(VIDEO) Is Today’s Makeover Leading to Tomorrow’s Health Problem? The Toxins in Your Makeup

Morganne Rosenhaus

I found that the products I am buying and applying to my body actually contain toxic and untested chemicals.  Even worse, some of the most common chemicals in my products are linked to adverse reproductive health effects.

We all have our morning routine.  On a good day, one of those rare occasions when I wake up before my alarm clock, I probably spend about 45 minutes “putting myself together” from start to finish.  During those 45 precious minutes I use the following products: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, shave gel, body lotion, deodorant, face lotion, blush, mascara and a dab of lip gloss – a grand total of 11 products!

I like to think of myself as low-maintenance, and I was shocked at how many different products I use, though I’m no different from most women. The average woman uses 12 products a day, while the average man only uses 6 products daily. Women are clearly the primary buyers and marketing audience for personal care products and cosmetics.  Consumer expenditures on personal care products amount to 50 billion dollars each year, indicating that women are spending a significant amount of their incomes on these products.

As a woman who uses eleven products a day, I decided to look a little deeper into what those products are made of and how the ingredients might be affecting my health.  I found that the products I am buying and applying to my body actually contain toxic and untested chemicals.  Even worse, some of the most common chemicals in my products are linked to adverse reproductive health effects.

Did you ever wonder what the ambiguous term “fragrance” on the label of shampoo, perfume, or even deodorant actually means?  Fragrance is code for phthalates.  Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals.  An endocrine disruptor can either mimic or block the hormones in our bodies or disrupt the body’s normal functions.  It can cause our bodies to produce more or less hormones and affect the various functions that these hormones control.  An endocrine disruptor can harm the reproductive health tracts in both men and women because of its effect on the ovaries and testes.  Phthalates are associated with reproductive abnormalities, lowered semen quality and miscarriage. 

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Are you amazed by the fact that personal care products can literally last forever?   Unfortunately, that’s because most of our personal care products are made with parabens, a harmful chemical preservative found in makeup, shave gel and moisturizers. Parabens have endocrine disrupting properties similar to phthalates. This means they can hurt our reproductive health in the same ways.



The Story of Cosmetics Teaser (watch the full video) Major loopholes in U.S. federal law allow the $50 billion beauty industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects and inadequate labeling requirements—making cosmetics among the least-regulated consumer products on the market. Read more about The Story of Cosmetics here.

With all of this information, I felt disparaged, scared and a little overwhelmed.  What can I do to protect my health from these toxic chemicals if they are in so many of the products I use every day?  Through my research, I came across the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website.  This website provides a comprehensive database of personal care products and cosmetics and rates them based on the dangerous chemicals they contain.  Deciding to give it a test run, I looked up my favorite Cover Girl mascara and soon learned it was rated 9 out of 10 as one of the most health hazardous mascara products to use! 

I should not have to search through an exhaustive database to find a safe product, especially when many of these safer products are not sold at my local grocery or drug store and are ridiculously expensive. It is ludicrous that manufacturers of personal care products and cosmetics do not test the safety of the chemicals they use, but even more disappointing that they are reluctant to innovate and find safer, healthier alternatives to put into my favorite Cover Girl mascara. 

Why should the burden of safety be placed on me, the consumer? But more importantly, why and how are the products we use every day allowed to contain these toxic and untested chemicals?  Cosmetics and personal care products fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, current legislation does not actually give the FDA any regulatory authority.  For example, since the FDA cannot require any type of pre-market safety assessment, nearly 89 percent of all ingredients used in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by any government institution.  Instead, the ingredients used in cosmetics are reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry-led, voluntary organization that has only actually tested the safety of 11 percent of the ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products.  With an inadequate regulatory system for cosmetics, we will continue to have products containing toxic and dangerous chemicals on the shelves. 

Good news!  The industry that soaks up 50 billion dollars a year from consumers might actually have to test their products, thanks to the introduction the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 that will reform the way the FDA regulates personal care products and cosmetics.  The introduction of the this legislation means we may have a chance, to keep using the products we want and like, and also rest assured that they are being made with chemicals that will not harm our reproductive health.  For more information on the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 and how you can take action, check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.  

