Phthalates In Cosmetics Are Suspect

Phthalates In Cosmetics Are Suspect


by Warns Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.

CHICAGO, July 11 /PRNewswire/ — The following was released by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and Professor emeritus, Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago:

The Environmental Working Group, Coming Clean, and Health Care Without Harm groups are to be warmly commended for their stellar July 10 report on unlabelled phthalate ingredients in common cosmetics and personal care (CPC) products.

In October 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal scientists reported on the identification of phthalates in the urine of adults, with highest levels in premenopausal women. The FDA responded that it would “consider” this information. This response was and remains reckless, in view of well-documented evidence since 1985 that phthalates induce birth defects, low sperm counts, and other reproductive toxicity in experimental animals.

A critical 1990 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, charging that the FDA committed no resources for assessing CPC products safety, had no impact on the agency’s reckless policies. The agency’s sole requirement is restricted to ingredient labeling of products, except fragrances and perfumes.

However, with rare exceptions such as children’s bubble baths, the FDA has never required the industry to label its products with any warning of well- documented risks, particularly reproductive and cancer; nor has the FDA banned the sale of unsafe products to an unsuspecting public, although so explicitly authorized by the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Examples of carcinogenic products and ingredients include:

— Black and dark brown permanent hair dyes contain “coal tar” dye ingredients recognized as carcinogens in experimental animals. This evidence is supported by studies establishing that regular use of these dyes poses major risks of relatively rare cancers-non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and multiple myeloma.

— Cosmetic grade talc is carcinogenic in experimental animals. Also, frequent genital dusting with talc, routinely practiced by some 17% of premenopausal women, increases risks of ovarian cancer.

— A group of widely used preservatives, such as quaternium 15 and bronopol, commonly used in baby products, though not carcinogenic themselves, break down to release formaldehyde, a potent irritant and carcinogen.

— Lanolin, widely used on babies’ skin and nipples of nursing mothers, is commonly contaminated with DDT and other carcinogenic pesticides. n Commonly used detergents and foaming agents, such as polysorbates and PEG, are usually contaminated with the volatile carcinogens dioxane and ethylene oxide, although they could readily be removed by vacuum stripping during manufacture.

— DEA, another widely used detergent, has been known since 1975 to combine with nitrite preservatives or contaminants in CPC products to form a highly carcinogenic nitrosamine. Furthermore, in 1997, DEA itself was shown to be carcinogenic following application to mouse skin.

Citizen petitions to the FDA by the Cancer Prevention Coalition in 1994 and 1996 detailing evidence on the cancer risks of talc and of DEA-containing products, respectively, and “Seeking Carcinogenic Labeling” on these products, met with no substantive response.

Concerns on cancer risks from CPC products are emphasized by: the unrecognized presence of over 50 carcinogenic ingredients in these products; lifelong use of multiple products by the majority of the U.S. population; the ready skin absorption of many carcinogenic ingredients, further increased by detergents, especially when left on the skin for prolonged periods; and by decades-long suppression of information by FDA and the industry in denial of consumers’ democratic right-to-know.

Mainstream industry products thus pose significant public health risks, particularly reproductive and cancer. The role of these avoidable exposures in the escalating incidence of cancer, now striking nearly one in two men and over one in three women in their lifetimes, remains largely unrecognized by our apparently health conscious society. Armed with such information, consumers should protect themselves by shopping for safe alternative products available from the growing non-mainstream industry. Finally, Congress should belatedly and aggressively ensure that the FDA obeys the law.

NOTE: Information on carcinogenic and toxic CPC products and on safe alternatives is detailed in: the Cancer Prevention Coalition’s website ; Epstein, S.S., THE POLITICS OF CANCER, Revisited (Appendix 14), 1998, East Ridge Press, Hankins, NY; and Steinman & Epstein, The Safe Shoppers’ Bible, 1995, Macmillan/Hungry Minds, Inc., New York.

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