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American Beauty

Most of us think that  ingredients in our cosmetic and personal care products are tested before they are sold to us in the United States. This is not the case. Shockingly, many lipsticks contain lead, even in the 21st century. According to Jane Houlihan, vice president of research at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), "Under federal law, companies can put virtually anything they wish into personal care products, and many of  them do. Mercury, lead, and placenta extract—all of these and many other hazardous materials are in products that millions of Americans, including children, use every day." In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no regulations limiting lead in lipstick. The FDA does, however, limit lead in candy to 0.1 parts per million (ppm).
    The EWG is just one of several health and environmental groups that make up the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org) which recently called on cosmetics companies to reformulate their lipsticks due to the amount of lead in their products. The campaign sent 33 lipstick samples to an independent lab, which found that 61 percent of the samples contained detectable levels of lead. Lipstick brands found with lead levels higher than 0.1 ppm in some colors include L'Oreal, Cover Girl, Dior and Maybelline NY.
    According to Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, "Lead builds up in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure." Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that is linked to lowered IQ, reduced fertility, seizures, anemia and miscarriages. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk because lead can cross the placenta and affect fetal development. A 2004 survey of girls revealed that 63 percent of girls under 10 reported using lipstick.
    The history of the lead problems goes back thousands of years. Even Greek physicians in 100 B.C. described symptoms of lead poisoning, including blindness, brain damage, kidney disease and cancer. In the 1920s, lead companies argued that the lead levels in fumes from the lead additives in gasoline and the exposure to paint chips in the home were too insignificant to be dangerous. However, we now know that lead exposure is accumulative. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Glamour magazine wrote in 2002 that "Women inadvertently (but harmlessly) eat about 4 lbs of lipstick" in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the "harmlessly" part is inaccurate.    
    "There's no excuse for lead in lipstick," writes Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Our tests prove that it's possible to make lead-free lipstick and all companies should adhere to that gold standard." In Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, author Mark Schapiro describes a situation in which countries such as China can dump products that they can't unload in Europe or Japan in the United States because we don't have as stringent of standards. He writes that the Environmental Protection Agency will have "little power under the current version of TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] to prevent the importation of substances into the United  States from China that the new European Chemicals Agency refuses to 'authorize' for sale in Europe."
    Schapiro writes that "chronic chemical exposure generally occurs in minute quantities that accrue over time." It is difficult to prove disease that has been caused by a slow exposure to toxic substances. The Europeans support "The Precautionary Principle." We bury our heads in the sand and wait for lawsuits to eventually yank toxic substances off the market—after harm has been done. Yet the Bush administration has made "tort reform" its cause célèbre, which essentially makes suing for "suffering" nearly impossible.
    The European Union's 7th amendment to the Cosmetics Directive came into force in March 2005, requiring that all "products intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body" be subject to scientific review. Writes Schapiro, the E.U.'s "amendment mandates that chemicals determined to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins—known collectively as CMRs—be removed from cosmetics sold in Europe. (It also mandates a phase-out in the testing of cosmetic ingredients on animals.)" In fact, every three months, E.U. toxicologists from universities and laboratories review the ingredients in personal products, including shampoos, mascara, lipsticks, hair dyes, perfumes and deodorants. This committee of toxicologists put these ingredients on a "negative list," including CMRs. It also draws up another "restricted list" that includes ingredients that are severely restricted. According to Schapiro, by the end of 2006, the negative list had grown from 400 to more than 1,100 substances. The E.U. does not require pre-market approval of cosmetic ingredients, but it does clarify which ingredients are not permitted in cosmetics, including carcinogens—ingredients that might have mutagenic effects or damage the reproductive system.
    In the United States, back in 1938 when the FDA was expanded by Congress to give it authority over drugs and food additives, "industry lobbying succeeded in blocking the agency from requiring testing of cosmetics. That hasn't changed for 70 years." The only exception is that the FDA requires pre-marketing review for color additives. The cosmetic industry's own trade group has recommended several ingredients it considers "substances of concern," writes Schapiro, including coal tar, a black hair dye that may be linked to bladder cancer.

The informative Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" site is http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/research/whythismatters.php

Published: December 02, 2007
Issue: December Philanthropy 07