Perfume ... or poison?
Image from Lynne Chapman's Childrens' book Illustrator
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group released the results of a study recently that may have perfume-lovers running from their fragrances. The commissioned study exposed hormone-disrupting chemicals and chemicals that could cause allergic reactions. Many were not on product labels, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
"Companies are allowed to put nearly any chemical into fragrances, with no required safety assessments, and they can keep the ingredients secret from consumers," said Stacy Malkan, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (See her 10 natural beauty tips.)
Unlike food and drugs, cosmetics can make it to the counter without pre-approval, according to the FDA. These existing regulations predate public awareness on just how hazardous low-level toxins can be, said Malkin. Researchers found an average of 14 hidden chemicals, in group of popular fragrances that included Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Coco Mademoiselle Chanel, Calvin Klein Eternity, and American Eagle's Seventy-Seven. The report highlights just how many chemicals have been both unstudied and unregulated.
Though commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, the research was conducted by Analytical Sciences, an independent lab in California. The report builds on the worries that consumers are not properly warned of toxins in their everyday products, following the recent release of the President's Cancer Panel.
The products tested each contained an average of 10 "sensitizers" – chemicals that can cause allergic reactions, including asthma, wheezing, headaches, and contact dermatitis. Scientists also found 12 different potential hormone-disrupting chemicals with an average of four in each product. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Jennifer Lopez's J.Lo Glow each had seven different chemicals that could disrupt an individual's hormone system, six of which mimic estrogen and a seventh that affects the thyroid.
"We now have a mountain of scientific evidence showing that low-dose exposures to toxic chemicals can have serious long term health effects," said Malkan. "It's time to update the laws to require companies to disclose what's in their products, phase out the most hazardous chemicals and assess chemicals for safety before putting them into products that get into our bodies.
The health effects of chemicals like these have been tested, but in many cases not conclusively. Lab animals may show worrisome results, for instance, but the effects expected of humans exposed to low levels is not always clear. Many scientists and doctors, however, are concerned enough to warn people – particularly pregnant women – to avoid exposure to known hormone-disrupting chemicals.
There are efforts to require more oversight of the cosmetics industry. "I’m working with colleagues in Congress on legislation that will overhaul our outdated cosmetics oversight and regulation," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, in another press release. "We all deserve to know our products are as safe as possible."
In the meantime, consumers can protect themselves by selecting products with no added fragrance, using less of their favorite products, and by encouraging their representatives to take action, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. For a full list of all the fragrances tested, check out the report.
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