Makeup Goes Organic
Makeup's ugly secrets were discussed last month in this column.
Readers may have been surprised to learn that the multi-billion dollar
cosmetic industry is basically self-regulating, with little control
from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other governmental
agency, despite the fact that hundreds of toxic substances are used
in everyday toiletries and cosmetics. Many of these chemicals have
been identified as – or are – suspected carcinogens and
mutagens contributing to birth defects and fertility problems.
Mercury is a deadly poison and a heavy metal that accumulates in the
body and is easily absorbed through skin. The paraben family (ethyl,
and butyl) are widely used as preservatives in numerous toiletries. They are
found in many "natural" products and in some so-called "organic" products.
Parabens act as hormone disruptors, raising the risk of breast cancer and low
sperm count.1,2 While the public is warned increasingly of hazardous mercury
exposure in fish, dental amalgams, and vaccines, no mention is made of mercury
compounds in eye makeup.
Propylene Glycol, a petroleum derivative, is used as a moisturizer and emulsifier
in most cosmetics, including "natural" products. It is also used
in hydraulic brake fluid and antifreeze and may cause allergic and toxic reactions
in some individuals. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
requires workers to wear protective clothing, gloves, and goggles when working
with this toxic chemical. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns against
skin contact with propylene glycol, citing possible brain, liver, and kidney
abnormalities that might result from such contact.1
Fragrance chemicals are added to nearly every personal care product and can
even be added to fragrance-free, unscented, and natural products without being
listed on the ingredients label. These chemicals enter the body through skin
absorption, inhalation, or ingestion, and go directly to the brain. Most of
the 4,000 different fragrance ingredients are petroleum derivatives. The FDA
lists fragrance as the primary cause of allergic skin reactions to cosmetics,
while the EPA considers fragrance, second-hand smoke, and formaldehyde as triggers
Lipsticks are generally synthetic waxy colors consisting of coal tar dyes and
mineral oil waxes. The synthetic ingredients may cause an irritation of the
lips called cheilitis. Lipstick is ingested when it comes into contact with
food that touches the lips. Over a lifetime, that adds up to a great deal of
toxic eating. Aubrey Hampton, of Hampton Organics, recommends consumers switch
to natural lipsticks made of vegetarian waxes, such as carnauba or candellia,
and natural vegetable colors or carmine, a red color derived from the dried
female cochineal beetles of Central and South America.1
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health claims 884 chemicals
presently available for use in cosmetics are toxic substances associated with
genetic damage, biologic mutations, and cancer. Mainstream brands of personal
care products and makeup contain a wide range of undisclosed carcinogenic ingredients
and contaminants. The FDA lacks the ability to recall harmful products, relying
exclusively on the voluntary cooperation of the industry.5
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Consumers face a rude awakening when they learn that cosmetic ingredients are
not adequately tested nor proven safe for long term use. The tide is slowly
turning, however. Europe has taken the lead in passing protective legislation,
while on the home front, a coalition of grassroots organizations is putting
pressure on the industry and getting some favorable results.
In January 2003, the European Union passed legislation banning the use in
cosmetics of chemicals known to cause – or strongly suspected of causing – cancer,
mutations, or birth defects. As of September 2004, cosmetics sold in the European
market had to be reformulated to comply with the new law banning many toxic
ingredients. These same companies continued to market products containing the
toxic chemicals to American consumers.6
Awareness about the health risks associated with toxic chemicals in cosmetics
has also been gaining momentum in this country during the past few years. A
diverse coalition led by the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group,
Health Care without Harm, and many other advocacy organizations launched a
major campaign designed to persuade cosmetic manufacturers to eliminate toxic
ingredients from their products and substitute safer alternatives.6
More than 150 companies have signed onto the Compact for Safe Cosmetics agreeing
to phase out known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins.
