GRAND RAPIDS - Spend a few minutes listening to Stacy Malkan, and
you’re likely to toss your lipstick and deodorant in the trash, along
with a lot of the other beauty products fighting for space in your
Malkan is the co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
and has spent the last 12 years researching the dangers of the cosmetic
industry. Many products have ingredients linked to cancer or birth
defects, contends the group, a coalition of health, labor,
environmental, and consumer-rights groups.
Her ’s 2007 book,"Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,"
reveals the toxic truth about the personal care products used daily by
women, men, teenagers and children – and how activists are forcing the
industry to clean up its act.
She’ll talk about her research during a luncheon at Aquinas College
at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, which benefits the Jane Hibbard Idema
Women’s Studies Center. This event costs $50. She will also do a book
signing that evening from 7 - 8 pm, which is free. Details about both
events – which will be held at the college’s Wege Ballroom - at Aquinas.edu/womenscenter.
Malkan cites Brazillian Blowouts as a more recent example of the
danger of beauty products. The pricy hair smoothing treatment has been
tied to reports of hair loss, rashes and allergic reactions from nose
bleeds to trouble breathing.
The Los Angeles company that makes the product recently agreed to a $4.5 million settlement because of formaldehyde exposure. CEO Mike Brady told The New York Times that the agreement allows the company “to sell the product for forever without formulation.”
The product has been banned in Canada and other countries, while the
federal U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration has issued
only a health alert, warning salons to stop using formaldehyde-based
Most hair products that color, straighten or curl hair have toxic ingredients, Malkan said.
Then there’s the stuff women put on their face. Most lipsticks have lead
in them, while many skin creams have mercury, she said. Toxic
ingredients are in many nail polishes, deodorants and skin whitening
creams as well.
Because the FDA has no authority to require pre-market safety
assessment as it does with drugs, cosmetics are among the
least-regulated products on the market, Malkan said.
“My message is that we have to educate ourselves how to protect
ourselves from toxic ingredients,” said Malkan. “You have to do your
research and not just accept what companies are saying with their
marketing claims. There is a lot of greenwashing with words like
natural, gentle and even organic.”
Most women use an average of 12 products.
Malkan's advice is to user fewer products, especially on babies, kids
and when pregnant. She advises selecting products with the fewest
This month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is reviewing
sweeping Food and Drug Administration legislation that would amend the
1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
“We have been pushing for a bill that requires companies to stop using
chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects, which is the case in
Europe” said Malkan.
Malkan’s organization and other groups want to see the changes
incorporate the federal Safe Cosmetics Act, introduced by Rep. Jan
Schakowsky (D, Ill.), that prohibit cancer-causing chemicals (like
formaldehyde) from cosmetics, require full labeling of personal care
products and set up a system to assess ingredient safety.
Despite her dire warnings, Malkan says there are safe alternatives in the cosmetics industry. They are listed at comesticsdatabase.org
And yes, Malkan does wear make-up herself although the products are made
with non-toxic ingredients. But she has stopped coloring her hair
because of the health risks.
“Sometimes it gets overwhelming what I need to know to protect myself,”
said Malkan. “There’s a lot of things we can’t do anything about the
environment like air and water pollution. We do control what we put on