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The True Story of Cosmetics

Issue Analysis

Title

The True Story of Cosmetics

Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign

Full Document Available in PDF

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and its partner, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), are on a crusade to scare consumers away from using cosmetics and hygiene products that contain preservatives and other useful chemicals. As part of their effort to ban the use of synthetic ingredients from skin products, these environmental extremist groups are working to incite fear among consumers, making outrageous and bogus claims that we are poisoning ourselves by using lipstick, makeup, deodorants, skin creams, and even baby products. Specifically, they claim that the additives can cause cancer, create neurological disorders, or cause hormone disruption—even though they are present in trace amounts.

In fact, these preservatives protect users from bacteria. Present in quantities so small—typically, less than 1 percent of a product’s total weight—they are added to prevent contamination and to protect consumers from the buildup of dangerous bacteria that can cause eye infections, skin rashes, and even deadly infections such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Parabens, for example, are added to makeup, deodorants, moisturizers, and body creams to prevent bacteria, fungi, and mold. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens are linked to breast cancer and can cause hormone dysfunction. Yet scientists have refuted the claims, arguing that concentrations of parabens in cosmetics are too small to have an adverse effect, and are at levels in our body thousands to millions of times lower than naturally produced estrogens.

Another example is the chemical oxybenzone, used in sunscreens to protect users from the ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer. The Environmental Working Group warns consumers to stay away from oxybenzone because it “contaminates the body” and can cause hormone disruption and cell damage. Yet cancer research organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation refute EWG’s assertions, arguing that there is no evidence to back the claims of oxybenzone risks. These cancer foundations worry that such fear mongering will scare consumers away from using sun block products that protect consumers from the risks of skin cancer from the sun’s rays.

In spite of the lack of scientific evidence of health risks from these ingredients, the anti-chemical groups have been successful in creating a climate of fear among many consumers—and lawmakers. The legislation they are promoting, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, would ban any cosmetic and skin care ingredients that exceed a one in a million risk of an adverse health impact—which is to say it would ban most ingredients since almost everything carries risk greater than one in a million. While the risks from products not containing these additives would be much higher, those risks would not be considered. In effect, the bill would ban the very chemicals that  protect consumers.

In reviewing the claims of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, as well as the scientific literature on the use of these chemical additives, this report finds that these fringe groups are pushing their own anti-chemical agenda at the expense of human health. It shows that consumers are at far greater risk by avoiding these essential ingredients, as backed by sound and peer-reviewed science.