So, what did I do about the 11 questionable products I put on my body every day? I’ve looked many of them up on the Skin Deep database—and I’ve replaced my shampoo, conditioner and body lotion with non-toxic alternatives. However, there are some things I’m just not willing to give up, and I shouldn’t have to.  That’s why I’m advocating for FDA reform, because looking good and feeling good shouldn’t cost me my health.

Analysis Abortion

Glorifying the Fetus While Ignoring the Fetal Environment

On The Issues Magazine

A new realignment of anti-abortion and pro-choice positions may be needed to control the toxic mess that is harming fetuses and the future health of humans

Originally written by Margie Kelly for On The Issues Magazine

Abortion opponents long ago slapped their brand on the fetus, parading giant graphic images of fetuses in marches and now calling for laws mandating pictures of fetuses inside a woman’s body via sonograms – sometimes even broadcasting them live in anti-abortion campaigns.

By separating fetuses from the fetal environment, they make women into enemies of the fetus. But with evidence that the fetal environment is being involuntarily polluted by toxins spewed into the air, water, food and products, something is askew.

Currently, there is sharp contrast in how the government wields a big stick to protect fetal life when restricting abortion, but fails to limit toxic chemical exposure to protect fetal life — let alone the health of pregnant women.

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“You cannot separate the woman from the fetus. If you want good outcomes for the fetus, you need to focus on the woman,” said Luisa Cabal, Director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City. “The government should take steps that don’t harm women to protect prenatal life.”

A new realignment of anti-abortion and pro-choice positions may be needed to control the toxic mess that is harming fetuses and the future health of humans.

Toxins Travel Into The Placenta

Scientific studies show exposure to toxic chemicals found in everyday products may increase the risk of harm to the developing fetus. Chemical exposure in the womb may lead to diseases and disorders later in life — from cancer and diabetes to autism, obesity, infertility and more.

In the early part of the 20th century, the placenta was considered an impenetrable barrier to substances that might harm the fetus. Now, we know the placenta is permeable, allowing toxic chemicals, along with drugs, alcohol and viruses to reach the developing fetus with negative effects. In utero exposure to mercury from fish and lead from dust is linked to impaired brain function, lower IQ and learning disabilities in children.

Studies on umbilical cord blood taken from newborn babies have confirmed that toxic chemicals, pesticides and pollutants are able to cross the placenta from mother to infant in the womb. One groundbreaking study on umbilical cord blood found newborn babies had an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their bodies.

The extent of chemical contamination is both shocking and completely unavoidable.

“No one has a choice in the matter. No one can remain free from chemical contamination of his or her own body,” said Sarah Janssen, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Despite evidence of harm to the fetus from toxic chemical exposure, Congress hasn’t updated the nation’s chemical law for more than 30 years. “Under current law, chemical companies are given free rein to cause multi-generational harm,” said Janssen.

Toxic chemicals are everywhere in our modern life. Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in hard plastics, cash register receipts and in the lining of food cans; toxic flame retardants are in foam furniture, nursing pillows and circuit boards; and PFOA is used to make nonstick cookware, microwave popcorn bags and lubricants for skis.

The effects of chemical exposure are profound. BPA and flame retardants have been associated with early puberty in girls, which leads to risk factors for disease later in life, including breast cancer. Obesity and diabetes have been linked to prenatal exposure to certain chemicals nicknamed “obesegens” for their role in stimulating fat accumulation. Cancer-causing chemicals like lead and formaldehyde, and others that cause reproductive problems are present in many personal care products, like lotions and makeup.

While scientists are learning how a single chemical acts on the body, no one knows what the impacts are from having hundreds of chemicals streaming through our bodies. “We don’t have a very good picture of how chemicals work in combination,” said Tracey Woodruff, PhD., director of the University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, and co-author of the first study to confirm that pregnant women carry multiple chemicals in their bodies that are passed onto their fetuses. Woodruff’s study found that prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb or in early life can cause harm that would not happen had the exposure occurred later in life.

“We should all be concerned about the evidence showing toxic chemicals can harm human health beginning in the womb, regardless of religious, scientific, legal or political beliefs about whether the fetus is a person,” said Eve Gartner, a staff attorney for Earthjustice and a former litigator with Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The consequences are too dire to ignore that there are real, long lasting impacts from toxic chemicals on all life.”

