In the 16th century, a Swiss physician and philosopher, Paracelsus, stated that any substance applied to or in the body can cause harm, given the right circumstances. In other words, “the dose makes the poison.” This is true especially with the wide range of chemicals, nano particles, asbestos contaminated talc, and other substances used in the manufacture of cosmetics.
Revenue from cosmetics is projected at $265 billion worldwide in 2017 for an industry that has potential for harm, but very little oversight. The FDA has an office of Cosmetics and Colors within their Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Yet, that group is seriously underfunded with a $13 million budget for fiscal year 2017 and has a very limited scope of authority.
Except for color additives, there is no legal requirement for pre-market approval of new products. There is no regulatory group that checks the safety or effectiveness of cosmetic products. In addition, there is no legal requirement for the cosmetic industry to collect or report adverse issues.
What ingredients could be harmful?
Dr. Robert M. Califf, former commissioner of the FDA, along with two other experts said, “For products that are used routinely, small effects over time within large populations can be almost impossible to detect without active surveillance. Even when health risks are substantial, as with tobacco products, the path to identifying and interpreting those safety signals clearly enough to justify regulatory action is often long and tortuous.”
However, that long scientific road has already been traveled with respect to asbestos – still an ingredient in some modern cosmetics. Decades of medical and scientific research long ago reached a consensus that asbestos is a human carcinogen. Yet, a recent investigation revealed asbestos contaminated cosmetics still being sold at a national retail chain that markets to teens. The retailer has since pulled the contaminated product from stores after one third-party found asbestos. A third-party lab hired by the retailer found none – possibly because various batches can contain different constituents. The message is that some asbestos, and other harmful ingredients, can find their way into these non-regulated cosmetics.
More about talc
Talc, a common cosmetics ingredient, is a mineral often mined in close proximity with asbestos and can be contaminated with asbestos. However, due in part to heavy lobbying in the 1970s and 80s, lax regulations allowed asbestos contaminated talc to still be utilized in cosmetics.
Are your cosmetics safe?
If you believe you have been harmed by a cosmetic, report the problem to the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System (CFSAN) an FDA database for foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. When they notice a number of similar reports, they can investigate. This database is also open to the public, so is available to search for adverse health events from your current cosmetics. Unlike foods, there is little ingredient information on cosmetic packaging. Even when there is, dangerous chemicals can be disguised by using scientific names. This makes knowing exactly what you’re using difficult, but there are a few sites such as www.ewg.org with information on a limited number of products.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine recently introduced legislation creating a mandatory registration of products and facilities. The bill would also increase FDA funding using industry fees, and give other tools to the FDA as protection from risks of personal care products. Making your congressional representatives aware of your support of this bill could help give consumers visibility to dangers.
Meanwhile, check websites for your cosmetics for possible ingredient lists. If no ingredients are shown, email or call the company for more information. If enough people let these companies know that we care about what is put on our bodies, perhaps there will be more effort to using clean ingredients in their products.