Safer Cosmetic Use for Teens

Teens use cosmetics. Sometimes lots of them. From hair gels and straighteners to eye make-up, body wash and lotions. And then some! Knowing which ones are healthy — and which ones aren’t — is important. Why? EWG found that adolescent girls’ bodies are contaminated with chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products. In fact, we detected 16 potentially toxic chemicals — phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks — in blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption.

To make matters worse, teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals, given the complex role they play during puberty – precisely when girls typically experiment with an increasing number and variety of body care products. When we surveyed them, our teen study participants reported using an average of 17 personal care products each day, 40 percent more than an adult woman.

Teens can easily make safer choices by reducing the number of body care products they use, viewing marketing claims with skepticism, always checking the ingredients for toxics (a good lifelong habit!), and following EWG guidelines to select safer products:

Acne productsAvoid:

Perfume, cologne, and body sprayAvoid:

Diethyl phthalate
“Fragrance” (listed as an ingredient)

Loose powders
Vitamin A (listed as: retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate) in skin and lip products

Safer make-up using Skin Deep
Sun protectionBe sun smart! Sunburns in children and teens increase your risk of the most deadly form of skin cancer–melanoma.

Avoid tanning beds. Tanning booths expose the skin to 15 times more UV sun. The use of tanning beds before age 30 can cause a 75 percent increase in melanoma.

Toxic Cosmetic Cover Up


By Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs and Nneka Leiba, Deputy Director of Research

For years, obstetricians and gynecologists have warned pregnant women to avoid everything from tobacco and caffeine to high heels.

Now, it appears, they will begin alerting them about something else: toxic chemicals in their cosmetics and other products.

As EWG has reported for more than a decade, many chemicals found in personal care products have the potential to hinder people’s ability to reproduce, to interfere with pregnancies and to cause birth defects.

And recently, citing scientific evidence accumulated over the last 15 years, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have urged doctors to warn their patients that exposure to toxic chemicals before conception and during pregnancy can have significant and long-lasting effects on reproductive health.

The medical groups’ conclusions align with EWG’s research, which has determined that reproductive health problems linked to toxic chemicals in cosmetics and other personal care products include:

Low birth weight
Preterm birth
Birth defects
For example, in 2005, scientists at the University of Rochester reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates —plasticizers commonly used in personal care products — was linked to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys. Despite these findings phthalates are still used in cosmetic products, including some nail polishes and “fragrance” mixtures.

Another group of troublesome ingredients oftem found in personal care products from moisturizers to toothpaste are parabens. Studies indicate they can mimic the hormone estrogen and interfere with the normal function of the hormone system.

Although dangerous chemicals are sometimes found in food, pregnant women are more likely to smear chemicals on their bodies than on their bagels.

According to an EWG survey, an average woman uses about twelve personal care products each day, exposing herself to about 168 unique chemicals. These products don’t always remain on the skin’s surface. Many cosmetics ingredients penetrate the skin. Scientists have found ingredients such as phthalates and fragrance components in human tissues.

Most cosmetics are not subject to any meaningful regulation. EWG is trying to change that. But powerful cosmetics houses are fighting efforts to give the federal Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate chemicals in cosmetics. They say they conduct their own “safety” reviews, but they do not have to share them with the FDA. What’s more, the FDA does not have the resources or legal authority to conduct its own safety reviews or to compel studies by cosmetic companies.

As the medical groups have pointed out in their joint statement, “Preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course…. Because of deficiencies in the current regulatory structure, unlike pharmaceuticals, most environmental chemicals have entered the marketplace without comprehensive and standardized information regarding their reproductive or other long-term toxic effect.”

Mindblowing Facts about Cosmetics Safety

From the EWG website:


December 12, 2013

Sharpen your pencils for a quick cosmetics quiz:

1. Are cosmetics products approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market?

2. Must toxic and allergenic ingredients be listed on cosmetics ingredient labels?

3. Is the term “Dermatologist Tested” a good way to pick products that won’t irritate your skin or cause allergic reactions?

No, no, and absolutely not.

EWG has been looking at the issue of cosmetic safety since 2002. We’ve been shocked to learn how little power the FDA exercises over the ingredients used in soaps, shampoos, sunscreens and makeup that people apply to their bodies daily.

EWG launched its Skin Deep database in 2004 to shine a light on problems created by FDA’s lax oversight of cosmetics and personal care products. Seven years and more than 230 million searches of Skin Deep later, we have educated millions of consumers, helped develop a market for less toxic products and seen major companies shift away from some of the most troublesome ingredients.

Changes to the FDA’s rules that govern cosmetic products are badly needed, but we haven’t seen any of them happening.

As the agency puts it on its website, “FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market.” As well, it acknowledges, “cosmetic companies may use almost any ingredient they choose.” Worse yet, the agency lacks the authority to recall possibly unsafe products.

For example, advocates, scientists and FDA officials themselves have warned consumer against hair straightening products, known as “Brazilian” or “keratin treatments.” In reality, they are based on formaldehyde, which the U.S. government and World Health Organization have categorized as a known human carcinogen.

The FDA launched an investigation of these formaldehyde hair straighteners in 2010 and has collected dozens of reports of serious hair damage and scalp burns by consumers using these products. The agency sent a warning letter to companies in 2011, but consumers continue to be exposed to these harmful products. Earlier this month, superstar Jennifer Anniston cut her famously straight hair short because, as she told ElleUK, “I did this thing called a Brazilian and my hair did not react really well to it.”

Want to know how little is known about the products you buy? Want to find out what label terms “dermatologist tested” or “hypoallergenic” really mean? Need to know if you can avoid allergenic ingredients by reading product labels? You can sort out myths from facts about cosmetics safety with EWG’s Skin Deep website.

Find out if you are a savvy cosmetics shopper by taking FDA’s cosmetics safety quiz. While we may quibble with one or two of the answers here, we appreciate the agency’s frank admission that it cannot do what’s necessary to ensure the safety of personal care products

Formaldehyde in personal care products

by Jason Rano on the EWG site

This morning, millions of Americans needlessly exposed themselves to harmful chemicals in their personal care products.


Because two cosmetic industry giants refuse to stop putting preservatives in products that have been linked to cancer and reproductive health problems.

Revlon and L’Oreal continue to use Quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin -- preservatives that slowly release formaldehyde. Health experts classify formaldehyde as a carcinogen when inhaled.

What’s more, Revlon and L’Oreal continue to use long-chain parabens as preservatives as well. Some parabens are endocrine-disruptors—that is, they interfere with the hormones that regulate the development and growth of our reproductive system.

Last month, more than 100,000 of you joined a petition urging Revlon and L’Oreal to reformulate their productive to stop using formaldehyde-releasing preservative and endocrine disruptors like parabens. We’ll be sharing your request with Revlon and L’Oreal soon.

We hope Revlon and L’Oreal will follow the example set by Johnson and Johnson, which has already promised you they would phase out some of these ingredients.

J&J announced last year that the company would phase out formaldehyde releasers like Quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin in all baby products and -- except for rare instances -- in adult products as well

J&J still has a ways to go to get potentially dangerous ingredients out of products many Americans use daily. Although the company committed to phase out some parabens, J&J will continue to use others that have been linked to negative health effects.

Why are consumers at the mercy of cosmetic giants like Revlon and L’Oreal?

Because some companies are blocking legislative reforms that would give FDA the power to ban or restrict the use of harmful ingredients in cosmetics.

Guess who? That’s right. Revlon and L’Oreal, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.



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