To Your Health
April, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 04)
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Face the Facts

By Rita Woods

Many women start their day with a healthy application of makeup. But just how healthy is it? Learn what to look for when choosing makeup and other products - in particular, which ingredients can do more harm than good.

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines cosmetics as items intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering one's appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions. This definition includes skin-care creams, lotions, powders and sprays, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup, permanent waves, hair colors, deodorants, baby products, bath oils, bubble baths, and mouthwashes, as well as any material intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product.

As you can imagine, we are exposed to hundreds of these products each day. How do we know if what we are using is harmful? Well, just like the names of the thousands of chemicals that make up most of these items, it's not that

Several ingredients in our personal care products have come under fire recently thanks to the work of avid watchdog groups such as the Environmental Work Group ( One chemical in particular comes from the family of "phthalates" (pronounced THAY-lates). This one has prompted the state of California to ban its use in toys and baby products beginning in 2009. This is important to you because it can be hidden in your personal care products, too. Yes, hidden. Here's how.

In general, phthalates are known as plasticizers. There are eight members of this family and they are used in just about every industry in the world to make plastic pliable. Things like garbage bags, garden hoses and such are pliable thanks, in part, to the phthalates. Another important thing they do is to make the scent last longer in products. This feature puts them in our personal care products: makeup, nail polish, body washes, laundry soap, dryer sheets and shampoo, just to name a few.

But here's the catch - you won't see phthalates listed as an ingredient. They will be listed as a part of the fragrance ingredient which is exempt from the same labeling laws. Full disclosure of "fragrance" may jeopardize company trade secrets, so the company doesn't have to divulge that information. The real problem here is that this loophole can be used to "hide" other potentially harmful ingredients. Reproductive and birth defects are a concern for people who are highly exposed. Some advocates are trying to get phthalates removed from all cosmetics, and the loophole is under investigation.

The Centers for Disease Control ran tests to examine the extent of phthalates exposure in humans. Metabolites used to gauge exposure were present in 75 percent of the cases tested - a much higher incidence than previously thought. Visit for further information and details of the study on phthalates.

Another area of concern is the use of preservatives such as "methylparaben" and "proylparaben" in cosmetics. The same preservatives often are used in foods. If you eat a lot of processed foods, you could be increasing your exposure. According to most scientists, we just don't know what the long-term effects are of many chemicals. While there still is no concrete evidence they pose a health threat, there is some supportive evidence that they can elicit an allergic response in some people.