Some widely recognized companies, including Avon, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal,
Revlon, and others who capitalize on their high-profile roles in raising money
for breast cancer research, initially refused to sign the Compact for Safe
Cosmetics, even though they were manufacturing safer products for their European
clientele. A coalition of environmental and women's groups protested
this double standard until the world's largest cosmetic manufacturers
agreed to offer American consumers the same reformulated products required
by the European Parliament.6,7
Responding to voters' demands, California has become the first state
to pass its own Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005. Unfortunately, industry lobbyists
were successful in killing a bill that would ban phthalates in cosmetics. Phthalates
are plasticizers that accumulate in human tissue and have become the most abundant
synthetic chemical in our environment. Some phthalates mimic female hormones,
while others interfere with male hormones which leads to birth defects and
sexual abnormalities. According to chemist, John Brock of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), "women of childbearing age (20-40) have
50% higher phthalates than average." This is an area of concern that
should be getting more attention.8
Massachusetts is working on a bill to replace the phthalate DEHP and other
toxic chemicals with safer alternatives. Legislators in New York are also considering
a ban on two phthalates commonly used in cosmetics. A battle is gearing up
between consumers and cosmetic industries. It remains to be seen which group
will exert the strongest influence over lawmakers. Cosmetic sales generate
a $35 billion industry, while exposing users to hundreds of uncontrolled toxic
substances. A growing number of vocal consumers are expressing outrage at this
affront to public health and are making strides in the legislative process.
This issue goes beyond women who use makeup. Parents should become more knowledgeable
to help young people avoid toxic products, and health professionals may wish
to do the same for their patients. (To find out how you can join the Campaign
for Safe Cosmetics, visit www.safecosmetics.org.7)
Choosing Safer Products
SKINDEEP is an online, brand-by-brand, personal care product safety guide providing
in-depth information on 14,108 personal care products and the 6,903 ingredients
they contain. The SKINDEEP project was initiated by the consumer advocacy
organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help consumers choose safer
products by reviewing product safety ratings.9
Over 200 companies have signed onto the Compact for Safer Cosmetics, and the
SKINDEEP database lists the signers by company and brand name. The following
ten companies are representative of signers:
11. Aubrey Organics
33. Burt's Bees, Inc.
55. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
66. Ecco Bella Botanicals
EO Products / Small World Trading Co. Inc.
My Face Corp.
1010. Lily of Colorado
A review of the top ten makeup "brands
of concern" listed
by SKINDEEP include the following:
2. Sally Hansen
3. Ultima II
5. Gillette (men's skin care products)
6. Estee Lauder
9. Cover Girl
10. Elizabeth Arden9
Many smaller companies are dedicated
to making safer products. Myra Michelle Eby, creator of MyChelle
developed a line of lip colors
and skin care products using non-toxic and paraben-free ingredients that
are safe for the consumer and for the environment. Their contact
1-800-447-2076 and www.mychelleusa.com.
Aveda offers an extensive line of beauty and personal care products made
with pure aromatic flower and plant essences while protecting biodiversity
Their comprehensive web site, www.aveda.com, also includes the ingredients
for each product.
Neways International is company that has made strides in eliminating carcinogenic
chemicals from its products by using non -certified organic ingredients
in many of its makeup and personal care items. They do use paraben preservatives
in some products. Neways can be reached at 801-418-2000, www.neways.com.
Magick Botanicals is a company that makes products tolerated by individuals
who are chemically sensitive and environmentally ill, including individuals
with celiac disease. Their products are fragrance and gluten-free, and
contain no corn, wheat, or soy. They have even removed the botanical ingredients
for the benefit of consumers who were intolerant of those substances. The
may contain parabens or other synthetic ingredients, however, and can be
ordered from N.E.E.D.S. 1-800-634-1380.
Organic Makeup Hits the Scene
Consumer demand drives the market, and the direction is definitely toward organics.
Along with a growing demand for organic food comes an increasing demand for
organic cosmetic products.
By its own admission, the FDA is unable to protect the public from harmful
ingredients in personal care products. A further blow to consumer protection
came on June 1, 2005 when the US Department of Agriculture refused to allow
the use of its "USDA Organic" label on cosmetics, claiming they
did not "have any standards for personal care or cosmetic products," because
these commodities fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA!