There’s broad agreement that toxic chemicals don’t belong in the womb.

Where is the Quality of Pro-Life?

But for all the emphasis on the fetus, pro-life organizations “have kept a pretty narrow focus on banning abortion with little to say about the quality of life after the fetus has been born,” said Janet Crepps, Deputy Director in the U.S. Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

For example, protecting the developing fetus from harm caused by toxic chemicals is not a part of the campaign to secure personhood rights for a fertilized egg from the moment of conception, according to Jennifer Mason, Director of Communications for Personhood USA, an anti-choice organization. Its efforts to amend the constitutions of Colorado and Mississippi were defeated by voters, but efforts are underway to get similar amendments on the 2012 ballots in Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and California.

In an interview, Mason acknowledged she was unfamiliar with the recent science about toxic chemicals and fetal development, but she found it alarming. “As a mom, it’s really concerning. Children should be protected. It’s important to tell pregnant women the truth about things that will harm their babies,” said Mason.

Could the presence of scores of toxic chemicals in newborn babies’ bodies be enough to channel the political power of the pro-life community to change U.S. chemical law?

The National Council of Churches, which has 100,000 congregations in its membership, has supported environmental health and justice work for decades. “We’re finding common ground with religious organizations about our shared concern over chemicals harming health,” said Lindsay Dahl, Deputy Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which supports the federal reform of the nation’s toxic chemical law.

In November 2011, the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order, issued an action alert to support overhauling the national chemical management system by passing the Safe Chemicals Act. The Franciscans noted support for the act shows “appreciation for creation, reverence for human life and dignity at all stages, and respect for the poor and vulnerable.”

The concern of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) about the impact of mercury on fetal health has led it to challenge pro-life Republicans on the morality of their opposition to regulations that limit mercury emissions. Mercury harms neurological development, leading to impaired cognitive thinking, memory, language and motor skills for children exposed in the womb.

EEN has identified mercury contamination as the most serious threat to women and, in its language, “their unborn children” since Roe v. Wade, according to an online petition signed by more than 100 evangelical leaders. “One in six babies born in the U.S. have harmful levels of mercury in their blood. Pro-life members of Congress should be doing everything they can to protect the unborn from this threat. For the life of me, I can’t understand why some are trying to block the EPA from regulating mercury levels when they know the unborn will pay the price,” said the Rev. Mitch Hescox, EEN president in a press release.

EEN is even running ads on Christian and country radio stations in the districts of pro-life House Republicans.

Catholic Bishop Stephen Blaire, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has spoken publicly about joining the evangelical community to address the threat of mercury to “protect our unborn and young children.”

When the EPA finally acted in December 2011 to curtail mercury emissions from power plants to protect child health, New York Times writer Paul Krugman observed, “So, naturally, Republicans are furious.”

Reproductive rights advocates are cautious, too, noting that the effort to work with pro-life leaders on the shared concerns of national health care reform in 2010 was substantially undermined by pro-life demands to further restrict abortion.

Yet both sides agree there is a moral urgency to ending the contamination of human beings from toxic chemicals, beginning in the womb. Government interest in fetal life shouldn’t be limited to blocking women’s right to choose. Instead, governments should choose to protect the interest in a healthy fetus by protecting women’s health, specifically women’s right to bear children and their right to a healthy pregnancy.


Margie Kelly is an environmental health advocate and Communications Manager for Healthy Child Healthy World, an organization that ignites the movement that empowers parents to protect children from harmful chemicals. She is the former director of Communications at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York and currently lives in Chicago. 

Commentary Sexual Health

STOKING FIRE: EPA Not Adequately Managing Risks of Chemicals in Consumer Products

Eleanor J. Bader

Meanwhile, US residents report skyrocketing rates of infertility, impacting both men and women, as well as an enormous spike in Autism Spectral Disorders, learning disabilities, and childhood cancers in the offspring we sire.

Early in 2009, Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, conceded that “EPA is not doing an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace, and the environment.”

You can say that again. Indeed, since the Toxic Substances Control Act [TSCA] took effect in January 1977, only three chemicals have been banned—lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls—and only 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals on the EPA’s radar have been tested to determine whether they pose a danger to human health.

