Study uncovers makeup

Beauty may only be skin deep, but the products used to primp and polish your way to fabulous could be hazardous to your health, a Washington-based advocacy group said yesterday.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), released the results of a six-month computer investigation that found thousands of beauty products, including shampoos, nail polish and lotions, contained potentially harmful ingredients that have been linked to cancer or other health problems.


Naming brand names and products on its Web site (, the group said yesterday it wasn't aiming to scare but to educate people on the possible effects of slathering your skin with products that contain possibly dangerous chemicals.

"I don't think people should be alarmed," said Tim Kropp, an EWG toxicologist. "We're not looking at particular products and saying this product will definitely cause cancer. The general assumption out there is that all these products are tested by some government agency before they go on the shelf.


"The truth is, you could virtually put any chemical into a consumer product without any tests or standards applied to them," he said. "The responsibility lies with the government to ensure that we have safe products."

EWG said consumers should know, for instance, that Igia Epil-Stop & Foam's 6-in-1 Hair Removal system, which contains such things as ceteareth-20, PEG-75 lanolin and tocopheryl acetate - impurities linked to cancer or other significant health problems.

Or that Revlon's Illuminance Creme Shadow, 4 Shades, Precious Metals contains phenoxyethanol, which is irritating to the eyes. Corp. did not reply to an e-mail request for an interview. Revlon Inc. said it had not seen the study, but company spokeswoman Catherine Fisher said, "Revlon stands by the safety of our products. As a global company, all ingredients used by Revlon and products manufactured and sold by us are in compliance with both U.S. FDA and European Union regulations."

Some experts say consumers shouldn't be overly concerned about possible toxins in personal care products because most aren't ingested or are not absorbed at high enough levels. Others questioned EWG's methodology.

"It isn't hard science. I think their sourcing is problematic," said Paula Begoun, an author who has written extensively about the cosmetics industry. "I think some of what they are doing is valid, but the way that they are presenting it is inflammatory."

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, and the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cosmetics only after products are released to the marketplace, also urged consumers not to overreact.

"There are laws and regulations that cosmetics must comply with," said FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Quinn. "Under those laws, we can assure consumers of the safety of cosmetics. This is not something that consumers should be alarmed by."


But consumers should know, EWG says, that the $35 billion personal care products industry operates virtually without government oversight. Meaning:

Eighty-nine percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA or the Cosmetics Ingredient Review - an independent expert panel supported by the industry association and FDA.

Neither cosmetic products nor their ingredients are reviewed or approved by the FDA before they're sold to the public.

The FDA cannot require companies to do safety testing of their cosmetic products before marketing, file data on ingredients or report cosmetic-related injuries.

EWG's study was not based on scientific experiments or testing. Rather the group compared the ingredients in 7,500 products against government, industry and academic lists of known and suspected chemical health hazards.

CTFA, the cosmetic industry association, released a statement saying that the FDA "has had comparatively little need to use its authority because cosmetics are composed of safe ingredients and because, when necessary, the cosmetic industry has acted voluntarily to prevent safety problems. The bottom line for American consumers is that they can have complete confidence that the products they use are safe."


The FDA agreed. But the government agency's Web site does warn that manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market cosmetics without a government review or approval.

EWG won't go as far as to declare the products unsafe, but Kropp does say that it is not clear what effect long-term exposure to low levels of chemicals will have on consumers.

Don't throw the teeth whitener or blush out just yet, experts say.

Margaret Weiss, a dermatologist with the Maryland Laser, Skin & Vein Institute in Hunt Valley said that in 22 years of practice, she has seen numerous patients with allergic reactions to many types of cosmetics, but nothing to suggest a link with cancer or some of the serious reactions alluded to in the EWG study.

"They are unfortunately right that many of these things do not have to be directly proven as safe by the FDA," she said. "Most of these products don't stay on the skin long enough to be absorbed. Cosmetics today tend to be less irritating than they were 20 to 30 years ago.

"I think they make some reasonable points in this, and encouraging people to report reactions to the FDA makes sense," Weiss said. "Hopefully this will promote more careful study as opposed to hysterical reaction."


Sun Staff writer Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.