The Oregon Environmental Council and the regional government for the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area recently released a survey of young women regarding their personal care product use, entitled What's in My Makeup Bag? This report suggests that the young women are uninformed about the chemical risks posed by their makeup. But rather than offer women and the public-at-large sound and balanced information about cosmetics and health, the survey authors push misinformation and junk science.
CEI has already debunked most of their points in various publications, with particular detail to the cosmetics industry in our recent paper on cosmetics: The True Story of Cosmetics: Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign. Our report includes information on chemicals that greens never mention. For example, greens never point out how the chemicals they want to eliminate are necessary to prevent the development of dangerous bacteria or other pathogens in consumer products. You can learn more about that in The True Story of Cosmetics.
Take a look at the key chemical "villains" in the What's in My Makeup Bag? report, and you will see how misguided the activist claims really are:
Claim about Parabens: "They [parabens] can mimic the hormone estrogen, and in animal studies, they have been linked to cancer and shown to interfere with reproduction at high doses."
Reality Check: So what? Rodents get cancer from lots of things when administered high doses -- including carrots, broccoli, and lots of other healthy foods. Rodent studies are of limited value because human metabolic processes differ from that of rodents, and our exposures to parabens are thousands of times lower. Check the chapter, "The True Causes of Cancer," in our The Environmental Source, and see why you need not fear trace chemicals. As for mimicking hormones, consider the fact that the potency of these chemicals is too low to have any impacts. The CEI study, Nature's Hormone Factory, demonstrates that we have more to fear from eating peas, which contain far more potent "endocrine mimicking" chemicals -- complements of Mother Nature. Of note parabens are chemicals used to ward off the development of dangerous bacteria. For more information on parabens see: The True Story of Cosmetics.
Claim about Fragrances: "We know that fragrances may contain allergens, sensitizers, neurotoxins and ingredients that interfere with hormones."
Reality Check: Frankly Scarlett, some people are also allergic or sensitive to flowers or peanuts. That does not mean the rest of us should not experience the joy of a lovely aroma! The simple fact is, everything is life is made of chemicals -- some smell good, some don't. What is wrong with taking the nicer scents from Mother Nature's inventory and incorporating them into our consumer products? Nothing. There isn't any compelling evidence that such scents at the low doses found in consumer products have serious adverse human impacts. In addition, the fragrance industry employs a host of privately funded scientific review panels to ensure a high level of product safety, which is detailed in a CEI paper on green chemistry scheduled for release later this week. After all, the goal of business is to gain repeat customers -- not to poison them! Watch our website for details about the green chemistry paper. And again, trace exposures to fragrances or other chemicals are unlikely to have any hormonal effects on humans because both the doses and potency are too low. See Nature's Hormone Factory.
Claim about Phthalates: "In animal and human studies, phthalates have been linked with a whole host of health concerns, including birth defects, asthma, early puberty and low sperm counts."
Reality Check: Greens have been after phthalates for decades despite scant evidence of any problems from use in consumer products, and amidst considerable evidence that these products include many important public health and other benefits. CEI debunked such claims a decade ago, but greens won't let the issue go despite the paucity of evidence that these chemicals pose any health problems. More recently, a study on PVC safety conducted by the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Directorate-General concluded: “So far, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that DEHP [a category of phthalates] exposure via medical treatments has harmful effects in humans.” Again, see Nature's Hormone Factory.
Claim about Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is "is known as a probable human carcinogen. It can also cause skin and lung irritation."
Reality Check: A problem with many governmental cancer classifications is they don't mean very much. They don't bother to consider actual risk levels to humans based on exposure and dose. Formaldehyde is a concern for workers exposed to high levels of the substance over long periods of time -- exposure that can be managed by proper worker protection practices to bring risks close to zero. But most humans are exposed only to trace levels every day in our food (mushrooms and many food naturally contain formaldehyde) and air (cooking and consumer products release trace amounts). There is no evidence that these trace exposures have any serious adverse public health impacts. Instead, formaldehyde has health benefits in cosmetics where it acts as a preservative, preventing adverse reactions related to spoilage. See the case study in the appendix of The True Story of Cosmetics.
Claim about BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): "The U.S. National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has classified BHA as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen' based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals."
Reality Check: Again, if that's a problem, we also need to stop eating carrots, apples, and more foods because they have the same effect. There are some serious problems associated with the murky science at the National Toxicology program. CEI will be releasing a study in a couple weeks documenting these issues. In the meantime, there's no need to panic. BHA is a preservative used to ensure products don't pose health problems related to spoilage.
Claim about Oxybenzone: What's in My Makeup Bag? says that this chemical "is a potential hormone-disrupting chemical linked with endocrine disruption, cell damage and low birth weight when used by pregnant women."
Reality Check: Again, if you believe that, don't ever eat soy or other legumes, which are thousands of times more potent "endocrine mimickers," as detailed in Nature's Hormone Factory. The sad reality is, if people follow the advice of the greens on this one, some could die from skin cancer. Oxybenzone is a key ingredient in sunscreens. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, claims about oxybenzone are not only wrong, they could be dangerous if fewer consumers use sunscreen as a result. See more details in The True Story of Cosmetics. Also, see my blog post on green hype related to sunscreen.
Image credit: stevendepolo on Flickr.