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American cosmetics: a dumping ground for chemicals

Personal care and cosmetic products in the U.S. are a dumping ground for mostly untested chemicals. “Under federal law, companies can put virtually anything they wish into personal care products, and many of them do,” explains the Environmental Working Group’s Jane Houlihan. “Mercury, lead, and placenta extract — all of these and many other hazardous materials are in products that millions of Americans, including children, use every day.”

The problem with America’s personal care industry is it’s not regulated. Neither the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) nor the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have much power to say no to cosmetics manufacturers. While in Europe, the E.U. has banned more than 1,000 substances from being used in cosmetics, the FDA has banned just 8.

Since the U.S. government can’t mandate safety studies of cosmetics or their ingredients, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has built a database to help consumers avoid applying toxic mixes to their skin, hair and mouth. Skin Deep pairs lists of known ingredient in cosmetics (many are unpublished, hidden behind the term “fragrance” or written off as an “unintended” by-product of manufacture) with over 50 toxicity and regulatory databases.

While EWG is fighting to change legislation to force more regulation of toxic chemicals in personal care products (via bills like the Kids Safe Chemicals Act), in the meantime, they encourage consumers to use Skin Deep to “create customized shopping lists — products free of fragrances or carcinogens, for instance”.

In this video, the EWG’s Bill Walker explains how the database works, some of the key ingredients to avoid in cosmetics and why consumers shouldn’t be responsible for protecting themselves.

We also have a video on the Kids Safe Chemicals Act and our body burden.