Did Make-Up Give My Wife Breast Cancer? The Ugly Truth Hidden by the Cosmetics Industry
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No doubt many women who are feeling awful about the loss of their hair, breasts, and dignity are grateful for these gifts from the cosmetics industry. But Kathleen, even though the chemotherapy by this point had caused her hair to fall out and turned her skin ghostly white, was not one of them. Upon reviewing the contents of her LGFB bag, she realized that several of the products in it contained parabens—chemicals that mimic estrogen and that according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are linked to cancer. You can image how that made her feel.
For a while, fighting the cancer was all we could do. After her mastectomy, Kathleen’s chemo treatments proved so debilitating that she ended up in the emergency room and in isolation wards twice in December of 2009. The drugs in her body were robbing her of hemoglobin and she became dangerously anemic, a common side effects of blasting the entire bloodstream with
Kathleen could barely walk. Her immune system was also in shambles and needed frontline antibiotics. We had to get rid of our houseplants for fear of infection. Meanwhile, I was trying to hold body and soul together even as I lost my main source of income as a contract columnist for Bloomberg News.
Once Kathleen began to recover from the trauma of the chemo I decided, however, to throw myself into answering a basic question: How is it, I wanted to know, that the FDA, which was created by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, leaves the regulation of cosmetics largely up to the cosmetics industry?
Start with a fact that is hardly a secret yet still little known by the public: the FDA does not have the authority to test cosmetics ingredients before they go on the market. This is explained right on its Web site: “FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.”
Instead, as the FDA’s site goes on to explain, “Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing.” In other words, the industry is largely responsible for regulating itself. How good a job do they do?
There exists an obscure entity called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. According to the industry, the CIR is responsible for ensuring the safety of cosmetic products. On its board sit nine voting members. The voting members are all academics, and, according to the CIR, they must meet the same conflict-of-interest requirements as individuals serving on FDA advisory committees. However, there is no independent way to verify what conflicts of interest might actually exist. As a private organization, the CIR is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, as I found out when I tried to make a FOIA request. Nor will the CIR publicly disclose its budget.
“Since we are not a part of FDA, there is no obligation to provide information under FOIA,” Dr. F. Alan Andersen, the CIR’s director, explained in an email, adding, “The annual budget is not a matter of public record, so that information is not available.” According to a search of the Internal Revenue System’s database of tax-exempt organizations, the CIR has not filed a Form 990, which would contain at least its budget. It is accordingly not known whether the cosmetics industry pays the “experts” on the CIR, much less how much.
The CIR does admit that its overall funding comes from the industry’s main trade association, the Personal Care Products Council. The PCPC has filed Form 990, and it shows that in 2011, the organization paid Dr. Andersen, the CIR executive director, a total of $372,151 in wages and other compensation, including a performance bonus of $55,675. And the form shows that PCPC paid a total of $292,257 in employee compensation and contracting fees to a Mr. John Bailey, “a key employee who retired from the Council during 2011 because of his former employment with the FDA.” (John Bailey’s wife also received $49,930 for her part-time work with the council.) There is no breakdown, however, of what the PCPC may have paid the CIR’s expert panel.