The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health cautions consumers concerning more than 900 harmful chemicals found in everyday personal health care products. These chemicals are said to be “dangerous to your health and well being”. (par. 1) These chemicals, in addition to others, are used by consumers everyday. Consumers assume that the products containing these chemicals are safe and effective. According to the FDA “It is against the law to distribute cosmetics that contain poisonous or harmful substances that might injure users under normal conditions” (Regulating par 3).
However, the FDA fails to define what “normal conditions” are or should be. Therefore, the interpretation of “normal conditions” is left up to manufacturers of cosmetics and the consumers of cosmetic products. Interpreting what “normal conditions” actually are when using cosmetics may never be fully answered. In a cosmetic market that is virtually unregulated and full of uncertainty, consumers are led to believe that the uses of health care products are 100% harmless. However researchers and physicians believe that cosmetic products contain chemically harmful ingredients that can cause adverse effects and reactions.
Types of Chemicals Propylene glycol is one of the most used chemicals in many personal health care products. The scariest thing about this chemical is the origin of it and where it is most generally found. According to an article titled “Cancer Causing Chemicals in Personal Care Products,” Propylene glycol is a substance that is found in “industrial antifreeze, brake/hydraulic fluid, paint and airplane de-icer” (Neways par. 27). The reason for concern when using this chemical in cosmetics is because of its capability to suppress the maturing process of the skin and cause destruction to actual skin cells (par.
27). During the manufacture of personal care products, with this ingredient, the Environmental Protection Agency orders employees to wear “protective gloves, clothing and goggles” in attempts to provide protection from this harmful chemical” (Awareness par. 4). This chemical is found in such everyday healthcare products as lotions, hair care products, aftershave, deodorants, mouthwashes and toothpastes. Sodium Lauryl Sufate, also know as SLS, is another chemical that can be found in a wide range of personal health care products.
This chemical is of most concern to health care researchers and the FDA because of its highly carcinogenic capabilities. When SLS is mixed with other substances a change can occur, producing an even stronger carcinogenic chemical called nitrosamine. Nitrosamines affect the body by increasing nitrate levels that in turn increase the risk for cancer. When absorbed through the skin and into the body, “SLS enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs, and brain” (Awareness par. 5).
The continual build up of such a highly carcinogenic material in the body could eventually cause adverse effects. SLS is a common ingredient in such industrial products as engine degreasers, garage/concrete floor cleaners, and car wash soap. The place most likely to find SLS in personal health care products is shampoo. Approximately 90% of all shampoos contain SLS. Other places to find SLS include toothpaste, hair conditioner and anything that foams (par. 5) Diethanolamine, also known as DEA, is of increasing concern to the FDA because of the highly toxic makeup of the chemical.
DEA is best described as a “hormone-disrupting chemical,” and when introduced into the body it is likely to create cancerous nitrates and nitrosamines (Maldonado 2). According to Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois, “repeated skin applications of DEA based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers -liver and kidney cancers” (par. 7). Just as SLS collects in the internal organs, DEA is also said to do the same. DEA is mostly found in products that produce foam, such as bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers.
Isopropyl alcohol is yet another chemical found in personal health care products. This toxic ingredient damages much needed materials in the body by changing the bodies’ “natural qualities” (par. 1). While Isopropyl alcohol is not as widely discussed by researchers, it is still a harmful ingredient that is present in many health care products. Isopropyl alcohol is a petroleum based substance and is used in antifreeze. This chemical is found in many cosmetics, hair color rinses, hand lotions, and aftershave.
Polyethylene glycol or PEG is also a known harmful chemical used by cosmetic manufacturers. The job of PEG is to breakdown oil and grease and is used for that purpose in things such as, oven cleaners. While manufacturers use this chemical frequently, it is responsible for removing the “Natural Moisture factor” in our body and on the skin surface (par. 3). This chemical is found in a variety of health care products, such as antiperspirants, baby products, lipsticks and protective creams (Winter 302). The bottom line is that everyday consumers are exposed to these harmful chemicals.
By simply reading labels of products tucked under the bathroom sink anyone can acknowledge that as a fact. The question is how ethical is it for multiple manufacturers to produce such a toxic product. Why is it that chemicals that increase the risk of cancer are allowed to be incorporated into products that are used everyday? It is amazing and astonishing as to how many products contain these and many more harmful chemicals! How Health care products are very complex in their nature. These products contain many ingredients that are each responsible for doing a different job.
Many consumers would like to believe that the products they purchase for health care are just simply made up of one or two ingredients, but that is not the case. Every product placed on the market today is a complex chemical formula made up of anywhere from four to two hundred different chemicals. In an ever changing industry, cosmetic companies need to find a way to achieve desired effects as cheaply as possible. If a cosmetic company can continually find ways to manufacture goods at a lower cost, the company can increase its profits in a very competitive market.
