The study is part of an effort by EWG to provide comprehensive safety information on industrial chemicals in cosmetics.
It identified a total of 200 chemicals from personal care products alone. Many are known toxins.
The chemical body burden
A scientific technique known as bio-monitoring, in which scientists track the levels of synthetic chemicals in people, continues to provide details on what has become known as the chemical body burden. Varying studies reveal that everyone is contaminated with hundreds of man-made pollutants — discovered in blood, urine, breast milk, and body tissue.
Brooke Truax, manager of the Bella Vita Salon and Day Spa in downtown Salem at Liberty Plaza, is particularly concerned about petroleum-derived ingredients. She specifically recommended avoiding any products with petrolatum or mineral oil.
The federal government has not established acceptable levels for most of these toxic chemicals in humans. What happens when these compounds interact with the human body remains largely unresolved.
“We all want to look and feel good,” Michael Hankins, owner with his wife Libbie of Above and Beyond Salon Spa, said. “Unfortunately many people just don’t pay attention to what they use.” He, too, wonders about the dangers of mainstream cosmetics.
The big picture
According to Hankins, over 90 percent of all beauty and cosmetic ingredients are derived from petrochemicals and other synthetics.
“The manufacturing and processing of these compounds is not only bad for people, but it creates an unsustainable business considering we have hit peak oil production,” he said.
Websites for beauty product alternatives
Above and Beyond Salon / Spa
All Natural Cosmetics
Although a series of reports on human exposure to environmental chemicals by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has catalogued hundreds of toxic compounds in nearly every one of the adults and children it has tested, little significant progress has been made in protecting the public from dangerous industrial chemicals in everyday products.
For example, lead in lipstick is an ongoing problem. As a neurotoxin, lead can cause severe health problems affecting learning, language and behavior. According to product tests released in October by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, popular brands of lipstick contain extremely high levels of lead.
One-third of the lipsticks exceeded the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lead limit for candy, which helps protect children from ingesting lead directly. Lipstick is also often ingested accidentally, but the FDA has not set lead standards for cosmetic products such as lipstick.
Gonna wash that poison right outta your hair
One chemical known as 1,4 dioxane is prevalent in baby shampoo. It is not added but is sometimes an unintended byproduct of the manufacturing process. Because it is not added directly, the FDA does not require listing it on product labels.
Product tests released last January found the chemical in more than a dozen popular brands of baby shampoo and bubble bath, including Sesame Street character-brands. The Environmental Protection Agency lists 1,4 dioxane as a probable human carcinogen.
Another common find in shampoo is hormone-disrupting compounds known as parabens, which mimic estrogen. Two studies linked their use in deodorants and antiperspirants to breast cancer.
A relatively new class of chemicals called phthalates has widespread uses and is common in beauty products, such as making nail polish chip-resistant. Both Truax and Hankins said such synthetics should be avoided.
Although linked to birth defects, infertility and breast cancer, they still are common in fragrances. Tests conducted in 2002 found phthalates in more than 70 percent of the products tested, including top-brand shampoos, deodorants, hair sprays and perfumes.
None of the product labels listed phthalates because companies are allowed to keep the ingredients of fragrances secret. Phthalates have been banned in Europe and some American companies have stopped using them voluntarily.
Previous thinking by researchers about phthalates was that they moved through the body so quickly that they did not cause any problems. But studies within the past few years have shown that women of childbearing age have high levels.
Mad cow lipstick?
Animal byproducts like tallow, a processed fat made from cattle, are regularly used in cosmetics and sometimes soap. FDA officials have said that the high heat and pressure used to make it should minimize any risk of it containing contagions such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.
With the disease being discovered in a Holstein cow at a Washington farm in 2004, the FDA banned the use of some cattle parts and byproducts in cosmetics, although the use of tallow was still allowed provided it had less than 0.15 percent impurities.
Insects are another source for making cosmetics. A red coloring agent known as carmine is extracted from the female bodies of an insect called Dactylopius coccus Costa. Carmine, sometimes listed as E120 on labels, can be found in lipstick, makeup base, eye shadow, eyeliners, nail polishes and baby products.
Because of 35 severe allergic reactions, the FDA proposed a rule in 2006 requiring clear labeling of the ingredient. Prior to the rule change, the presence of carmine could be noted simply as “color added” on a product label.
Concern has now turned to another avenue of potential problems: nanotechnology. Minuscule particles in cosmetics, usually designed by engineers, may pose health risks, according to an independent report commissioned by Congress. A similar British study strongly warned that manufactured nanoparticles — tens of thousands of which can fit on the tip of a needle — are unpredictable and sometimes surprisingly toxic. More than 300 consumer products already contain nanoscale components including many cosmetics, with little or no research to document their safety.
What to do, what to DO?
Fortunately safer products and resources for consumers are becoming increasingly accessible and popular. The EWG’s Skin Deep database offers comparisons of 25,000 products, matching ingredients with the latest research from government and academic institutions.
“There seems to be a surge in popularity of green products right now,” Truax said.
A variety of beauty product lines made from plant-based ingredients are available from Annemarie Borlind, Aubrey Organics, Aura Cacia, Burt’s Bees, Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Pangea Organics and Weleda and many others.
Make it yourself Beet Red Lip Gloss
What you need:
1/4 cup beeswax
1/4 cup castor oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
beet juice What to do: 1. Melt beeswax, remove from heat and add oils
2. Add as much beet juice as desired for color. Store in jar.
One company, Aveda, offers an expansive product line with natural, organic components and Aveda Salons dot the globe. Two salons in Salem — Bella Vita and Above and Beyond — offer botanical options, using the Aveda line.
Beet Red Lip Gloss
What you need:
1/4 cup beeswax
1/4 cup castor oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
What to do:
1. Melt beeswax, remove from heat and add oils
2. Add as much beet juice as desired for color.
Store in jar.
“Our business is currently experiencing an annual growth rate of 30 percent, which is typical of most Aveda Salons,” Hankins said. “This year of the top 500 salons in America, 45 percent are Aveda Salons.”
Prices for these “green” products are competitive, according to Hankins and Truax.
“Aveda’s pricing is very competitive and typically much less than a majority of department store prices,” Hankins said.
Some people are hosting “Healthy Cosmetics Parties” where individuals make their own cosmetics. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a multitude of resources on its website, including recipes for homemade items such as lip balm.
“As a consumer these are choices we make for ourselves and future generations. Common sense is the issue here. The benefits range from local to global and the magnitude of the implications are wide and impact everything concerning long-term existence on earth,” Hankins argued.
Follow the latest developments:
Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Environmental Health News
Toxic Beauty Blog
The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) Toxicant and Disease Database
Center for Disease Control and Prevention Exposure Report
Cosmetics and Your Health