Beauty’s only skin deep, they say, but ugly cuts to the bone.
And by “ugly” we’re talking about the potential for cosmetics to have unattractive consequences. At least that’s the thinking behind the push for more accurate product labeling on makeup, sunscreen, bath and other personal products.
As explained in a story by the Detroit Free Press, the chemicals, minerals and unknowns that are constituents of these lotions and soaps and hair applications do not undergo routine review by the FDA or USDA or any other regulatory agency. Only when consumer problems necessitate attention are these products scrutinized.
Between the fundamental human desire to look good and the overwhelming marketing hype characteristic of the cosmetics industry, consumers are hard-pressed to get accurate, helpful information about the ingredients with which they have such a close, personal relationship.
That’s not acceptable to U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-MI. He’s conducting the first congressional hearings in decades about cosmetics safety. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced to give the FDA the power to register cosmetics and enable recalls if products prove unsafe.
Last year we wrote about one risky product, Brazilian Blowout, a hair-straightening formula that was found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde. Consumers suffered respiratory problems and skin rashes, and now Brazilian Blowout labels carry a warning. But it’s still a legal product and the FDA has no further authority to regulate it.
Lack of research into the long-term effects of low-level exposure to cosmetic chemicals makes clear harm uncertain. In the cosmetics industry, according to the co-founder of a cosmetics company quoted by the Free Press, “everyone’s intentions are safe levels. But then, everyone is using 20 products a day. It’s this geometric explosion of chemicals in our lives. … It’s not one thing.”
“The question is whether the occasional application on the skin is really dangerous,” said Dr. Scott Ramsey, director of the Cancer Prevention Program at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Years ago paraben — a preservative used in cosmetics and deodorant – was suspect in breast tumors. People dumped these products, but it’s still unclear if paraben is harmful. Preservatives prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in a product that sits on a bathroom shelf or at the bottom of a purse, and it’s impossible to completely escape exposure to toxins. Even antibacterial soap, a product that’s supposed to confer protection, has been host to a chemical suspected of causing hormonal issues.
But consumer safety advocates at least want to cut down on exposure you can control. One salon customer interviewed by the Free Press put it concisely: “Better health is not a science problem; it’s an information problem.”
Don’t use a product without reading the label. If ingredients are not listed, Google the manufacturer for more information or opt for a product you can vet. Search for information about the safety of a given product on the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s Safer Products (CPSC) site.
If a product causes problems-anything from minor skin irritation to more serious issues such as swelling or breathing problems-contact the FDA’s cosmetic topics website, the CPSC and the manufacturer.
If you want the federal government to improve cosmetic product oversight, contact your congressional representative.