Chemicals in Your Cosmetics

Hi there,

I am so busy writing papers and doing homework right now, that I am finding it hard to regularly post. I promise I will come back and give you some great recipes and more information soon. But right now I want you to have this very important info that I gathered together and wrote a paper on for my college writing course.

Chemicals in Your Cosmetics: by Charlene Venette Oct, 2016

We absorb up to sixty percent of what we put on our skin, making us susceptible to diseases associated with our liver, endocrine system, brain and kidneys when the products that we use contain harmful ingredients. Children are at a higher risk than adults, of developing chemical related diseases because; they absorb up to fifty percent more, through their skin, than adults. You may have seen public announcements or advertisement’s about recent findings that Talc contained in the majority of body powders may cause uterine cancer. The most sold powder is baby powder, and talc is still being added to this product. Young mothers that are unaware of the risks, can still buy and use it on their female babies, thus putting them at risk for medical issues later in life. I lost my mother and my foster mother to cancer of the uterus and breast. They both were heavy users of cosmetics. My mother was a beautician and my foster mother was a cosmetic counter sales clerk. I believe, their exposure to toxic chemicals, in cosmetics was a contributing factor in their deaths. These ingredients also find their way into our water ways, and ground water, thus affecting the health of our Eco Systems.

The FDA should regulate more closely, the use of harmful ingredients in cosmetics because; it is supposed to protect us. The current FDA policy on regulating the ingredients used by cosmetic companies is not to regulate them. The FDA website states “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but there are laws and regulations that apply to cosmetics on the market in interstate commerce.” (FDA 1,2) It goes further to say that companies and individuals, who market cosmetics have the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. It does claim to monitor products that have been established as being harmful to consumers, when used as intended. The issue here is that it’s not mandatory for these companies to report issues about safety concerns to the FDA; instead, there are issue reporting guidelines for consumers to follow. Another page of the FDA website lays out the ways in which the FDA goes about monitoring a product.   It uses these methods only when an issue is reported to the agency by a consumer. The current, in place methods or programs taken directly from the site mentioned above are.

  • Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program – Registering a product with the FDA and its ingredients
  • Facility Inspections – Only when an issue is reported, it could be random but rarely
  • Surveys of products – Periodically reviewing a product
  • Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel reports from consumers and health care providers – Periodic reviews on random products

When a consumer reports an issue they fill out forms with detailed information. This is good; however the FDA makes no promises that any action will be taken to remove these product’s from the market. There are also no expectations placed on the company to make changes to their formula. (Bad Reaction 10)

The ingredients of concern are those considered to be harmful to our health when used on a regular basis. Remember that our skin, our largest organ, absorbs up to sixty percent of what we put on it.  The list of ingredients that are harmful is quite extensive. If I listed them all it would eventually overwhelm you. I am going to list just a few of the commonly known ones, these can be eliminated or have an alternative.

  • Sodium Laurel Sulfate – A surfactant that is used as an engine degreaser, commonly used to degrease and wash down equipment in manufacturing plants. Sodium Laurel Sulfate is used in almost every traditional cleansing product to create a high suds experience, it has been shown to cause eczema and is a skin irritant. The FDA originally found it safe in 1980 on the basis of available information the CIR had; but is recently re-evaluating it for its safety. Coconut based surfactants could be used in it’s place in fact the natural products industry currently uses it and it works great.
  • Glycols – Are toxic chemicals commonly used in antifreeze. They are so toxic that the EPA requires you to use gloves, protective clothing and goggles when working with them. The EPA also requires companies to dispose of it by burying it. They warn against skin contact to prevent liver, brain and kidney abnormalities. (Centers 1) The most commonly used glycol is propylene glycol.

An alternative, Propanediol is a plant-derived, renewable resource alternative to Propylene Glycol. It also complies with ECOcert’s guidelines (a natural certification body based in France) and other natural product standards. (Zemea 1,2)

  • Parabens – Are used as a preservative. Traces of it have been found in breast cancer tumors and may contribute to hormone imbalance and early puberty in girls and sterility in males. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported that regular use could cause some women to develop breast cancer. (Darbre 925-938) Essential oils could be used in place of chemical preservatives, two that I am personally familiar with and have used with great success are vitamin e and rosemary oil.
  • PEG’s (Polyethylene Glycol) – This shows up in baby care, sunscreen and other personal care products. According to A Consumers Guide of Cosmetic Ingredients, by Ruth Winters the toxic impurity known as 1,4-Dioxane is the primary component of concern it shows up in ethe or oxinol forms and is a known carcinogen recognized by the FDA. Companies can remove 1,4-Dioxane but most do not, some conscientious companies do remove it with very little extra cost.  Ethylene Glycol and its ethers are nephrotoxic if applied to damaged skin. (263, 289) Nephrotoxicity is toxicity in the kidneys. It is a poisonous effect of some substances, both toxic chemicals and medications, on renal function. (Merriam 1) According to Winter’s, Ethylene Glycol is used to enhance the surfactant properties of the primary surfactant, again it can be replaced or not even needed when coconut based surfactants are used. (Winters 263)

