Dying to Look Good: Dangers of Cosmetics
by Christine H. Farlow

Cosmetics make you attractive, but some of the ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products may be killing you! Makeup, shampoo, hair coloring products, baby powder (Yes, baby powder!), shaving cream, mouthwash and toothpaste are just a few of the products that contain cancer-causing ingredients.

You may be asking yourself, "Why do I have to check the ingredients to see if they're safe? Doesn't the government do this?" The answer is: Well, kind of. The truth is the cosmetics industry is very poorly regulated. With the exception of a handful of extremely toxic chemicals, manufacturers can put almost anything in their cosmetics without testing to see if the ingredients are harmful. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can only make suggestions or recommendations to manufacturers about cosmetic products or their ingredients, but the manufacturers don't have to follow them.

To make matters worse, most products are labeled to "sell" rather than to provide accurate information. Words like "natural" and "hypoallergenic" (which give us a nice warm feeling about the product and persuade us to believe that a product is safe) do not have official definitions. This means the manufacturers can use them to mean anything they want and not get in trouble with the regulatory agencies. This often leads to misleading information on the label and more sales.

Here's a list of ingredients in cosmetics, toiletries and personal care products you should avoid:

1. Fragrances: Each fragrance can have up to 600 different ingredients which are not required to be listed on the label. Even if you're not sensitive to fragrances, it's wise to avoid them because they often have hazardous ingredients and there's no way of knowing if they do.

2. Preservatives: many contain or release formaldehyde which is a carcinogen, neurotoxin, irritant and sensitizer. These include DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15 and bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol). Other preservatives that may also cause reactions include the parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone.

3. Talc: is a carcinogen and products containing talc, including baby powder, should never be used on babies and children.

4. Artificial colors: many of which cause cancer. Most of the D&C and FD&C colors are derived from coal tar, a known cancer-causing agent.

5. Silica: which is not harmful by itself, but it's often contaminated with crystalline silica which causes cancer. Manufacturers are not required to list contaminants so you'll never see it on the label.

How big of a threat are contaminants to you and your family? From 1978 to 1980, the FDA analyzed 300 cosmetic samples for carcinogenic contamination. Forty percent of the samples analyzed contained carcinogens. Things actually got worse the next time they analyzed cosmetic samples. In 1991-92, they found that 65% of the cosmetic products sampled contained carcinogenic contaminants.

Polysorbate 60 or 80, polyoxyethylene, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, PEG, anything ending in "-eth," such as sodium laureth sulfate. These ingredients may be contaminated with cancer-causing 1,4-dioxane, which is easily absorbed through the skin. Again, manufacturers are not required to tell you about the contaminants.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). These two ingredients are found in many cosmetic and personal care products. Even though they don't cause cancer by themselves you should avoid all products that contain them because DEA and TEA can react with nitrites to form nitrosamines which can cause cancer. The tricky thing is that nitrites can be present as a contaminant and not listed on the label. So there's no way of knowing whether or not a product with DEA or TEA ingredients is contaminated with the cancer-causing nitrosamines.

Propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate. These are common ingredients in shampoos and they're both toxic. Propylene glycol is a skin irritant which causes kidney and liver damage. Sodium laurel sulfate causes genetic damage.

Knowing how to read and interpret the ingredient label on cosmetics, toiletries and personal care products is a powerful shield, but the manufacturers are fighting back. They're designing packaging with seductive designs to make it look like their products are healthy and made from natural ingredients. Don't be fooled by the fancy packaging and persuasive words like "natural," "gentle" and "hypoallergenic." When you buy and use the product, you'll probably find that's not the case.

Christine H. Farlow, D.C. is the author of "Dying To Look Good" which classifies over 1200 commonly used ingredients according to safety and lists over 750 "safe" products. For more info, visit www.bookmasters.com/marktplc/00084.htm, call 760-735-8101 or email dr.cfarlow@cox.net