[lipstick]Formaldehyde. Methylene Chloride. Titanium Dioxide. They sound scary, and guess what? They aren\’t just found in household cleaning products – they are potential carcinogens sometimes used in everyday personal care items such as deodorant, lotions and cosmetics.
Most consumers assume the government is making sure the ingredients in these products are safe, but surprisingly, this isn\’t always the case. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization, reports that the average person applies approximately 126 chemicals from these products on a daily basis. Whether it is from shaving cream or mascara, these chemicals can be toxic. They seep through the outer layers of the skin and into the body, ultimately causing health risks.
According to the EWG, the government approves about seven new chemicals every single day, 80 percent of them approved in less than three weeks and without any testing. In the world of cosmetics, there’s not much protection. A published statement from the Food and Drug Administration in 1995 read “a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from the FDA.”
Sabrina McCormick, an environmental science and policy assistant professor, said this is nothing new. “Many people think that the Food and Drug Administration protects us from possibly harmful ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics, but in fact, the FDA does not have that mandate,\” she said. \”They are not forced to regulate these ingredients. Who is forced to regulate them is a board called the Cosmetics Industry Review Board, which is a board constituted by representatives from the industry. So essentially, these products that we are putting on our face and on our body every day are being regulated only by the industry that is already producing it. There is a serious conflict of interest there.”
Not only does the FDA approve a large amount of chemicals on a regular basis, the Cosmetics Industry Review Board does the same when it comes to the passing of new products. According to McCormick, 94 percent of products that come through for review are indeed passed, leaving the rare case for denial at only six percent. The combination of the extremely easy acceptance of chemicals and products in our country is a combination that could be deadly.
Women’s Resource Center administrative assistant Evette Chavez swears by all-natural make up, which can highly cut down on the amount of chemicals in a single usage. She’s aware of the toxins most major cosmetic companies use in their products. “There are a lot of formaldehydes that will burn the lungs and can burn the skin,\” she said. \”You can have a build up of it in your body. It goes through your skin, through your pores. Lipstick has lead in it and what do we do? We put it on, lick it off.” Chavez is an independent marketing executive for a company that offers a variety of natural items, including cosmetics, bath and body and househould cleaning products.
[eyes]According to the website naturallyhome.com, each square inch of skin is home to an estimated 10 hairs, 15 oil glands, 72 feet of nerve fiber, 100 sweat glands, and over three feet of blood vessels, which makes the skin very absorbent. When it comes to personal care and makeup products with carcinogens, this absorption can be a health hazard. For example, parabens are chemical preservatives that have been found to mimic estrogen and alter the body’s hormonal balance. Another class of compounds commonly found in products is phthalates, which have been linked to breast cancer.
So why doesn’t anyone know about the danger they are putting themselves in on a daily basis? “I think just because it is part of our society,\” Chavez said. \”We see something on a TV commercial and think ‘oh, I got to get that, that’d be cool, I want to use that.’ We don’t know because we’ve never been educated on it.\”
Ever wonder how that lipstick actually can stay on all day or why that certain shampoo makes your hair so shiny? In many cases, one can thank risky toxins like coal tar or petroleum. It might not seem like a big deal if a tiny bit of these ingredients is used, but the EWG says to beware – these chemicals are not used minimally. Rather, they are normally the main base ingredient for a product.
McCormick said that even when watching for certain ingredients to avoid, it can be tough. “Accurate ingredient lists are not even mandated by the FDA,” said McCormick. “So the ingredient list you are seeing on your lotion bottle or your shampoo bottle is not necessarily all the ingredients that are in it.”
One thing that is extremely helpful is Skin Deep, an organization that is a branch of the EWG. Skin Deep offers all the information a buyer needs to know when looking for safe products. Their website, www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep, holds a database with over 14,000 household products, the chemicals inside of them and their level of concern.
For example, the site scores the popular nail polish brand, OPI, as hazardous. According to the site, using this polish can lead to reproductive problems, immune system disorders, along with irritations to the eyes, skin, and lungs. Skin Deep has found that 99.9 percent of products on the market contain at least one chemical or ingredient that has not even been tested for use whatsoever.
McCormick insists this is the time for consumers to step up in order to ensure their health and safety. “We are exposed to so many chemicals in our environment on a daily basis,” McCormick said. “We have chemicals in our water, chemicals in our makeup, chemicals in our food, chemicals in the carpet that we stand on, in the paint inside our room, in the electronic products we’re using in our computer. We’re surrounded by chemicals everyday so we simply have no choice but to be exposed to them so when we have a choice we need to reduce our exposure as much as possible.”
Although they usually contain some types of chemicals, natural products can be healthy alternatives. Natural make-up lines such as BareEscentuals, Origins, and EccoBella are free of preservatives, chemicals and dyes. They can be found at cosmetic stores such as Sephora, the company\’s website, or can be carried at health food stores.
Not everyone agrees that the all-natural route is the way to go. Many believe that regular brands are completely safe. Accounting junior Alison Hull has never found any problems with the products she uses. “I never worry about the ingredients because I trust what the professionals say; the products are tested completely. For example, I know that Clinique was formed by dermatologists,” Hull said. “Also, most companies have trained their employees so extensively about their products that you can almost be guaranteed that they know exactly what they are talking about. They would discontinue a product if they ever found it harmful. I don\’t think it would be on the market.”
[lips]Clinique is one of the nation\’s leading cosmetic companies and has recently proven to show more interest in the safety of their products. Under Estee Lauder Companies, this past January, Clinique teamed up with Cornell Medical College and formed a new testing facility located on campus. A statement from Clinique stated ‘The Wellness Center’ “was created to advance the understanding of skin from cosmetic, clinical and scientific points of view.”
McCormick said the important thing is to stay educated on the topic. This means taking the few extra steps to know exactly what is in the products that are being used on a frequent basis and minimize exposure whenever possible. The EWG reports products that are fragrance free are generally safer; they also suggest using milder soaps and fewer powders.
Unless you like the sound of a formaldehyde facial, when it comes to your skin, less really is more.

To learn more about healthy, natural alternatives, contact Evette Chavez at chaveze222@yahoo.com

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