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This Mother’s Day, Clean Up the Toxic Cosmetics Aisle


by Lisa ArcherHealthy Child Healthy World blog
May 9th, 2012

Since I lost my mother to breast cancer at the age of 18, I have usually spent Mother’s Day outdoors in one of her favorite spots, reflecting on what an amazing human being she was, and creating intentions for the coming year around how to live my life in a way that would make her proud.

We don’t know what caused my mom’s cancer and like most of the 1 in 8 women diagnosed, she had no family history of the disease. However, a growing body of evidence is linking the epidemic of breast cancer, and other health problems, to our exposures to toxic chemicals—particularly early life exposures.

This Mother’s Day will be an especially important one for me. This year, for the first time, I will be celebrating Mother’s Day as a mom to my daughter Sylvie.

Like most new parents, my husband and I have worked hard to ensure our little girl has the best start on life we can give her. And, like many of your reading this blog, we’ve worked to keep toxic chemicals—from cancer causing formaldehyde in baby shampoo to hormone disrupting phthalates in diaper cream--away from her little body at this incredibly important time in her development.

This is easier said than done.

Take a walk down the children’s products aisle at your local drug store and you’ll see dozens of items – shampoo, sunscreen, bubble bath – marked “gentle,” “for sensitive skin,” or “no tears.” These labels are there to assure parents that the personal care products we put on our children’s bodies are formulated especially for kids.

Many parents assume that if a product is marketed to or for children, it must be safe.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Major loopholes in the law make cosmetics and body care products among the least regulated consumer products on the market today; in fact, the vast majority of the approximately 12,500 chemicals used by the $50 billion beauty industry have never been assessed for safety. It’s perfectly legal for cosmetics and personal care products to contain chemical linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental harm, hormone disruption, asthma and other adverse health effects. Some of these chemicals don't even appear on product labels so even the most well informed consumers can’t protect their families.

American consumers use an average of 10 personal care products each day, resulting in exposure to more than 100 distinct chemicals, and potentially dozens of hidden ingredients. Toxic cosmetic ingredients are ending up inside our bodies, our breast milk and our babies, and these chemicals also go down the drain and pollute our waterways and drinking water. Toxic exposures from personal care products add to our daily dose of hazardous chemicals from air, water, food and other consumer products.

And the cosmetics industry is now targeting tween girls with its products—girls who are hitting puberty at younger and younger ages, which can contribute to their risk of developing breast cancer later in life (among other health problems).

Fortunately, for the first time in 30 years, in response to public outcry around formaldehyde in hair products and baby shampoo, mercury in face cream, and lead in lipstick Congress is paying attention to cosmetics safety.

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, would give the FDA the authority and resources it needs to ensure that cosmetics are safe by: phasing out the worst chemicals in cosmetics that can cause cancer or reproductive harm; requiring companies to be transparent and honest about what’s in their products; and establishing a strong safety standard to make sure decisions about ingredient safety protect the most vulnerable populations –babies, children, pregnant women and workers.

Unfortunately, the titans of the cosmetics industry are also hard at work fighting common sense laws that would keep toxic chemicals out of everything from bubble bath to lipstick.

“The Cosmetic Safety Amendments Act of 2012,” a bill written by the Personal Care Products Council, a trade association that represents the big multinational cosmetic companies, was recently introduced into Congress. This is a classic Trojan horse – it may sound like a step forward on the surface but the “fine print” inside the bill would allow industry to continue placing profits over public health—putting into law the current system that allows the industry to “self-regulate” the safety of cosmetics.

So what’s a mom (or dad) to do?

A growing number of companies are paying attention to the demand for safer products. You can vote with your dollar to buy safer products for your family or make your own safer products.

But ultimately we can’t shop our way out of this problem.

This Mother’s Day, let’s make our moms proud and protect the health of our kids and our kids’ kids by passing REAL reform that will clean up the products we use on our babies and our bodies every day.

Please write your member of Congress today and demand meaningful reform of our broken cosmetics safety laws.

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About the author: Lisa Archer is a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund and is mom to Sylvie Linnea.