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Chemicals linked to cancer removed from some nail polish lines

by Delthia Ricks, Newsday Staff WriterNewsday
September 5th, 2006

onfronting the criticism of health and environmental groups, three major nail polish manufacturers  including one on Long Island  say they've either removed or have begun the process of removing a trio of substances that have been deemed harmful.

The chemicals formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, have been linked to cancer and birth defects. All were banned earlier this year in cosmetics by European Union regulators but have not been targeted for removal in this country by the Food and Drug Administration.

Manufacturers, all with markets abroad, said Tuesday they have begun removing the compounds voluntarily under pressure from health and environmental advocacy organizations.

Executives at Del Laboratories in Uniondale, manufacturer of Sally Hansen brand nail polish, say their products are being reformulated to eliminate all three substances. The Sally Hansen brand is sold worldwide and is the No. 1 nail polish brand sold in drugstores.

"As a concerned manufacturer of products, we proactively respond to concerns and trends," said Bruce MacKay, Del Laboratories' vice president of scientific affairs, who insisted the products are safe.

Ann Nugent, a Del Laboratories spokeswoman, said the reformulated nail enamels should appear on store shelves early next year. Orly International Inc. and OPI Products, top salon brands with headquarters in southern California, say they, too, will eliminate the compounds. Orly began the process last year and OPI started this year.

The companies had come under fire for several years from the Breast Cancer Fund, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Women's Voices of the Earth, among a host of other advocacy groups.

"These are products that enter into the body in a way that is not dissimilar to the way that drugs do," said Jeanne Rizzo, a registered nurse and executive director of the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund, a health advocacy organization that supports studies on the causes of breast cancer.

She said that DBP is an endocrine disrupter, associated with underdeveloped genitals in newborn males. Rizzo added that the compound belongs to a broad class of toxins that have been linked to accelerated puberty in girls, a factor that may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Toluene has been linked to nervous system disorders and formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen.

The FDA doesn't require the rigorous scrutiny of cosmetics that is reserved for pharmaceuticals.

Rizzo said harmful substances have been allowed in nail polish because the expert panel advising the agency on cosmetics is made up of officials from the cosmetics industry.

FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro said the agency could not respond to issues involving compounds in nail polish Tuesday because the expert in the Cosmetics and Colors division was absent.

Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a health advocacy group in Manhattan, said the FDA is "understaffed and overworked," and cannot maintain appropriate vigilance over cosmetics.