Some manufacturers of body care products protested the USDA's denial
of allowing organic cosmetic products from carrying the "USDA Organic" label,
and together with the Organic Consumer's Association sued the department
for its refusal to certify cosmetics.10 Two months later the USDA reversed
its previous denials and decided to allow the "USDA Organic" seal
to be used on approved cosmetic and personal care products. This should help
consumers make better choices among the thousands of personal care items competing
for the same dollar.11
Leading this battle was Dr. Bronner's, a long established and well respected
manufacturer of pure nontoxic soaps. They feature a new line of Dr. Bronner's & Sundogs
MAGIC lotions and balms with certified organic ingredients.11
In addition to Dr. Bronner's
(www.DrBronnerSunDog.com) several additional companies have developed
makeup and personal care products using organic ingredients.
Aubrey Hampton, founder of Aubrey Organics, has also been a pioneer in developing
cosmetic products made with natural and nontoxic ingredients. His entire line
of products can be viewed on the web site, www.aubrey-organics.com.
ONE Group of Australia proudly offers Miessence, a line of organic cosmetics
and makeup which includes a large selection of lip colors, face powders, blush,
and mascara. Miessence products carry the "Australian Certified Organic" and
the "USDA Organic" labels. More information is available from their
www.onegrp.com/?herbalskincare (1-866-221-9167 or 705-855-6964).
The Organic Makeup Company in Ontario, Canada, adheres to stringent guidelines
for creating a full line of makeup products with certified organic ingredients.
The company has even substituted plant waxes for beeswax to accommodate their
vegan customers. Their contact information is 905-479-9295 and www.organicmakeup.ca.
Many additional companies, offering less toxic products and organic makeup
products, can be found on the internet. This is by no means a complete list
It behooves consumers to always read
ingredient labels on all products. Advertising can be misleading. Products
may claim to be "natural" or made
with "organic" ingredients, but may still include parabens, synthetic
fragrance, or other unwanted ingredients.
In addition to signing onto the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, consumers can phone
the companies whose products they use and express their concerns directly.
Many product labels carry toll-free phone numbers. Companies want to know what
their customers are thinking.
A wonderful example involves the Emerita Company, makers of a natural progesterone
cream that was highly promoted by the late Dr. John R. Lee in his newsletters
and books. This writer was disappointed to find the product contained parabens
as a preservative and wrote the company of this concern. A response was received
acknowledging that other preservatives were being considered. The company now
uses natural lemon peel oil instead of parabens. It is a wonderful win-win
For more information on the topic of makeup ingredients, readers may check
the following sites:
Safer products to purchase can be
found at these sites:
1. Hampton, A. Natural Organic Hair & Skin Care. Tampa, FL: Organic
2. Lark, S. Are you dying to look good? The
Lark Letter. (877-437-5275).
3. Williams, RM. Cosmetic chemicals and safer alternatives. TLDP. 2004;247/248.
4. Henkel, J. Color additives fact sheet. Food and Drug Administration.
Available at: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/cos-221.html. Accessed November
5. FDA fails to protect consumers fact sheet, Environmental Working
Group. Available at www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep. Accessed January
6. Small, G. WTC joins the campaign for safe cosmetics. Alternatives (Washington Toxics Coalition), Summer 2005.
7. The campaign for safe cosmetics. Weavings (Women's Voices
for the Earth). Summer 2005.
8. Williams, RM. Plastics, the sixth basic food group, part II. TLDP.
9. SKINDEEP. Environmental Working Group. Available at: www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep2/findings/index.
Accessed January 10, 2006.
(3/18/06: Above link is no longer a valid
10. USDA prohibits body care products from carrying organic seal. Beyond
Pesticides Tech Report. 2005;20,7.
11. Vincent, R. Organic beauty products get a lift with USDA about-face.
LA Times. August 5, 2005.
Rose Marie Williams, MA
156 Sparkling Ridge Road
New Paltz, New York 12561 USA
"Health Risks and the Environment"
by Rose Marie Williams, MA, president of the Cancer Awareness Coalition,
P.O. Box 533, New Paltz, NY 12561 (email@example.com)
$20.00 (free postage within US) – Please specify Video or
Check or Money Order made out to the Cancer Awareness Coalition,
How environmental risk factors affect health more than inherited
genes is discussed in this candid talk by health advocate, Rose Marie
Williams. Included are suggestions
for reducing toxic exposures around the home, contact numbers for reasonably
priced water testing, pesticide information, and references for useful books
The Cancer Awareness Coalition, Inc. is a 501©(3) grassroots health
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