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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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So why doesn’t the American public demand that we at least take a precautionary approach, and not use ingredients in cosmetics until they are proven safe, instead of waiting to see how many people they harm?

One explanation is the pervasive corporate influence over how most Americans even think about cancer. Have you noticed all the feel-good advertising that hundreds of companies have adopted to make it appear that they are “working for the cure”? Often they do this by releasing merchandise in pink, the color that has been chosen to show support for breast cancer victims and research. Companies have jumped on the bandwagon to promote everything from pink guns to pink vodka to pink fried chicken. Even NFL players wear pink shoes during the breast cancer awareness period. Some critics call this phenomenon “pinkwashing.”

The first such campaign originated with the cosmetics giant Estée Lauder, which gave $1.5 million worth of pink ribbons away in 1992 to show support for breast cancer patients and research. Cosmetics manufacturers have been in the forefront of pinkwashing ever since. Avon, for example, sponsors the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. And, of course, with those Look Good Feel Better bags, the whole industry associates itself with being behind a cure or palliative for a devastating disease—albeit one it may be exacerbating. Don’t worry about what’s in your rouge; the money you spend on it goes to “cancer research,” and meanwhile, using more cosmetics will make you “Feel Better.”

When I challenged the industry’s trade group to disclose what chemicals might be in those bags, the PCPC responded, “In an abundance of caution, certain types of products and ingredients, which may be used safely in products for the general public, may not accepted for use in the LGFB kits … each product accepted into the LGFB program is subject to FDA oversight and has undergone multiple levels of review including safety, quality and regulatory reviews by the manufacturer, and is re-evaluated by Council staff before being accepted for use in the kits.”

Yet as we’ve seen, FDA “oversight” is, to put it mildly, weak. To make sure it stays that way, the PCPC alone spent $809,000 in direct lobbying in 2011, according to its disclosures to the IRS, plus $933,955 in conferences, conventions, and meetings, and $785,000 in travel. Meanwhile the staff of its putative research arm, the CIR, serves at the pleasure of the industry.


As public awareness has grown of the links between environmental chemicals and cancer, at least some politicians have responded. One is Illinois Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky, who in 2012 cosponsored the Safe Cosmetics Act. It would have banned the use of ingredients linked to cancer and reproductive disorders while also requiring companies to include complete ingredient labels on fragrances and salon products. Sponsored as well by Wisconsin Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin, who was recently elected U.S. senator of Wisconsin, the bill received strong support from the Breast Cancer Fund, along with other consumer groups. Nonetheless, it received just one hearing in the Republican-controlled House, and never left committee. Schakowsky has reintroduced her bill again this year.

Meanwhile, the PCPC and other industry groups, after a $3.5 million lobbying campaign, seeded the introduction of a weak, pro-industry bill called the Cosmetic Safety Amendments Act of 2012. Introduced by New Jersey Republican Senator Leonard Lance last year, the legislation called for registering product manufacturing facilities, disclosing product ingredients, and reporting adverse events from product use (which, as noted above, is already done through the FDA’s adverse report-
ing system).

The bill favored the industry, because it didn’t give the FDA any meaningful power to take harmful products off the market, and rubber-stamped research from the industry-funded CIR. The Lance bill (which has since died) would also have preempted tough state laws such as those found in California, while the Schakowsky bill would not.

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