Poison in Your Makeup
The non-profit Environmental Working Group launched the Not Too Pretty
campaign in 2002 to raise awareness about the dangers of phthalates,
industrial chemicals that are used as solvents in many cosmetics. Most
of the mainstream hair sprays, deodorants, nail polishes and perfumes
that millions of people use every day contain these harmful chemicals.
Phthalates are also employed as plastic softeners in many different
consumer products, including children's toys and medical devices.
to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems in animal
studies, phthalates can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled.
Scientists at government agencies in both the U.S. and Canada agree
that exposure to the chemicals could cause a wide range of health and
reproductive problems in people.
Manufacturers use phthalates
because they cling to the skin and nails to give perfumes, hair gels
and nail polishes more staying power. But a recent study by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that five
percent of women between age 20 and 40 had up to 45 times more
phthalates in their bodies than researchers initially hypothesized. CDC
found phthalates in virtually person tested, but the largest
concentrations--20 times higher than the rest of the population--were
found in women of child-bearing age. Meanwhile, another study, led by
Dr. Shanna Swan of the University of Missouri, identified developmental
abnormalities in male infants correlating to high phthalate levels in
their mothers' bodies.
Meanwhile, the industry-backed Phthalate
Information Center asserts, "There is no reliable evidence that any
phthalate has ever caused a health problem for a human from its
intended use." The group accuses organizations of "cherry picking"
results "showing impacts on test animals to create unwarranted concern
about these products." But EWG spokesperson Lauren E. Sucher urges
people--especially women who are pregnant, nursing or planning on
becoming pregnant--to avoid phthalates. EWG offers free online access
to its "Skin Deep" database, which lists lotions, creams and polishes
that contain phthalates. Health experts encourage women to consult the
database before shopping for beauty products.
A 2003 European
Union directive bans phthalates in cosmetics sold in Europe, but U.S.
and Canadian regulators have not been so proactive, despite mounting
evidence of potential harm. Health advocates were temporarily relieved
when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it
would begin enforcing a 1975 law requiring labels on products with
ingredients that haven't been safety tested. But such labels remain to
be seen, even though 99 percent of cosmetics contain one or more
Those interested in adding their voices
to the chorus of environmental and health advocates opposed to the
inclusion of phthalates in cosmetics can submit a customizable
pre-written letter to the FDA expressing their concern via EWG's
NotTooPretty.org website. The website also provides pages and pages of
information and research on the issue for those looking to learn more.