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Beauty Beware

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Beauty Beware

By Courtney Helgoe, Experience Life

Of all the personal-care products sold in the United States, 99 percent of the chemical ingredients have never been tested for safety, despite research showing long-term health risks (including melanoma, breast cancer, and fertility challenges) associated with some of these compounds.

With a little knowledge and some label decoding, we can all get smart about what we put on our skin, minimizing our risks before problems arise and enjoying better peace of mind in the process. But first, we have to understand why so many of the products we’ve long assumed to be safe might not be.

Nobody’s Watching

The U.S. government has an extensive inspection and regulatory system, operated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), designed to protect consumers from tainted food, so it’s natural to assume a similar system exists to monitor body-care products. But, in fact, the government essentially allows the cosmetics industry to police itself.

It’s left up to an industry trade group called the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC), which claims that its research branch, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, is every bit as thorough as any government regulatory agency.

This type of industry oversight wasn’t nearly enough to appease the European Union. In 2004, it banned 1,100 suspect ingredients from personal-care products, and because some of those ingredients were commonly used in U.S. goods, American manufacturers have had to scramble to reformulate many products destined for the European market.

The EU long ago adopted what’s known as the Precautionary Principle, which states that something must be considered potentially dangerous until it’s been proven safe. Here in the United States, our regulatory agencies have taken the opposite tack, preferring to assume that something can be considered safe as long as it’s not been proven dangerous.

There are, however, nonprofit organizations that have stepped into the regulatory breach. The watchdog group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was formed in 2002 to monitor health risks in body-care products and has partnered with the Environmental Working Group, a respected Washington, D.C.–based research organization, to test common ingredients for their possible long-term effects. They discovered that 99 percent of the products on the market contain one or more ingredients that “have never been publicly assessed for safety.”

They also found that many common ingredients, like parabens, phthalates and synthetic fragrance, were all likely culprits in a number of health problems, ranging from increased skin sensitivity and allergies to infertility, birth defects and cancer. (Read more in the article 7 ingredients to avoid.)

Meanwhile, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics maintains a searchable database called Skin Deep (, where consumers can find safety ratings for specific products and brands. With that tool and the willingness to weigh their own risks, consumers stand a much better chance of protecting themselves from problem ingredients.

Next: Why we’re actually more vulnerable to toxins on our skin than to those in our food

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Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.


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3:09PM PDT on Jul 14, 2012

Thanks. Good to know.

2:07AM PST on Jan 11, 2012

Things will stay the same until the public or voters take action against the overseeing bodies and lobby govt representatives.

6:49PM PST on Mar 5, 2011

Although we have it *slightly* better here in Canada (personal products are a bit more regulated here), we are still exposed to these same toxins all the time. This is the reason why I started my company just 2 months ago....I make skincare products without any toxins. Safe enough to eat! (because that is what our skin does with everything we apply on top of it).
Visit me!

9:43AM PST on Mar 1, 2011

thanks for the info

9:42AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

And THAT is EXACTLY what the big tigers and vampire of the Americn industry wants.
that was the ttoting mark of the infmous REAGAN! May he rest wherever he can't do anything bad to the people.
LuisM (Sefardisafran)

9:09AM PDT on May 27, 2010

Thanks for the info. Most of the time we use these products without realising the danger it might cause in the long run.

10:26PM PST on Mar 13, 2010

Good article.

9:01AM PST on Mar 7, 2010

This is a good article. Companies should really start monitoring their ingredients for their customers' sake.

9:04AM PST on Mar 1, 2010

Around February 16, 2010, there was a page in care2 about this wonderful skin cream and vitamin that was fantastic on wrinkle and had a trail offer for both. One was CupuacuVital for $1.50 and a face serum for $ 2.95. Using my credit card, I bought both and 10 days later was charged $79.95 for the Vital vitamins and never received the face cream! Women BEWARE of false advertising! Shame on care2 website for not making sure companies that use their website are reputable. Disappointed!

9:43PM PST on Feb 21, 2010

Thanks, It is always great to know what we are putting on as well as in our bodies.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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