I have to wonder how many of our readers pay much attention to how the soaps, lotions, and shampoo products they use affect their health. When folks put lotion on their face or shampoo in their hair, I believe most of them believe the products are safe and certainly not unhealthy. I suspect most believe that the ingredients in skin-care products sold in the United States must be proven to be safe and healthy. The surprise will come when they find out there is no such requirement.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority over skin-care products or cosmetics. The fact is, many ingredients in the products Americans use are banned in other countries. U.S. cosmetic companies are allowed to use virtually any raw material in their products they see fit to use, with the exceptions of color additives and ingredients classified as drugs. No government approval is needed. More than 500 cosmetic products sold in the U.S. contain ingredients that are banned in Japan, Canada, or Europe. Nneka Leiba, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer organization, stated:
Many of these chemicals are considered safe in low doses by themselves. What we are concerned about is the damage they can cause repetitively over time and synergistically with each other. There is no research or data for this.
Ms. Leiba urges consumers to be “vigilant and read labels.” The EWG has a database of more than 80,000 popular cosmetics, ranking them 0-10 in terms of hazardous ingredients. Go to: www.ewg.org/skindeep. The following are six common skin-care ingredients that are used in the U.S., but banned in other nations:
• Formaldehyde: This chemical is used as a preservative and also includes a group of substances known as “formaldehyde donors,” which effectively release formaldehyde into a product. One of the most controversial of these donors is quaternium-15, which until recently was found in the popular Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoos. The American Academy of Dermatology warns that formaldehyde can cause severe allergic reactions. Canada has banned it in personal care products.
• Petroleum distillates: The same oil refineries that pump out oil for heating and cars also produce petroleum that is often found in mascaras sold in the United States. Petroleum distillates are used as emollients and are also found in eye shadow, lotions, creams, hairspray, and foundation makeup. They’ve been banned in the European Union.
• Hydroquinone: This bleaching agent is often used to lighten dark patches of skin called hyperpigmentation, age spots, or liver spots. It has also been linked to lung irritation and tumors in mice. Canada and some Asian and African countries have banned the use of hydroquinone in skin products.
• BHA: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is used as a preservative in moisturizers, shaving creams, fragrances, and makeup, particularly lipsticks. It is linked to endocrine disruption and cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The EU prohibits its use in fragrances, and California requires a warning label on all products that contain BHA. On top of the human danger, it adversely affects the environment because it accumulates in water and kills wildlife.
• Parabens: These chemicals are used as preservatives in a variety of cosmetics. They are suspected endocrine disruptors and may interfere with male reproductive function. They’re commonly used in deodorants and antiperspirants and have been also linked to breast cancer. The EU banned parabens in 2012.
• Methyl cellosolve: This solvent is used in anti-aging creams, moisturizers, and serums. According to the EWG, methyl cellosolve is a neurotoxin that causes DNA mutation. It’s an obscure ingredient that is sometimes not explicitly listed on labels. It has been banned in Canada and restricted in the EU.
I believe it would be good for consumers of products to do their own due diligence before using any product. It’s important to find out as much as possible about the product. If the industry making the product is not regulated, I suggest that the chances of that product being defective, dangerous and unsafe are pretty good. If nothing else, persons using the product should read the product information that comes with the product and also should read the label.
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