In this piece, I have taken the text of an article by Estelle Hayes directly from the Huffington Post and inserted my comments in bold at appropriate intervals. I invite the reader to make their own judgments on the veracity of the original article.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is an effective degreaser used to clean oil stains from the floor of my mechanic’s repair shop; what’s it doing in my toothpaste and my daughter’s bubble bath? And, why is the long-known carcinogen nitrosamine, banned in Canada and the European Union, still a common ingredient in my mascara, concealer, sunless tanning lotion and baby shampoo?
This is simply scaremongering, because it implies that the use of a substance for one purpose means that it is not suitable for any other purpose. The concentrations used are very different, and the banality of this claim is amply highlighted in the following link: Ingredient Alert!
“The long-known carcinogen nitrosamine” is a nonsensical statement. Nitrosamines are an entire class of substances, so to refer to them as a single substance implies such a profound lack of knowledge and understanding as to undermine the credibility of the author. The use of the word “ingredient” is, at best, disingenuous, as it suggests that nitrosamines are deliberately added to cosmetics when in fact they are only ever present as impurities, at extremely low concentrations. Nitrosamines are not entirely banned, but they DO have an extremely low maximum permitted concentration to reflect the fact that they are dangerous at higher concentrations. It is wrong to claim that nitrosamines are commonly found in products as they are only present when other, very specific, ingredients are also present. Some nitrosamines are human carcinogens, but this article grossly distorts the true picture.
The simple answer is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still doesn’t bother to regulate anything it dismisses as cosmetics — any products used topically — despite the growing science showing how easily poisons and pollutants can be absorbed through the skin. Since the 1930s, the only thing the FDA regulates is the accuracy of the labeling on cosmetics.
This is a facile, general statement, with absolutely no supporting evidence. The FDA DOES regulate cosmetics, maybe not as stringently as some would like, but it is still illegal to place an unsafe product on the market, and the FDA WILL take action if this is proven. There is not any “growing science showing how easily poisons and pollutants can be absorbed through the skin”. The potential for skin absorption (very low for most cosmetic ingredients) has been known for many years – Estelle is not coming up with anything new and exciting, just regurgitating bland unsubstantiated generalisations of the type that abound on the internet. The claim that the ONLY thing the FDA has regulated since the 1930s is labeling is contradicted by Estelle herself later in her article, when she states that they have banned 9 substances.
As long as manufacturers list in gory detail the witches’ brew of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and toxic substances they blend into your eye cream or face wash, they are free to dump whatever they want into your epidermis.
“Gory details”; “Witches brew”: “industrial chemicals” – all overly emotive and unnecessary terms – more scaremongering. No ingredients are “dumped”. This type of language is designed to strike fear in the consumer. No facts, just hysteria and hyperbole.
As consumers, we are left to defend ourselves armed only with unintelligible ingredient labels and confusing news reports about what parts per billion of something can cause cancer or Alzheimer’s. Americans are taking their bodies on a magical mystery tour full of chemicals and heavy metal toxins by way of basic grooming habits.
More emotive nonsense (“magical mystery tour”??) without any attempt at offering any sensible evidence of what is being claimed.
Just a little Googling reveals that every day we are exposed through personal care products to more than 10,000 nasty chemicals banned elsewhere in the world. Everything from lip balm to hand lotion is filled with stuff we wouldn’t dream of putting in our stomachs. Instead, we eagerly spread it over the largest organ of the body — ensuring effective absorption and exposure to a daily dose of illness-inducing and cancer-causing garbage. The american medicine cabinet has become a virtual love canal of hidden industrial waste that wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else.
This is the most ridiculous assertion in the whole piece. There are just over 17,000 different ingredients used IN TOTAL throughout cosmetics within the territories that use the INCI system for ingredient nomenclature, Cosmetic Ingredients, so for this outrageous statement to be true, it would mean that the majority of cosmetics in the USA were mostly made up of ingredients banned in the rest of the world. Anyone checking a label on any product sold outside the USA would see more or less the same ingredients – raw material manufacturers don’t have a special set of ingredients that they only sell in the USA. The connection between what we would eat and what we would put on our skin is another great myth. The two routes of exposure are very different and no comparison should be made. Spreading cosmetics on skin does NOT “ensure effective absorption, Skin is Our Largest Organ, and the use of the term “industrial waste” is derisory – again, scaremongering with emotive phrases that are not at all true.
