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Did Make-Up Give My Wife Breast Cancer? The Ugly Truth Hidden by the Cosmetics Industry

The virtually unregulated beauty industry puts potential carcinogens in their products. Then they shower us with pink ribbons.

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The two organizations both list their mailing address as 1101 17th Street in Northwest Washington, D.C., though one is in Suite 300 and the other in Suite 412. In Suite 412, the CIR goes about its business, which does not include conducting any clinical studies or trials. “The panel does not conduct its own research,” spokesperson Lisa Powers explained in an email, “but carefully examines all of the currently available scientific data.”

The CIR discusses its findings at four meetings a year that are open to the public, and publishes the proceedings on its Web site. It also publishes reports in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Toxicology .

Does that mean you should rest assured that your blush won’t give you cancer or damage your unborn children? At least on one occasion, the CIR has pronounced cosmetics ingredients to be safe despite protests that there was no scientific basis for doing so. For example, in 2002, the CIR pronounced that it was safe for the industry to continue adding possible endocrine and reproductive disruptors known as phthalates to cosmetics marketed to women of childbearing age. This decision was based on what the Environmental Working Group characterized as the “ad hoc calculations” by one of the trade association’s scientists during the course of its proceedings.

But the more salient reality is that, regardless of the quality of its research, the CIR has no power over the industry that finances it. How often has the industry taken action to reformulate products that contain harmful chemicals? According to the PCPC, the trade organization does not “keep a record of products that have been reformulated or removed from the market as a result of a CIR review.” Of the 12,500 ingredients used in personal care products, only a handful are not used in the U.S.

By law, cosmetics companies are supposed to do some kind of research into the safety of their products before putting them on the market. “If the safety of an ingredient as used in a cosmetic product has not been established by CIR,” a PCPC spokesman stated, “a company must possess other information to substantiate the safety of the ingredient for its intended use and make that information available for inspection by FDA upon request.” But the FDA’s review of industry-sponsored research, if it happens at all, won’t occur until the product is already on the market.

For example, in recent years, a substantial controversy has arisen over the use of lead in lipstick. Lead can be a pretty serious substance. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead in house paint in 1977, due to the brain damage it has been proven to cause in children. Because of its neurotoxicity, leaded gasoline has been entirely banned in the U.S. since 1995. The FDA also bans the presence of lead in candy bars in concentrations greater than 0.1 part per million.

Yet the FDA never got around to even testing lead in lipstick until 2010. When it did, it found concentrations as high as 3.06 parts per million—or more than thirty times the maximum allowed in candy bars. Whether this is an unsafe level for lipstick users I’ll leave to others to dispute, but the point is, under the current regulatory regime, lipstick users were exposed to these concentrations of lead for decades without their knowing it and without the FDA ever conducting so much as one test. For now, at least, the FDA says the lead in lipstick is safe, though if I were a woman, I wouldn’t be licking my lips.

 
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