shaving cream, shampoos and deodorants. Recent studies have linked DEP to sperm damage, abnormal reproductive development in infants, and Attention Deficit Disorder in children. Recent product tests found DEP in popular men’s colognes Quicksilver, Calvin Klein, Eternity for Men, Old Spice After Hours Body Spray and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce.

Lead acetate:

* Found in men’s hair and beard colorants. Banned from cosmetics in European Union, because it is a known human reproductive toxicant. It is found in Men’s Grecian Hair Formula and Youthair Hair Color for Men.

Coal Tar:

Found in dandruff shampoos, such as, Neutrogena T-Gel Shampoo. Known carcinogen banned in European Union.


Found in antibacterial soaps and deodorants, such as, Old Spice Wide Stick Deodorant, Speed Stick deodorants, Dial anti-bacterial soaps and Edge Advanced Shaving Gel, Ultra Sensitive. Linked to hormone disruption, and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Canadian Medical Association asked the Canadian government to ban triclosan in household products due to concerns about bacterial resistance and carcinogenic byproducts. There is no evidence that triclosan soaps are any more effective than regular soap and water.

Formaldehyde and 1,4 -dioxane:

* Found in many leading shampoos and body washes. Known animal carcinogens and probable human carcinogens, according to US EPA. Formaldehyde is a leading allergen that can trigger skin rashes and other allergic reactions. 1,4-dioxane is a leading groundwater contaminant and suspected as a kidney-toxicant, neuro-toxicant and respiratory-toxicant, according to California EPA.

Safer Alternatives:

Some companies are already making safer men’s products that don’t contain harmful chemicals, such as, phthalates and formaldehyde. You can search for safer products on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. Look for products in the 0 – 2 range with the green circle.

It is not possible to shop our way out of this problem, we need to work on changing the law or hazardous chemicals will remain in our personal care products. Many of the toxic chemicals described here are not even listed on product labels due to loopholes that allow companies to keep secret the chemicals in fragrances (such as, DEP) and the hazardous impurities (such as, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane) that are commonly found in products.

Beware Nanotechnology:

Beware personal care products that tout use of Nanoparticles, nanomaterials or nanotechnology. This emerging technology is almost entirely untested for its health effects, and no requirements exist for either testing or labeling these products to make sure consumers are both safe and informed.

Nanotechology involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems that exist at the scale of atoms and molecules. This is miniscule…a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. Because of their size, the properties of nanoscale differ significantly from larger scales of the same materials, introducing new and potentially heightened risks of toxicity that remain poorly understood. For example, nano-sized titanium dioxide, often used in sunscreens, may have entirely different UV blocking properties and health effects than conventional titanium dioxide particles (also used in sunscreens).

Research by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics founding partner – Friends of the Earth – suggests that Nan particles have entered just about every personal care product on the market, including deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfume and after-shave lotion..

Preliminary scientific research has shown that many types of Nan particles can be toxic to human tissue and cell cultures resulting in increased oxidative stress, DNA mutation and even cell death.

They can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues, and are known to be highly reactive. One emerging finding is particularly ominous: researchers using animal models have found that, when inhaled, carbon nanotubes may cause the same type of cancer linked to asbestos: mesothelioma. That’s cause for grave concern among workers who manufacture products containing carbon nanotubes, and cause for unknown concern for consumers and the environment.

No government in the world regulates Nanoparticles, but the European Union has at least begun to take action to better understand the risks posed by nanomaterials in cosmetics and personal care products. The EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products advised in March 2008 that a review of the safety of nanotechnology is necessary, and current approaches to assess the potential risks of nanomaterials in cosmetics, including sunscreens, are inadequate.

What you can do is avoid personal care products that advertise use of nanotechnology or nano ingredients. Because no labeling laws exist for nanotechnology in any type of consumer product anywhere in the world, nanotech may be difficult to avoid completely. One thing you can do: Contact customer service department of cosmetic companies whose products you use, and ask if they use nanotech, if so, let them know that you won’t be buying their products until they remove the Nanoparticles.  Most people think that the government is protecting them and a product would not be on the shelf, if it were dangerous. This is not the case.  People need to become more aware by doing their own research.

If you are proactive and know how to avoid all the pitfalls that you face every single day – you are going to avoid illness. It pays to be aware. If you have questions, please let me know and I will get you the answers you need.

Healthfully Yours,

Barbara Charis

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