The chemicals I have discussed, along with many others, also do damage to our eco system. They have shown up in waterways, estuaries, and rivers polluting them, and at times creating some very strange creatures. In the article:  Cosmetics waste blamed for Great Lakes pollution By Chris Barker, he states “Scientists say that the Minnesota Great Lakes are becoming clogged with plastic micro particles, some of which may be from cosmetic waste.” (Barker 6) Barker also mentions a recent study, revealing that many Minnesota lakes contain, unsettling amounts, of triclosan an ingredient in antibacterial soaps, deodorants and other cosmetic products. It has been linked to endocrine disruption, cancer and increased dermal sensitization.  Kenn Oberrecht, in the article How Estuaries are Polluted, mentions chemical run-off from manufacturers as being a major way in which our water systems are polluted. (Oberrecht 3,4,5)

I propose that a new policy be created that does require the FDA to regulate and have power over the cosmetic companies. FDA Guidelines are already in place, that could be used to regulate companies more closely. They are available on the FDA website. I mentioned them in the beginning of my paper.  Five simple steps could be made mandatory to follow to establish a more protective procedure for these companies:

  1. Require the companies to go through a Cosmetic Registration Program.

The FDA encourages cosmetic firms to report product formulations through the VCRP. The VCRP database provides important information on these cosmetics. However, the companies are not legally required to tell FDA about their products and safety data. The new policy would require that this step is mandatory.

  1. Require that the companies submit research findings about any unknown ingredients that they want to use. The CIR is an independent, industry-funded panel of medical and scientific experts that meets quarterly to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients based on data in the published literature as well as voluntarily information provided by the cosmetic industry. The industry data may or may not be complete. FDA takes the results of CIR reviews into consideration when evaluating safety, but the results of FDA safety assessments may differ from those of CIR. With the new policy the ingredients would have to be researched and reviewed.
  2. Require the FDA to utilize the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Information for this comes from an expert panel of Reports from consumers and health care providers. Because the law does not require that bad reactions to cosmetics be reported to FDA, we may be unaware of problems. The FDA does try to increase consumer awareness about the importance of reporting cosmetic-related problems by posting these instructions on their website: If you experience a bad reaction to a cosmetic, please contact FDA’s problem-reporting program, Med Watch, on the Web or at 1-800-332-1088; or contact the consumer complaint coordinator in your area. This is the current policy. The above statement is the current. The new policy would make it mandatory for the cosmetic companies to report these bad reactions to the FDA and make public announcements about the issue.
  3. Require companies to report periodic analysis of their products. The FDA periodically buys cosmetics and analyzes them, especially if aware of a potential problem. The information obtained can be used to alert consumers, support regulatory actions, or issue guidance for industry. The FDA does not have the resources to sample and analyze all cosmetics on the market. Under the new policy companies would be responsible for doing analysis of their products using independent analysis laboratories and reporting the results to the FDA. The analysis would need to be done as part of a scheduled process and the results could be posted for consumers to review.
  4. Require the FDA to do inspections of the manufacturing facility.

The FDA should inspect manufacturing facilities to determine if proper controls and practices are being followed. They also need to examine all imported cosmetics. But because resources are limited, only a few establishments are inspected each year, and just a fraction of imports are physically examined. The new policy would make regularly scheduled inspections mandatory similar to health inspections for restaurants.

By enacting a new policy we could help clean up our water ways, reduce the amount of external damage done to our bodies, and protect ourselves, children and grandchildren from future diseases. The cosmetic companies could follow the example of the natural/organic cosmetic products that are currently on the market. These products are already recommended by environmental agencies to be used when camping or spending time in the wild. These products work for humans and protect our environment.

I believe, we need more consumer education, to make people aware of the dangers of these ingredients. Informed, consumers may become interested enough, to lobby to have the policy changed. There would then need to be a bill submitted to the house stating the need for this change. If the bill were to get passed the EcoCert Certification Body for Sustainable Development has guidelines that may be useful to the FDA. If the cosmetic company’s lobbyists kept the bill from being passed perhaps a boycott would be in order.

Works Cited

BARKER, Chris. “Cosmetics Waste Blamed for Great Lakes Pollution.” USA. 09 July 2013. Web. <>

 “Bad Reaction to Cosmetics? Tell FDA.” Bad Reaction to Cosmetics? Tell FDA. Web. <>

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 03 Mar. 2011. Web.<;

“Cosmetics Q&A: Why Are Cosmetics Not FDA-approved?” Cosmetics Q&A: Why Are Cosmetics Not FDA-approved? Web. <>

Darbre, Philippa D., and Philip W. Harvey. “Parabens Can Enable Hallmarks and Characteristics of Cancer in Human Breast Epithelial Cells: A Review of the Literature with Reference to New Exposure Data and Regulatory Status.” Journal of Applied Toxicology 34.9 (2014): 925-38. Print.

“How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics.” How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics. Web. <>

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2004. Print.

Winter, Ruth. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: Three Rivers, 1999. Print.

“Zemea®.” DuPont Tate and Lyle Bio Products. 11 May 2016. Web. <;









  5. Journal of Applied Toxicology volume 34, Issue 9, Sept. 2014, Pages: 925-938, Philippa D. Darbre and Philip W. Harvey

Version of Record online: 22 Jul 20114, DOI: 10.1002/jat.3027

  1. A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, M.S., 6th Edition 1999, Pages 263 and 389
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Nephrotoxicity)
  6. Some wording was taken directly from the FDA website so that I did not misrepresent any of their policy.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s