Natural or organic chemicals prove to be rather expensive and limited in quantity, so cosmetic companies turn to synthetic chemicals that produce the same desired effects, cost half as much, and can be easily diluted. Choosing to use a cheaper synthetic chemical that is not specifically designed for a health care product can prove to be a risky proposition. Chemicals that are not made to be introduced into the human body are now being used by cosmetic companies as: preservatives, humectants, detergents, coloring agents, and fragrance.
Preservatives play a very important role in personal care products, but the chemicals used for this purpose are not always the right chemicals to use. Stephen and Gina Antczac explain: “Preservatives are used in cosmetics essentially to make them safe by preventing harmful bacteria from breeding in them” (par. 6). Formaldehyde, a chemical used by almost all cosmetic manufacturers, is a very common synthetic chemical used as a preservative. Manufacturers elect to use Formaldehyde not because it proves to be safe, but because “Manufacturers choose preservatives based on cost and effectiveness” (par.
7). Formaldehyde proves to be both inexpensive and effective, especially when used in “watery concoctions like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and even children’s bubble bath” (par. 7). Manufacturers of cosmetics begin to run into problems when producing health care products. Products tend to dry out and chemicals tend to break their bonds with other chemicals while sitting in storage. Manufacturers need to introduce humectants to the products to stop the drying out process and aid in the delivery of the cosmetic to the skin.
A Humectant is described by Butterfly Products as, “a substance that helps retain moisture content. It is also a wetting agent and solvent, used … to facilitate the process of dissolving and combining ingredients” (7). Propylene glycol is a very cost effective synthetic chemical used by manufacturers as a humectant in various cosmetic products. As stated in “Personal Health Facts”, propylene glycol “makes the skin feel moist and soft and the products do not dry out” (par. 3). Propylene glycol does aid in moisture retention, but is it the proper chemical to use just because of how cost effective it is?
Detergents are a major part of the chemical make up of cosmetics. These chemicals are responsible for the cleaning of body parts. One of the most widely used cleaning chemicals in cosmetics is sodium lauryl sulfate. According to Dr. Sepp, sodium lauryl sulfate is “used as a cleansing agent in all sorts of personal care products. It appears in… – any product that requires suds” (par. 1). Sodium lauryl sulfate is used for two reasons: “it is very effective and also very cheap” (par. 1). Cosmetics will always need detergents, but should they always be the cheapest?
The most important chemicals needed for a cosmetic manufacturer to be successful in the market are chemicals for color and fragrance. Without color the products tend to be unappealing to the consumer, and the consumer will turn away from that particular product. Consumers also want to have cosmetics that make them smell good and will not purchase products that are fragrance free. Both color and fragrance are not needed to make the cosmetic effective, but are used despite that. In order to make money in the cosmetic market today manufacturers must continually find ways of cutting costs.
The easiest way to cut costs in a cosmetic is the actual chemical that is used. If a company can find a synthetic chemical that will produce the same desired effect as a natural chemical, then the company will choose the synthetic chemical. Sometimes choosing a synthetic chemical to provide a desired effect in a cosmetic comes at a price and that price is what consumers pay, not with money but rather with their health. Concerns and Effects The main concern with mixing chemicals in personal health care products is how well these substances pass through the pores of the skin and into the body.
It was once thought that toxic substances could not permeate our skin’s tough surface and was referred to as the “perfect barrier” (Neways par. 2). However, with the passing years it has been proven that our skin is the “largest breathing organ of the body,” and numerous amounts of substances can be taken in by it (par. 15). How could the use of medicated or nicotine patches be so effective if the skin was not able to take up the substances found in the patches? The chemicals found in personal care products may not cause systemic damage right away, but the continuous use of such products could alter the function of normal body operation.
This paper only discusses the damage that five harmful chemicals can have on a person. However, there are much more than five potentially health threatening chemicals out there. According to research done by the General Accounting Office, “twenty cosmetic ingredients may cause adverse effects on the nervous system, which include headaches drowsiness and convulsions” (Olive Naturals par. 5). Besides causing nervous system problems, these ingredients have also been associated with reports of liver, kidney, and heart damage (Neways par. 28). Other possible side effects include allergic reactions and skin irritations (Winter.
10) An individual must often wonder why there are warning labels on the wrapping of a product displaying this statement: “if ingested seek medical attention! ” The reason for placing such labels on products may explain why two young children were taken to the emergency room after having ingested artificial nail remover. One child was killed because of cyanide poisoning and the other child was treated in the intensive care unit (Olive Naturals par. 21). Being cautious and aware that these chemicals do exist and where they can be found along with what harm they cause should be of great importance to a consumer.
Cosmetic Regulations Currently in the United States of America there is no other market governed by the FDA that is so relaxed. This is mostly because of what the FDA did in 1938: “In 1938 the FDA granted the personal care industry the power to regulate itself” (Maldonado par. 5). Without the FDA to interfere with production, cosmetic companies are free to choose what chemicals and exactly how much of each chemical to use. What laws or regulations give these manufacturers the right to decide what chemicals to use? Can these manufacturers be stopped from using harmful chemicals?