Meanwhile, US residents report skyrocketing rates of infertility, impacting both men and women, as well as an enormous spike in Autism Spectral Disorders, learning disabilities, and childhood cancers in the offspring we sire.

If this isn’t a right to life issue I don’t know what is.

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According to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition, a Washington, DC-based network of healthcare providers, environmental and disability rights groups, reproductive health activists, and concerned individuals, “scientists on the cutting edge of research have found that chemicals such as phthalates, Bisphenol A [BPA], perflourinated compounds, and cadmium are linked to reproductive health problems.“

The upshot, a Coalition fact sheet continues, is that twelve percent of US women now have difficulties conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy, a nearly 40 percent jump since 1982. Known culprits include fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, and endometriosis, conditions considered rare just three decades ago. Low sperm count in men, and sperm deformities, have also increased.

These findings—as well as information about the chemicals we imbibe and breathe–are hardly a state secret. A 2008 report released by the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services was one of several to sound an alarm about one of the worst threats to healthy reproduction, Bisphenol A—a substance used to make plastics and epoxy resins. Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning that it mimics the body’s hormones to wreak havoc on health. Although the NTP’s study voiced “concern” about BPA’s impact on the brain, prostate gland, and development of fetuses and growing children, it stopped short of recommending that the substance be banned.

Canadian and European Union politicians, however, were far less circumspect and as data about the danger of BPA surfaced, they had no qualms about phasing it out and requiring manufacturers to remove it from products marketed to and used by newborns and infants. 

Canada also took action on toluene, a widely used solvent found in gasoline, lacquers, ink, rubber, and disinfectants—and in many nail polishes and perfumes—another chemical linked to reproductive ailments. The EPA’s own research corroborates toluene’s danger, demonstrating that fetuses exposed to it in utero are more likely to have attention deficits, nervous system disorders, and developmental delays than those who are not.

But has it been outlawed? Of course not.

Then there are phthalates, a vinyl softener—EPA estimates that 470 million pounds of them are produced annually—that like BPA, are known endocrine disruptors. Among the maladies attributed to phthalates: Cleft palate, skeletal malformations, and undescended testes.

To her credit, EPA head Lisa Jackson has indicated that EPA plans to begin reducing phthalate exposure in 2012. What’s more, she’s said that the EPA will “identify [other] priority chemicals for near-term evaluation.” As to what constitutes a priority, Jackson says that the Agency intends to use common sense, zeroing in on chemicals “where extensively reviewed data indicates they are carcinogens, cause reproductive/developmental concerns, or are identified as persistent bioaccumulative, and toxic.”

Although the plan sounds relatively tame, environmentalists are nonetheless skeptical about the Agency’s ability to carry this objective forward. They point to the Safer Chemicals Act of 2011, a bill introduced by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg in April—presently stalled in the Environment and Public Works Committee–that would update TSCA by making chemical manufacturers accountable for proving chemical safety and requiring them to submit regularly scheduled reports to the EPA. The Act would also empower the Agency to take whatever actions are necessary to reduce human contact with risk-laden products. 

You ask: Why is the bill languishing?  Activists blame the American Chemical Council, an industry trade association, for quashing all attempts to limit what manufacturers can and can’t do. A look at what transpired when Jackson’s EPA attempted to regulate clean-up and limit exposure to trichloroethylene, or TCE, last month is illustrative.  Despite the fact that TCE is known to negatively impact fetal development and harm the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and male reproductive systems of adults who are exposed to it, the industry went ballistic over EPA attempts to change how it does business. Pressure was brought to bear and the expected regulations were never announced.

“The public wants to be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals in the air, the water, and the products they bring into their homes every day,” concludes Daniel Rosenberg, a Natural Resources Defense Council blogger. “But it seems that the White House isn’t thinking about health, the environment, or the public, only about what the chemical industry and other big polluters are demanding.”

Fisk Johnson, CEO of S.C. Johnson, admitted as much in a keynote speech before the American Chemical Society last June: “Your child has a better chance of becoming a major league baseball player,” he quipped, “than a chemical has of being regulated by EPA.”

President Obama has the power to prove Johnson wrong by pushing the EPA to fulfill its mandate. But whether he’ll finally get off the bench and do something to protect the health of the American people remains to be seen

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