Random Googling does not constitute good investigative journalism.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing, and goggles when handling chemicals like Diazolidinyl Urea and Propylene Glycol when they manufacture your favorite antiperspirant. The EPA warns workers against skin contact with these chemicals because they are known to cause brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities — in concentrations lower than those found in off-the-shelf stick deodorants. By contrast, you are not even given a fair warning by the deodorant industry as it encourages you to apply these very same poisons to your naked underarms every morning.
This is the classic chemophobe’s contribution to rational thought concerning synthetic chemicals. It is disinformation and distortion, making NO distinction between handling the neat raw materials and their presence (at much lower concentrations) in the final product. (Material Safety Data Sheets). If the author is unable to make this distinction, she should not be writing articles of this nature as she is simply not qualified to give an authoritative view. It has clearly escaped her attention that the millions of people using products containing diazolidinyl urea and/or propylene glycol have not been noticed to be suffering from brain, liver and kidney abnormalities. The claim that these abnormalities occur using concentrations below those used in cosmetics is a further untruth. These ingredients are permitted in the EU, and diazolidinyl urea has specifically been assessed by the EU’s Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS), and is permitted at concentrations up to 0.5%. This tactic is underhand and unjustifiable.
Okay, so according to Washington it’s every woman for herself, but ever try to read the ingredients of your shampoo? I mean the ingredients that are actually listed? Good luck even pronouncing isobutylparaben. And if “fragrance” is involved you’ll never actually get the straight story. Fragrance is protected as a trade secret and up to 200 suspect ingredients can be buried in there with no call-out.
Here we go – “if you can’t pronounce it, it can’t be safe” – in all but name! I would guess that most people can actually pronounce “isobutylparaben” – for those that can’t, I will make it easy – “eye so bew tile para ben”. There – suddenly it’s safe! But, then, it always was. (If You Can’t Pronounce It….) The fragrance industry has an effective policy of self-policing on an international basis (IFRA). This industry voluntarily banned the use of musk xylenes before ANY governmental regulatory body took action. They understand their responsibility for the safety of the consumer and respond accordingly when new data become available. If all the ingredients of a fragrance were listed individually on a product label (yes, up to 200, possibly more), the label would be unreadable, and how many consumers would be any better off? Estelle has already complained about the difficulty of reading the names of currently listed ingredients – why does she want to more than triple the number of names she can’t pronounce? I don’t think she would gain very much. This is whinging for the sake of whinging!
In a recent Congressional hearing the head of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Stephen Sundlof, waved the white flag when he said, “The law as it is currently written allows virtually anything to be incorporated into a cosmetic.” This lack of oversight means that consumers actually know very little about what makes up their make-up. And there is little rigor to the enforcement of existing policies: only nine out of tens of thousands of chemicals have been banned in the U.S., compared to 11,000 so far in the E.U.. Even more alarming is the fact that only 11 percent of ingredients used by Americans in personal care products have even been reviewed for safety — by anyone.
Whilst this may be true (if it ever was actually said), it is hardly a white flag! This is a misinterpretation of the reality, both from the quote from Stephen Sundlof and the statement about the number of substances banned. “Virtually anything”, perhaps, but if something is proven to be unsafe, the FDA could take action and get it banned. They already have done so – NINE TIMES! The claim that 11,000 substances have been banned from use in cosmetics in the EU is not even true, and also taken so far out of context as to be ridiculous. Out of the 1371 substances (note the almost ten-fold exaggeration by Estelle!) that are NOT permitted in the EU, fewer than 30 have EVER been used in cosmetics. This is NOT a list of substances that were used at one time and then banned. The vast majority of the substances on that list would never, EVER, be considered for use in a cosmetic product. Examples of these include hydrofluoric acid, nicotine, nitrobenzene, picric acid (an explosive), strychnine, the skulls of bovine animals (yes, seriously!). If these examples are not sufficiently convincing, how about Item 1121 – Fuels – Jet Aircraft. Or Item 1206 – creosote!? I have to wonder if these must be amongst the ingredients Estelle claims to be commonly used in the USA, but banned everywhere else! (And what has happened to the 9,629 substances banned in other territories – needed to make up the total to Estelle’s claimed 11,000 banned substances?). The actual descriptor for Annex II of the Cosmetics Directive that lists these substances is “list of substances which must not form part of the composition of cosmetic products”. The term “ban” implies that something was once used. Again, this is taken wholly out of context – possibly for maximum scaremongering effect. If you want to check for yourself, you can read the Directive here: Cosmetics Directive
So, what have the Europeans and Canadians figured out that we have not? For one, their governments don’t rely on a voluntary reporting system to monitor product safety. Incidents — from adverse reactions to longitudinal health surveys — are made public by law. Under decades-old U.S. law, cosmetics companies are not required to publicly submit information on the safety of their products so, surprise, they don’t. And the toothless FDA relies almost solely on the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the industry’s self-policing safety panel, for its product safety data. European regulators do their own safety research and reporting.
