Q. What evidence is there that people are being directly injured
A. In 1990, there were some 38,000 cosmetic related injuries that
required medical treatment in the U.S. That figure does not include
the many people who use cosmetics and suffer from allergies, irritation,
and photosensitization yet accept these uncomfortable complications
as the normal cost of grooming. They never visit their doctor or
a hospital emergency room, and they rarely connect their allergies
or irritated eyes to the cosmetics they use.
Q. Why are humans so vulnerable to chemicals in cosmetics?
A. The skin is extremely permeable. Cosmetic ingredients most
certainly are absorbed through the skin. Some chemicals may penetrate
the skin in significant amounts, especially when left on the skin
for long periods, as in the case of facial makeup. One study showed
that 13 percent of the cosmetic preservative butylate hydroxytoluene
(BHT) and 49 percent of the carcinogenic pesticide DDT (which is
found in some cosmetics containing lanolin) is absorbed through
Q. What can be done to guard against hazardous cosmetics?
A. Choose cosmetics that contain the fewest ingredients; these
are still effective. As the list of a product's ingredients grows,
so does the possibility that it will cause adverse reactions, including
allergy, irritation, and cancer. Handle all cosmetics in a way
that prevents bacterial contamination. Do not leave product containers
uncapped. Do not share them. Do not use your fingers instead of
Cancer Risks from Cosmetic and Personal Care Products
• DIETHANOLAMINE (DEA),
DEA and TEA can result in the formation of carcinogens in products
containing nitrite preservatives. Chemical reactions between
nitrites and DEA/ TEA occur during the manufacturing process
and while products are stored in their containers. This reaction
leads to the formation of nitrosamines. Most nitrosamines, including
those formed from DEA or TEA, are carcinogenic.
• Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
may break down in products into formaldehyde and also cause the
formation of carcinogenic
nitrosamines under certain conditions. One of the most expensive
lines of cosmetics, Chanel, often uses this chemical. So do many
leading brands of baby products. As does the Body Shop, whose product
sales are built on a reputation of containing natural ingredients.
• 1,2-Dioxane in Surfactants/detergents
A wide range of personal care products including shampoos, hair
conditioners, cleansers, lotions, and creams, besides household
products such as soaps and cleaning products, contain surfactants
or detergents such as ethoxylated alcohols, polysorbates, and
laureths. These ingredients are generally contaminated with high
concentrations of the highly volatile 1,4 – dioxane, which
is both readily inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The carcinogenicity
of dioxane in rodents was first reported in 1965 and subsequently
confirmed in other studies including by the US National Cancer Institute
in 1978; the predominant sites of cancer were nasal passages
in rats and liver in mice. Epidemiological studies on dioxane-exposed
furniture makers have reported suggestive evidence of excess
nasal passage cancers. On the basis of such evidence, the US Consumer
Product Safety Commission concluded that "the presence of
1,4 – dioxane, even as a trace contaminant, is a cause
of concern." These avoidable risks of cancer in numerous
personal care, besides other consumer, products is inexcusable,
particularly as the dioxane is readily removed from surfactants
during their manufacture by a process known as "vacuum stripping."
• Artificial Colours
Some artificial colours, such as Blue 1 and Green 3, are carcinogenic.
Impurities found in commercial batches of other cosmetic colours
such as D&C Red 33, FD&C Yellow 5, and FD&C yellow
6 have been shown to cause cancer not only when ingested, but also
when applied to the skin. Some artificial coal tar colours contain
heavy metal impurities, including arsenic and lead, which are carcinogenic.
• Hair Dyes
The use of permanent or semi permanent hair colour products, particularly
black and dark brown colours, is associated with increased incidence
of human cancer including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma,
and Hodgkin's disease. There are several natural hair-colouring
products which are relatively effective and safe.
Lanolin itself is perfectly safe. But cosmetic-grade lanolin can
be contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin,
and lindane, in addition to other neurotoxic pesticides.
Cosmetic talc is carcinogenic. Inhaling talc and using it in the
genital area, where its use is associated with increased risk
of ovarian cancer, are the primary ways this substance poses
a carcinogenic hazard.
Some silica used in cosmetics, especially amorphous hydrated silica,
may be contaminated with small amounts of crystalline quartz.
Crystalline silica is carcinogenic.
Reference: Steinman, David and Epstein,
Safe Shopper's Bible, MacMillan: New