by Judy Foreman, Boston Globe
March 19th, 2007
Q: Can you tell from the labels whether cosmetics contain ingredients that may be harmful?
A: In most cases, no, although a coalition of environmentalists known as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is trying to change this, with some success.
In 2005, one of the members of the campaign, the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization in Washington, D.C., issued a report in which it compared ingredients in 7,500 personal care products against lists of known or suspected chemical health hazards. It found that one in every 120 cosmetic items, including shampoos, lotions, makeup foundations, and lip balms, contained known or probable carcinogens.
In January, the safe cosmetics campaign announced that more than 500 cosmetics and body-care products companies have signed a pledge to replace potentially harmful ingredients with safer alternatives. The companies include The Body Shop and Burt's Bees, but the mainstream companies have not signed the pledge, "so we are disappointed by that," said Stacy Malkan , a campaign spokesman.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a trade group, said that "thousands of scientific studies have been done on cosmetics and their ingredients" and that the industry determines the products "are safe before they are sold to consumers."
California recently enacted a law requiring manufacturers selling cosmetics in that state to disclose to the state department of health services a list of any products containing chemicals identified as potentially causing health problems, according to the environmental working group. Other states are considering similar actions.
Government oversight of the cosmetics industry is minimal. The US Food and Drug Administration is not authorized to approve cosmetics before they go on the market, although many products that consumers think of as cosmetics like sunscreen and antidandruff shampoo are actually classified as over-the-counter drugs and hence must get FDA approval. In 2005, the agency said it was setting cosmetic safety as a top priority, but it has taken limited action since then.