This is probably the only reasonably accurate statement throughout the entire article, but it is slightly out of date, as it fails to acknowledge the fact that the composition of the CIR has been changed significantly, with many more independent scientists being included, and the balance is now towards non-industry representatives, who comprise the majority of the panel. As many of the ingredients (the majority) of those used in the EU are also used in the USA, there is unlikely to be a massive difference in the safety of products used in the USA.
While the poets may consider your body a wonderland, the truth is it’s more likely a wasteland of built-up toxins that would earn perpetrators federal jail time if they dumped it into any canal other than the alimentary.
Emotive, unsubstantiated nonsense. An excuse to include a bit of “clever” wordplay. “Wasteland”? Then why are we not all dead? More unmitigated scaremongering.
What we need is a green movement for the human body. Improving consumer protections against “body dumping” must start with the FDA. Fortunately, even with a regulation-averse Congress, much of the FDA’s powers are interpreted internally. There are numerous administrative steps the FDA can take without Congress butting in — if it so motivated by public alarm. You can contact your regional FDA office and make some noise. Several good organizations under the banner of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics — including the Environmental Working Group and Health Care Without Harm — have been banging the drum in Washington, but they need our help to be effective.
What we need is a sense of proportion and a lot less noise from people like Estelle. Health Care Without Harm is surely not relevant to cosmetics. The other organisations – Environmental Working Group and the sadly mis-named Campaign For Safe Cosmetics are just as guilty as Estelle in using scare tactics, little or no science, and gross distortion of facts (and not a few downright untruths). They don’t have the science and they don’t deserve any credibility.
It seems our city sewers have more protections than we do. As a creative alternative, perhaps we could declare ourselves micro-dumps and ask for protections under the EPA. Or we might seek relief from broader protections granted to us under the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA). Hazmat-clad technicians could scan our ditty bags for offending lipstick and hand creams.
This is just silly, and deserves no further comment.
One has to wonder if all this would be different if men wore makeup and a tad more product in their hair.
This is also silly, because the author appears to have no idea that there is a large number of women working on product development in the cosmetics industry. In many companies, women are in a huge majority within the development team. These women often use their own products. Estelle can stop wondering.
This article is comprised of guesswork, disinformation, misinformation, distortion and innuendo (and possibly a few others things besides!). There is barely any element of truth or accuracy in any statement, and Estelle seems to have relied entirely on poor information sources. She is clearly not a scientist and, more importantly, does not understand science. There HAS to be a moral issue when such important and unfounded accusations are made against an entire industry, causing high levels of unnecessary concern amongst consumers. Since when did it make sense to try to kill your customers?!
After reading the original article and writing my rebuttal here, I went back to the original to check a couple of the links provided – those to diazolidinyl urea and to propylene glycol. I had not previously followed these links because I am familiar with both substances. The diazolidinyl urea link is directly to the entry on Skin Deep, arguably not the most credible source of rational information, but I was amazed at what I discovered when I followed the propylene glycol link:
“Industrially, propylene glycol is a type of alcohol and is made by fermenting yeast and carbohydrates together. The propylene glycol properties are that, it is miscible in water and a highly inflammable liquid.”
Rather than re-type my thoughts, I will simply reproduce the comment I have made on that particular web site:
“The only correct statement here is that proplyene glycol is miscible in water. This is not the industrial process used to manufacture this substance – it is petrochemical! It is also a GLYCOL (the clue’s in the name) – maybe similar to an alcohol, but it is NOT a type of alcohol. To claim that proplyene glycol is a highly inflammable liquid demonstrates that the author of this piece is dangerously underqualified to write about science.”
I also took the time to look at several other entries on this site, one area of which purports to offer facts about chemistry and, basically, it reads as though it was written by a 15 year-old, as all the entries I checked were riddled with errors. Needless to say, the use of such poor information sources further undermines the credibility of Estelle’s original article, if it is possible to have even less credibility, that is!