Beauty products linked to cancer, birth defects, hormonal issues

Valerie Mason-Robinson didn’t originally plan to open Eden Organix, her natural and organic beauty products store and spa in Highland Park. The chemical engineering graduate started her career in the mainstream cosmetic industry, working in the sales departments of some of the world’s largest cosmetic companies.

Her path changed when her first child’s skin issues prompted her to learn more about some of the ingredients found in beauty and personal-care products.

“A lot of (mainstream) products contain skin irritants as well as chemicals linked to breast cancer, testicular cancer, asthma, eczema, early puberty and aging skin,” says Mason-Robinson, an aesthetician who now encourages people to use beauty and personal-care products with natural ingredients instead of synthetic ones. “To me, using those products is killing yourself softly, truthfully.”

Mason-Robinson isn’t alone in her concern about the ingredients used in many mainstream beauty and personal-care products. Several nonprofit organizations, including the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, are working to eliminate chemicals they believe are linked to cancer, birth defects, hormonal issues and other health problems from cosmetics and personal care products.

“Everything from deodorant to baby shampoos contains things that you shouldn’t put on your body,” says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which recently was involved in convincing the New Brunswick-based company Johnson & Johnson to eliminate potentially carcinogenic chemicals from some of its baby shampoos. “The skin is very effective at absorbing chemicals, and in some cases, it can be an even more direct route of exposure because it doesn’t go into your digestive system.” According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the top ingredients and contaminants to avoid in personal-care and cosmetic products include triclosan, formaldehyde, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives such as quaternium-15 and dimethyl-dimethyl, parabens like methylparaben and propylparaben, synthetic musks and hydroquinone.

The Environmental Working Group tests tens of thousands of personal-care and beauty products on a regular basis and gives each product a safety rating on its Skin Deep database online. Goodguide.com offers a similar ratings service for all types of products. Malkan also encourages people to support the Safe Cosmetic Act, federal legislation introduced in July. If passed, this would remove chemicals linked to reproductive harm and cancer from personal-care and beauty products and set up a system for safety assessments of those products under the FDA. Corley believes as more information becomes readily available for consumers more companies will begin to remove chemicals linked to health risks from their products.

“People are buying more and more natural products,” he says. “A lot of people thought it was just a trend, but it has become a lifestyle for people. You are starting to see the green movement really move.” tests tens of thousands of personal-care and beauty products on a regular basis and gives each product a safety rating on its Skin Deep database online. Goodguide.com offers a similar ratings service for all types of products.

Malkan also encourages people to support the Safe Cosmetic Act, federal legislation introduced in July. If passed, this would remove chemicals linked to reproductive harm and cancer from personal-care and beauty products and set up a system for safety assessments of those products under the FDA.

Corley believes as more information becomes readily available for consumers more companies will begin to remove chemicals linked to health risks from their products.

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