As of now the FDA has no control over the production process of cosmetics. One of the only types of control the FDA has is that they are “able to regulate cosmetics after products are released to the marketplace” (Authority par. 1). If the FDA believes a product to be harmful and has received complaints about it, the FDA can take action to remove the product. If the FDA wants to take action in removing a product from the shelves it “must first prove in a court of law that the product may be injurious to users, improperly labeled, or otherwise violates the law” (Authority par.
4). All the laws and regulations are setup so that it is as hard as possible for the FDA to have any type of control over a market that already lacks significant regulation. Standards for cosmetic manufacturers are one thing that the FDA needs to impose, but hasn’t. There is no set standard for safety testing cosmetics and the “FDA cannot require companies to safety test cosmetics before marketing to ensure that they are safe” (Inspection par. 2). There is also currently no standard for the vegetation that is used to make synthetic chemicals.
The plants themselves can be covered with harmful chemicals to help them grow and still be used by cosmetic manufacturers. Any adverse effect caused by a cosmetic product would not be known until after the product has been on the shelves for any given length of time and that is only if consumers choose to report the incidents. Humans are opposed to having chemical tests done on them, but they test the chemicals for cosmetic companies everyday through the products they buy. Cosmetic labeling is the last type of control that the FDA has over the cosmetic industry.
Though it is regulated, the “FDA regulates only the labeling that appears on cosmetic products themselves” (Labeling par. 3). This does not include the labeling that appears on the box or cellophane wrapper that the product comes in. Manufacturers do place labels on the products but write them in difficult to understand chemistry notation. It is almost impossible for average consumers to understand the cosmetic labeling, and therefore most consumers will not read it. However, what consumers do understand is the outrageous claims that the cosmetic manufacturers place on the unregulated labels.
To consumers these labels may seem to be miss leading, but “the law does not require cosmetic manufacturers to substantiate performance claims” (Labeling par. 10). It is important for the consumer to remember, “Image is what the cosmetic industry sells through its products, and it’s up to the consumer to believe it or not” (Labeling par. 10). It is clearly shown by the lack of action by the FDA that nothing, as of right now, is going to be done to stop cosmetic manufacturers from using known harmful chemicals in their products.
Consumers will be left to believe their cosmetic products are safe for them and the lack of regulations imposed by the FDA on cosmetic manufacturers will continue to escalate consumers’ beliefs that these products are safe. Conclusion Consumers live in a society that is very image oriented. “Whatever it takes to look good” can be found as the motto of many consumers. Manufacturers know that those people who look and smell good are automatically assumed to be in a higher social class by their peers.
Manufacturers prey on those conceptions that consumers have about themselves and others in order to line their pockets. In an unregulated industry that lacks the standards needed to adequately protect the health of consumers, buying cosmetics becomes a risky choice. In an age of “new and improved” products, do consumers really take time to figure out what that might actually mean? It is a lack of knowledge by the consumer that provides the fuel needed to produce cosmetics. The old adage, “what I don’t know can’t hurt me,” proves to be seriously wrong when it comes to buying health care products of any types.
Manufacturers are willing, more than ever, to try chemicals that are newer and cost less, because an uneducated society lets them get away with it. Consumers need to take the time to educate themselves about what chemicals actually go into cosmetic products and what these chemicals actually do. Once consumers become educated on what is placed into cosmetic products and how the manufacturer actually intended the product to be used under “normal conditions” will they stop believing that these products are one hundred percent safe for them.
Consumers might just start to listen to the researchers and physicians who stand up and say that cosmetic products contain chemically harmful ingredients that can be a hazard to their health. If consumers will take the time to listen and learn, they might just help begin the process of regulating a very uncertain industry. Bibliography : Works Cited Antzack, Stephen and Gina. “Contaminant is your Cosmetics” 3 Jan. 2002 Cosmetics Unmasked 11 Apr. 2002 Awareness Corporation. 10 Common, Harmful Ingredient In Personal Care Products. 10 Apr. 2002
Butterfly Products. “Warning! What you don’t know about most skin care products can hurt you. ” 2002 Rare Earth Botanicals 13 Apr. 2002 CDC. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Apr. 2002 . Maldonado, Marcus. Poisonous Chemicals in Skin & Hair care products. 10 Apr. 2002 Neways Products. Cancer Causing Chemicals in Personal Care Products. 14 Apr. 2002 Olive Naturals. Dangerous Ingredients in Cosmetics. 8 Feb. 2002 Personal Health Facts. “Would You…Wash your hair and brush your teeth with brake fluid, engine degreaser, or anti-freeze?
Well you probably are and don’t know it. ” 2000 13 Apr. 2002 Sepp, Dennis T. PhD. About Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. 13 Apr. 2002 . U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Cosmetic Labeling. 14 Jun. 2001. 9 Apr. 2002 . U. S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Authority over cosmetics 14 Jun. 2001 9 Apr. 2002 . U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Inspection of Cosmetics. 14 Jun. 2001. 9 Apr. 2002 . U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Regulating Cosmetics. 14 Jun. 2001. 16 Apr. 2002 Winter, Ruth, M. S. A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994