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article imageInside the toxins found in health and beauty products

By Cynthia Trowbridge     May 22, 2008 in Health
Is it enough to be health conscious about what you eat? What about your health and beauty products? There are some dangerous toxins in many of the daily products that we use. Some can affect a fetus if you are pregnant.
Many read the labels on food that is purchased in the grocery store and try to avoid processed foods with ingredients that you can't pronounce let alone know what they are.
Ah, but what is in your makeup, other beauty products and even your toothpaste, deodorant and soap or even baby shampoo. A panel was held at Yale last week on the safety of cosmetics and personal care products by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Connecticut. Stacy Malkan a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said that even Johnson's baby shampoo contains a known carcinogen.
Other speakers were Paul Anastas, the father of green chemistry; Gary Ginsberg, a toxicologist; and Dawn-Cloud Alter who owns a natural beauty products line and is a herbalist.
Ginsberg, a teacher at Yale and the UConn Medical Center, described what the effects of
phthalates are. Phthalates are a variety of plasticizers that are used in products like hairspray and fragrance that make them cling to the body.
A phrase that was used was "malformation of the penis."
According to Ginsberg men that were exposed to the chemicals as fetuses are more likely to have a smaller penis, lower sperm count and shortened anogenital distance.
Ginsberg said, "What we tell pregnant women is, 'Don't use cosmetics. Don't use personal care products. Although some companies, like Whole Foods, do want to get phthalates out of their products, "it is not simple."
What troubled the panelists was that the cancer-causing and penis-mangling ingredients are not illegal in the United States. The federal Food and Drug Administration does have some oversight over the cosmetics and toiletries industry. The FDA does not check how safe the products are or they don't have the authority to keep them from being sold. Their are only about seven ingredients that are banned one of which is chloroform.
According to Ginsberg, "The FDA is not picking up the lead here." There was a law that was passed in 2004 by the European Union that banned more than 10,000 chemicals. Part of what the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' want is for companies to sign a pledge stating that they will comply with the EU's stringent rules.
Close to 800 companies have signed the pledge but the largest ones such as L'Oreal, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Revlon and Avon have not. Although L'Oreal claims its products comply with EU laws no matter where they are sold.
The FDA and the makeup and toiletries industries claim that chemicals such as 1,4-dioxin are only harmful at large doses. These toxins are found in products such as baby wash. But according to studies they show that these substances might cause damage even in small doses, if someone is exposed to them over a long period of time or at a sensitive stage of their development.
It is even more troubling, because the American Cancer Society says about one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime.
Anastas who is the director of Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, sees some hope. As a chemist he does understand how chemicals get into the body and what they do when they get there. He noted that everyone in the room could have up to 200 chemicals that are accumulating in their bodies. He believes that the same technology that poisons us could save us.
He says, "Every day 4,000 new chemicals are invented or discovered. There is plenty of room for innovation...Change is not only possible, it's inevitable."
He believes that as chemistry advances, scientists are learning how to design substances to be nontoxic from the start.
Anastas says. "I'm a strategic optimist. I don't believe everything will just be OK. I believe everything can be OK" if we keep working. "For so long the myth has been, we can't have products of modern life without these toxic chemicals."
He says it is changing as more companies are feeling the pressure to make safe products.
Alter who is the herbalist, told those in the audience just to be careful when they shop. She said that even toothpaste has a warning if someone swallows too much to call Poison Control right away. That, she says, isn't right.
The chemicals can be avoided but you have to spend some time checking different products out. The Environmental Working Group's cosmetics safety database is online and searchable by product, company and ingredient at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. You can view which companies have signed the campaign's pledge at its website, www.safecosmetics.org.
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