Weak government oversight has allowed industry to market cosmetics and
personal-care products with ingredients whose safety is unclear or which are
known to pose health risks, said a report released Monday by health and
The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require safety data on ingredients
used in beauty and personal-care products such as shampoos, cosmetics and
hair dyes before they are put on the market, according to a report by the
Environmental Working Group, the Breast Cancer Fund
and other public-interest groups.
A self-policing industry committee, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, has
tested some ingredients, but the testing is voluntary and controlled by
manufacturers, the report said. Neither the FDA nor the industry safety
panel has evaluated 89 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in
personal-care products for safety, the report said.
An examination of ingredients listed on the labels of 7,500 such products
found that a third contain one or more ingredients classified by the
government as possibly cancer-causing, the report said.
The FDA estimates there are about 25,000 personal-care products on the
Seventy-seven products examined in the report _ primarily hair dyes and
shampoos _ contain ingredients classified as known or probable human
Some products contain ingredients that are considered safe in part because
it is assumed they will not be easily absorbed through the skin, the report
said. However, more than half of the products examined also contain
"penetration enhancers" -- ingredients that can increase chemical
penetration through the skin and into the bloodstream, the report said.
Fifty of the products that contain penetration enhancers also contain known
or suspected human carcinogens, the report said.
Few individual ingredients pose excessive risks, but most people use many
products in the course of a day, so it well may be that these risks are
adding up, the report said.
A survey of 2,300 people conducted in conjunction with the report found that
the average adult uses 10 personal-care products each day, exposing
themselves to 146 chemical ingredients. Fully a quarter of all women and 1
of every 6 men use at least 15 products daily, the report said.
"Little research is available to document the safety or health risks of
low-dose repeated exposures to chemical mixtures like those in personal-care
products, but the absence of data should never be mistaken for proof of
safety," the report warns.
"The more we study low dose exposures, the more we understand that they can
cause adverse effects ranging from the subtle and reversible to effects that
are more serious and permanent," the report said.
The Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association said
in a press statement that the FDA has authority to remove unsafe products
from the market and that an FDA regulation "requires manufacturers to
substantiate the safety of cosmetic ingredients and products before they are
"If there is inadequate safety substantiation, the label must bear a
prominent warning," the association said. "This regulation is a strong
deterrent to the marketing of any cosmetic that has not been adequately
substantiated for safety."
However, any safety testing and reporting by manufacturers to the FDA is
completely voluntary, said Jane Houlihan, vice president of the
Environmental Working Group.
"The problem with this regulatory system is that industry holds all the
cards," Houlihan said. "They decide what 'safe' means. They decide what
tests to do. If FDA believes a product is harming human health, they have to
take legal action to get it off the market and there is a very high burden
Other report findings:
Nearly 10 percent of all moisturizers and 6 percent of all sunscreens
contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids, which can increase the risk of skin
At least four ingredients known to interfere -- or suspected of
interfering -- with fetal development and causing declines in sperm counts
are used in nail-care products.
Petroleum jelly, which can contain impurities that are listed by
California as carcinogens and have been linked to breast cancer, is used in
7 percent of personal-care products.
Fifty-four products contain ingredients that the industry safety panel
recommends against using, including diaper creams with ingredients deemed
unsafe for use in baby products.
Based on an assessment of toxicity drawn from reviews by government agencies
and the cosmetic industry, we find the following Shampoo may present the
greatest potential risks to consumers: