Activists Push for Safer Ingredients in Makeup

Beautifying cosmetics may come back to haunt you


| May 6, 2004


Beauty is only skin-deep, and the price of beauty extends clear to the bone. The foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, and mascara that former model Olivia James slathered on her face every day for 15 years made her feel beautiful, but the harmful phthalates in those products are probably what caused her son Darren's birth defect. In light of the link between these cosmetic products and cancer and fetal deformities, the European Union has banned phthalates, and health advocates in the United States asked their government to comply by May 3.

As Molly Ginty reports, 'three environmentally-conscious manufacturers have already volunteered to remove phthalates from all their products. But New York-based Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. (which has annual revenues of $4.7 billion) and Cincinnati-based Proctor and Gamble Company (which has annual revenues of $40.2 billion) are the only large, multinational companies to follow suit -- and they have done so by removing phthalates from [only] one product, nail polish. Representatives of the $29 billion cosmetics industry (which is not subject to regulatory approval before putting its products on the market and which does not have to list phthalates on ingredient labels) are balking at the proposed ban.' Industry experts are singing the same, overused tune: results from tests on animals don't necessarily apply to humans. But harmful results run the gamut. Ginty reports: 'A 2000 study at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan linked phthalates (which are used to soften plastic) to early puberty in girls. [Meanwhile] studies conducted at Harvard University in Cambridge in 2002 and 2003 linked the chemicals to decreased sperm counts in men.'

Barbara Brenner, executive director of the San-Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action says that this could be a major stepping stone for advocacy groups keeping the cosmetics industry honest. 'This is a much bigger issue than nail polish or phthalates. It could be the beginning of a revolution in consumer safety. People need to know that some cosmetics contain toxic chemicals and they need to demand that safer ingredients be used.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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