US Expert Cautions about Health Cost of “Beauty

13 March 2012, Muntinlupa City/Quezon City. A visiting expert in toxics reduction strategies in cosmetics and other consumer products is calling for stringent regulation that will do away with ingredients known or suspected of causing cancer and other serious harm to human health.

At a lecture-forum jointly organized by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EcoWaste Coalition, California-based Dr. Ann Blake spoke about “Women, Cosmetics and Toxic Chemicals” and the need for increased awareness on the health cost of “beauty.”

Held against a backdrop of shocking revelations regarding dangerous substances in beauty products sold in the Philippines and in the USA, the timely event saw over 100 participants from the government, industry and the civil society actively discussing the risks of chemical exposure in cosmetics and how these can be avoided.

The US FDA in December 2011 reported the presence of lead in 400 types of lipstick, while the Philippine FDA in August 2011 banned 50 brands of skin whitening creams for containing dangerous amounts of mercury, including products tested by the EcoWaste Coalition using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.

In her presentation, Dr. Blake drew attention to major chemicals of concern in cosmetics, for example, heavy metals such as lead in lipstick, mercury and hydroquinone in skin whiteners, coal tar derivatives in dark hair dyes, hormone disruptors in fragranced products, and formaldehyde and paraben preservatives in numerous personal care items.

“Cosmetic ingredients are ubiquitous in our bodies and the environment. The impacts of long-term, multiple chronic exposures are unknown, but recent science indicates cause for concern, particularly around heavy metals, persistent and bioaccumulative ingredients, and hormone-disrupting chemicals,” explained Blake.

“These chemicals are of particular concern for women, who have both higher exposure and higher accumulation of contaminants, as well as for fetuses and children at critical windows of development,” she said.

According to Blake, women have higher chemical exposure from consumer products, including cosmetics containing ingredients that are acutely toxic (e.g., lead, mercury) and chronic hormone disruptors (e.g., phthalates in fragrances).

Blake, however, clarified that everyone, including men, is impacted in various ways by our environmental exposures to chemicals, particularly those from products that are applied daily to the bodies.

“While men are exposed on average to six products a day versus 12 products for women, they are still exposed to some 80 unique chemicals from personal care products such as soap, shampoo, shaving cream, fragranced aftershave, etc. Some male-specific health effects include exposure to Di-Ethyl Phthalate (DEP), a hormone disruptor, that impact on sperm quality and motility,” she explained.

Environmental exposures to chemicals in commerce and consumer products are linked to major public health issues such as cancers, cardio-vascular diseases, autoimmune and neurological diseases, obesity and type II diabetes, pediatric asthma, reproductive and developmental disorders, Blake stated.

Citing information from the World Health Organization about the costs of disease burden from chemical exposure, Blake said that 19% of all cancers can be attributed to environmental exposures.

Exposures at critical windows of development, Blake pointed out, can cause lifetime problems (and costs to society) such as hypospadias (a birth defect of the male urethra) and the early onset of puberty in girls.

Other lifelong effects of early exposure to toxics, according to Blake, can include diseases affecting the central nervous system (autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease), female reproductive system (endometriosis, breast cancer), male reproductive system (cryptorchidism or undescended testicles, hypospadias infertility/subfertility, testicular cancer, prostate cancer) and other diseases such as juvenile diabetes and obesity.

Blake holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics of Neural Development from the University of Oregon, USA and is a member of the Green Ribbon Science Panel of California’s Environmental Protection Agency.

She has worked for 18 years in toxics reduction strategies that include creating criteria for environmentally preferable purchasing, eco-labeling and product rating systems as well as local, national and international chemicals policy reform.