Toxic Beauty

A vast majority of women say they use cosmetics of some kind. However, many of these women are unaware of the ingredients used by the cosmetic industry. Some of these ingredients are chemicals that may be toxic and have been associated with potentially negative effects on health and wellness. It seems that the average consumer has more knowledge of their vehicle than of the items routinely applied to their skin. Women can often protect themselves by becoming educated about these chemicals and their hazardous effects.

Some of the known dangers are:

Butyl acetate, found in nail polishes and strengtheners, emits vapors which have been associated with dizziness or drowsiness, and prolonged use is linked to drying and cracking of the skin.

Butylated hydroxytoluene, present in numerous cosmetics and personal care products, is an antioxidant which is used to help slow products’ rates of color change over time. While helpful as a preservative, it may cause skin and eye irritation.

Formaldehyde, commonly utilized to disinfect and preserve various products such as nail polish and eyelash adhesive, has been found to cause a multitude of issues including; respiratory tract and eye irritation, cancer, immune system damage, genetic damage, and asthma attacks. This chemical is especially dangerous since it at times, may not be added by manufacturers. Formaldehyde can result from the breakdown of other ingredients, particularly quaternium compounds, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea. Formaldehyde has become such a concern that The European Union has banned its use in cosmetics and personal care products.

“Fragrance” a general term often used to indicate any of a number of chemicals in products, can be toxic. Some of these fragrances may be phthalates, which have been linked to obesity and may also disrupt normal endocrine function and reproductive health or cause developmental defects and delays.

Talc, known to absorb moisture and add sparkle, can be found in blush, eye shadow and baby powder, along with a host of other products. Talc has been proven to act as a human carcinogen, most notably linked to ovarian cancer. Additionally, it is thought to mimic the effects of asbestos when inhaled, leading to the formation of lung tumors.

In July 2010, The Safe Cosmetics Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrats Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the bill was unable to make it past committee reviews and therefore never came up for a vote. The goal of this proposal was to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate all of the ingredients in beauty and personal care products. Currently the FDA has only limited say in manufacture of cosmetics. Therefore, the cosmetics industry has inherently been policing itself for over thirty years. And while the industry would be content to continue to do so, many experts agree that self-regulation is inappropriate and ineffective.

In reaction to the government’s lack of attention to this matter, the Environmental Working Group launched the Skin Deep website, a user-friendly database of cosmetics describing their ingredients, health risks and environmental footprints. The purpose of this site is to allow consumers to educate themselves prior to purchasing cosmetics.

Similar to the bill of 2010, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 24, 2011. This bill to accomplish what its predecessor had hoped, ensuring the safety of personal care products by initiating a process to evaluate their composition and expel the most hazardous ingredients that have been linked to cancer, reproductive and endocrine disorders or other known negative effects. But some critical revisions have been incorporated due to concerns from small businesses. Attempting to increase the effectiveness and ease of implementation of the legislation.

Still, while corporate responsibility is vital, a consumer must take personal responsibility and become informed about the substances she uses. Perhaps new federal regulations of labeling ingredients will help consumers determine what purchases to consider. But only when manufacturers, officials and consumers all commit to doing their part will the issue of toxic cosmetics be a distant memory.