Blog: Chronic Experts
by InvisiGyrl

Do You Know What's In It? Cosmetics

WASHINGTON — Imagine your surprise should you reach for a familiar tube of lipstick or face cream at the drugstore and find this disturbing label:

“Warning — The safety of this product has not been determined.”

What if it's also on your shaving cream, and your hand soap, mascara, shampoo and conditioner?

Date:   3/9/2005 6:12:33 PM   ( 18 y ) ... viewed 2714 times

Do you know what's in it?
Many cosmetics not tested for safety; researchers ask why
By: David Goldstein
The Kansas City Star
March 9, 2005

WASHINGTON — Imagine your surprise should you reach for a familiar tube of lipstick or face cream at the drugstore and find this disturbing label:

“Warning — The safety of this product has not been determined.”

What if it's also on your shaving cream, and your hand soap, mascara, shampoo and conditioner?

Well, be prepared. Many of the cosmetics and personal care products could be wearing such a warning — required by the Food and Drug Administration — because the safety of many of their ingredients is not known.

Some of those ingredients, such as methylpentan-2-one found in nail polish, have undergone no testing at all. Others, like triethanolamine in exfoliants, are chemicals that researchers worry could be cancer-causing.

A study last year by the Environmental Working Group, a private nonprofit research center, found that cosmetic makers had verified the safety of just 28 out of 7,500 common cosmetics and toiletries.

“So we're talking about over 99 percent that have never been tested,” said Lauren Sucher, the group's spokeswoman. “They're not just products that a small percentage of the population uses. People use them every day.”

Sucher emphasized that the group is not saying the untested ingredients should necessarily be considered dangerous, just that the FDA should monitor them more closely.

Last month, the FDA sent a letter to cosmetics makers telling them they may have to add the warning. Federal law requires that cosmetic products with unassessed ingredients contain a label telling consumers that “the safety of this product has not been determined.”

The FDA declined to comment because a spokeswoman said it was still reviewing a petition by the Environmental Working Group asking for either recalls or warning labels on most personal care products.

The spokeswoman said the letter was not triggered by the petition, but by new agency priorities. The agency has been criticized recently for failing to adequately oversee many drugs, such as the Vioxx pain remedy.

Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental and occupation health at the Chicago School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, called the FDA's letter “the first glimmer of responsibility in several decades.”

Unlike its oversight of the food and drug industries, the FDA does not assess the safety of cosmetics before they hit the market. The industry does its own evaluations through an independent panel of experts that it appoints with the support of the FDA and the Consumer Federation of America.

Since 1976, the panel, known as the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, has found 694 ingredients to be safe and nine to be unsafe. In a statement this week, the Environmental Working Group said that out of 10,500 cosmetic ingredients recorded by the FDA, the panel has reviewed only 11 percent.

Meanwhile, “the 89 percent of ingredients that remain unassessed are used in more than 99 percent of all products on the market,” the group said.

Two members of the seven-member independent panel of experts that assess ingredients are from the University of Kansas Medical Center, but neither was available to comment.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the industry trade group that created the panel, issued a statement supporting the FDA's steps toward tighter safety guidelines.

“Even an industry with an exemplary safety record such as ours functions best with a tough cop on the beat and we welcome FDA's action,” said Ed Kavanaugh, the association president.

The use of cosmetics dates back at least to ancient Egypt, when people used eye makeup and scented themselves with unguents. Now it's a $35 billion industry in this country, so the stakes for keeping consumers happy are high.

Concern over the use of possibly dangerous chemicals in personal care products “marks a trend of increased regulatory and consumer interest,” said Heather Langsner, a senior chemical analyst with Innovest, a New York-based investment research firm. “Many companies are already conducting voluntary phase-outs of certain chemicals. They see the writing on the wall.”

Some of the products that could be in line for FDA warnings, based on the Environmental Working Group's study, include:

• Mascara, which can contain ingredients that could be linked to cancer and that could also raise the risk of other toxic exposures. The ingredients also pose allergy problems.

• Liquid hand soaps, which can contain ingredients that could raise the risk of breast and skin cancer.

• Hair dyes, which can contain ingredients, such as coal tar, which has been linked to bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

• Mousse, which can contain impurities linked to cancer. All of the mousse products studied — like so many other products — contained ingredients that the industry never assessed for safety.

With little data on the effect of long-term, low-dose exposure to the kinds of chemicals in cosmetics, Sucher of the Environmental Working Group said the point of the study was not to panic consumers.

“The bottom line is people don't know what the health effects are of the many chemicals we're putting on our bodies every day,” she said. “But consumers do have the right to know who's looking to see whether they're safe.”


71 percent of 123 polishes contain ingredients known, suspected or possibly linked to birth defects.


A study called “Skin Deep” by the nonpartisan watchdog Environmental Working Group found that 28 percent of 711 lipsticks contain ingredients that researchers say could be linked to cancer. The FDA is considering a warning on some personal care products.


100 percent of 413 shampoos contain ingredients that have not been studied by the industry, such as coal tar, ethanol, silica and zinc chloride.


51 percent of 167 shaving products contain penetration enhancers, such as glyceryl lanolate, myristoyl sacrosine, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate and propylene glycol. A penetration enhancer helps ingredients soak into skin, which could increase exposure to possible carcinogens or other chemicals of concern.

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