We try to keep this website focused primarily on education. Specifically, educating cosmetic chemists, formulators, cosmetic marketers and anyone else interested in working in the cosmetic industry. So, I have to admit upfront that this post is more ranting than it is educating. However, this is an issue that should be important to everyone who works in the cosmetic industry. The issue is Chemical Fearmongering and the websites that propagate it.
What prompted me to write this was an article I saw published by the folks over at SpecialChem4Cosmetics.com. I often recommend them as a good resource for cosmetic chemists and I am particularly impressed with their INCI Directory. I will continue to recommend them as a resource but the latest article they published titled The Ugly Truth About Beauty Products: What’s in Your Cosmetics Could be Killing You is downright ridiculous. While I can overlook the fact that it was written by a personal injury lawyer (why isn’t there some requirement that scientists write about scientific questions?), I cannot over look the distortion of facts, the shoddy research, the terrible advice and the biased chemical fearmongering running throughout the piece. It is an outrage that a resource like SpecialChem4Cosmetics would think for a minute that this article would be worth running. To an audience of Chemists!!? What were they thinking?
Let’s review some of the glaring mistakes in the article.
The first mistaken claim is “…nearly every cosmetic product that’s part of our normal morning routine is hiding numerous health risks, from rashes to fatal illnesses.”
This is wrong. Cosmetics do not represent a significant health risk. While some people may develop rashes to some of the chemicals in cosmetics (almost always from a natural ingredient) most people do not. And certainly there is no proof to support the notion that cosmetics will cause a fatal illness. That is just nonsense!
Another thing that is wrong which the people who run SpecialChem4Cosmetics should know is the statement that “…the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act does not authorize the FDA to approve cosmetic ingredients, and manufacturers may use essentially any ingredient they choose.” The FDA is authorized, and does, approve all the colorants used in cosmetics. Manufacturers are not allowed to simply put any ingredient in the formula if they are using it to color their product. The statement is demonstrably false.
The implication that manufacturers are frivolously putting consumers at risk with the chemicals they put in cosmetics is also wrong. It is against the law for anyone to sell products that are unsafe.
Here is where the author misses a golden opportunity to point out the real lack of regulation in an area that is much more dangerous than cosmetics, food supplements. He starts with the suggestion that
“…apparently what we put on our bodies on a daily basis isn’t as important as what we put in our bodies. Cosmetics are not as strictly regulated as drugs or foods.”
While I would agree that cosmetics are less regulated than drugs, I wouldn’t agree about food. And certainly the fact that food supplements (which are ingested) are essentially unregulated demonstrates that whether something goes in our bodies or stays outside is not indicative of importance when it comes to regulations. Cosmetics are much more highly regulated than food supplements.
The information in this article about lead in lipstick is so misinformed it’s hard to know where to start.
“Red lips are supposed to be sexy, not deadly.”
Who has ever died from using lipstick? That is complete and utter nonsense. This kind of distorted fearmongering is right out of the playbook of the Environmental Working Group.
The article says that the follow-up study of lead in lipstick done by the FDA showed lipsticks had far higher rates than previous surveys. This is wrong! If the author bothered to look up the studies he would have found that in the original study done by the FDA the average lipstick lead level was 1.07 ppm while the later study found the average level was 1.11 ppm. Hardly “far higher rates”.
Does anyone fact-check articles any more?
For a more rational review of the issue (or non-issue) of lead in lipstick, you should read this article which concludes that No, lead in lipstick is not a problem.
Here again the article ignores what the science is saying and defaults to fearmongering tactics typical of people who don’t understand science, chemicals, or risk. The claim that “…all signs point toward (phthalates being) hazardous.” is just mistaken. In fact, the FDA has a very nice write-up on the research that has been done on the subject of phthalates specifically as they relate to cosmetics. They say…
An expert panel convened from 1998 to 2000 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalate esters were minimal to negligible in most cases.
In 2002, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reaffirmed its original conclusion (reached in 1985) that DBP, DMP, and DEP are safe as used in cosmetic products.
While the CDC report noted elevated levels of phthalates excreted by women of child-bearing age, neither it nor the other data reviewed by FDA established an association between the use of phthalates in cosmetic products and a health risk. As a result, FDA determined that there was insufficient evidence upon which to take regulatory action.
The bottom line is that phthalates have not been shown to be a health risk according to the best experts in the subject. Should we listen to professional, independent toxicologists or personal injury lawyers?
There was one other point that the article raises and that is that labeling laws make it difficult for families to know what’s in their cosmetics. I would agree with the author here but he clearly hasn’t thought it all the way through. It is not just fragrances that contain “hidden” ingredients in cosmetics. It is nearly every ingredient on the label that contains more than it actually says. Surfactants are never just single molecules. They contain a wide range of hydrocarbon chains and technically all should be listed. And what about any kind of natural ingredient. There are literally hundreds of chemicals in a natural extract that aren’t labeled. See this article I did about the folly of asking for more information on cosmetic labels. The position of this article is naí¯ve.
The treatment of parabens in this article demonstrates a true lack of interest in doing any real research on the subject beyond regurgitating what groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics say. Had the author taken any time or interest in the subject, he would’ve noted the fact that the independent EU commission on consumer products reviewed all of the published research (including the debunked bit of research cited in the article) and concluded that parabens in cosmetics are safe as used. For the curious reader, I recommend you look at this series on parabens in cosmetics.
Sigh. More misinformation. This post is already too long so I encourage you to go read this article about formaldehyde in cosmetics.
I would also like to point out that the article throws in another standard canard about “…chemicals from multiple sources combine they can form a poisonous soup…” There is no evidence of this! Ugh.
While the misinformation and misunderstanding of the safety of certain chemicals is regrettable and not worthy of publication by SpecialChem4Cosmetics, the worst part of the article is the ending where the author gives recommendations on the types of products to buy. The advice…choose safer alternatives.
What are those safer alternatives? According to the author, they are “…products with fewer, more natural ingredients.”
I can’t state this strongly enough. NATUAL INGREDIENTS ARE NOT INHERENTLY MORE SAFE! In fact, if you look at the list of the most common allergens for most humans they are naturally occurring ingredients.
And then the advice that you should use DIY cosmetics?? Are you serious?
Does the author have any idea of the dangers of microbial contamination of products? Of the “toxic” ingredients found in naturally occurring plants?
How did this nonsensical advice get published in a legitimate science-based website like SpecialChem4Cosmetics?
Total and complete FAIL.
I still find the website useful, but articles like this make me lose faith. And I’m not sure how their advertisers (who make the very chemicals this article is bashing) would feel about being accused of creating dangerous cosmetics. I do hope they exercise better editorial control in the future.