Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Killer Cosmetics

Killer cosmetics? 
Your lipstick could be toxic
By Suzanne D'Amato
The Washington Post

Lipstick tainted with lead. Mascara that contains mercury. A hair-straightening treatment that slicks your tresses with protein ... and formaldehyde? As three recent controversies show, the world of beauty can be downright ugly. Take the lipstick debate. Last fall, a study gave women reason to worry about their war paint: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 lipsticks for lead. The group found that 61 percent of the lipsticks tested contained a detectable amount of the contaminant, and several exceeded the Food and Drug Administration's lead limit for candy. The FDA does not set lead standards for lipstick. 

Even a minuscule amount of lead is a big problem, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics spokeswoman Stacy Malkan said. "What the companies will often say is, 'There's a little toxin in one product and you can't say it causes harm,' " she said. "But none of us uses just one product." Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body over time, which is why tiny amounts ingested regularly could be hazardous. 

Not everyone sees lead in lipstick as such an issue. "Lead is in our environment, even without all the industrial production of chemicals," said John Bailey, chief scientist for the trade association Personal Care Products Council. "It's part of the earth. ... I don't think it really warrants these alarmist conclusions." 

Right now, concerned lipstick lovers have few options. "The only way to find out if your lipstick has lead is to send it to a lab and pay $150," Malkan said. 

It's considerably easier to find out if your mascara contains mercury. Traditionally added as a preservative, the substance is rare in cosmetics these days. When it exists, it's generally in cake mascaras rather than wand versions. It may be listed as thimerosal. 

In eye-area cosmetics, the FDA allows mercury if no other effective preservative is available. 
"It's a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in developing fetuses," Malkan said. 

Bailey said the FDA uses a voluntary reporting program for cosmetics ingredients; the program has no current registrations that report mercury being used in the eye area, he said. 

"We certainly can't count on a voluntary reporting program," Malkan said. "We need a real reporting system." 

To see whether any products you use contain mercury or other potentially hazardous ingredients, she recommends the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Web site (, which lists information on more than 27,000 cosmetics and personal-care products. That may seem like a high number, but it's a small fraction of what's on the market, Malkan said. 

The Skin Deep site analyzes only over-the-counter products. Salon treatments are not examined -- and for controversial ones such as the Brazilian Keratin treatment, that's unfortunate. The BKT, as it's known, is a hair-straightening process that has smitten women in search of silky, frizz-free tresses. It also contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen. 

Beauty products and treatments don't have to get FDA approval before hitting store shelves; the FDA mandates such approval only for color additives in cosmetics.

Use products that are pure, safe, and beneficial!  


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