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ChemPendium of Chemicals to Avoid Part I

j henry fair
Ph: J Henry Fair. Coal Slurry, Kayford Mountain

Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.

THE ABOVE LINE directly quoted from the FDA sums up the limited regulation it has over skincare products entering the market. The FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors also doesn’t have the power to seize products, although companies themselves may recall certain items as needed. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel can evaluate cosmetic ingredients; however, according to Safe Cosmetics, it has only reviewed 20% of the 10,000+ ingredients on the market within the past 35 years. “The CIR does not look at the cumulative effect of exposures to toxic cosmetic ingredients; the aggregate exposure of cosmetic ingredients in combination with other toxic chemical exposures; the timing of exposure which can magnify the harm, particularly for infants and young children; or worker exposure in manufacturing plants.”

As it stands, the United States currently has a total of 8 banned ingredients whereas the European Commission has a list of 1000 chemicals prohibited for use in skincare products. This is especially problematic as an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report showed that women use 12 cosmetic products everyday with 168 unique ingredients, while men use 6 products with an average of 85 ingredients. Skincare products, broadly defined, cleanse, improve or alter the complexion, skin, hair or teeth and include deodorants and perfumes. The many chemicals they contain are absorbed through the skin and can come into contact with sensitive tissues, organs and glands. They can also make their way to the environment where they become persistent and bioaccumulate. This increases the concentration of contaminants found in organisms as they diffuse across the food chain over time. Another study from the EWG on 10 fetal cord blood samples showed that over 260 toxic chemicals were able to reach umbilical cords –  210 were neurotoxic, including phthalates, pesticides and heavy metals.

In light of the above, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013 on March 21, 2013. This legislation, if passed, aims to ensure that all personal care products become safe by establishing a system to assess the safety of cosmetics ingredients and to phase out the most harmful substances that are suspected of causing cancer, reproductive harm or other adverse health effects.

Until now, U.S. Researchers have found 10,500 industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxicants, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers and surfactants. Check out the second part of this series that will cover the main chemicals to avoid in your daily life. You can begin the process by purchasing products with proper certifications such as COSMOS, Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and USDA Organic. Also get in the habit of label reading, and if you don’t recognize any of the ingredients, the Chemical Maze app by Bill Statham is a helpful companion when shopping. Knowledge and education are the way forward to ensure ingredients in skincare products are safe for people and the environment.