Tag Archives: FDA

Lead in Lipstick–Really

15 Feb

Those kissable lips we wrote about yesterday may have some lead on them if you use lipstick.  The FDA released its most recent findings and found 400 shades of lipstick contain lead.  L’Oreal, Revlon, Maybelline, Cover Girl, and Nars were in the top ten for highest contaminant amounts.  The FDA claims the amounts are traceable, but are not harmful because little is ingested or absorbed. 

What the FDA needs to ask is: What are the cumulative effects of lead in lipstick on women who wear lipstick daily and who reapply it throughout the day (lead builds up in the body)?  What are the effects on pregnant women and on women who want to become pregnant?  What about women with small children who love lipstick kisses from mommy or like to play with mommy’s lipstick?  Scientists and researchers who have studied lead say there is no safe amount of lead for pregnant women and children.  Read more:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – “Lead in Lipstick”  

Washington Post – “400 shades of lipstick found to contain lead…”

NPR – “Consumer Groups Want Lead out of Lipstick”


The Stealth Bomber in Your Skincare – Nanoparticles

14 Jun

Just as a stealth bomber can quietly enter an area and wreck havoc, so could some nano-ingredients in your skincare products once they get into your body. If you aren’t aware of nanotechnology, it’s time that you became aware.  Why should you care? Because more and more nanomaterials are making their way into your life.  And the scary thing is, the effects of this technology on the body or environment are not fully understood:

In one of the most dramatic failures of regulation since the introduction of asbestos, corporations around the world are rapidly introducing thousands of tons of nanomaterials into the environment and onto the faces and hands of millions of people, despite the growing body of evidence indicating that nanomaterals can be toxic to human and the environment.[i]

This quote is from scientist studying the toxicology of nanoparticles.

There is limited research on how nanoparticles affect the body and environment, but what research has been done have shown that many nanomaterials are toxic: They can cause DNA mutation, cross the brain-blood barrier, cause cell death, and go to the fetus of an unborn child from the mother. 

Disturbingly, the use of nano technology in products is unregulated.  This means that companies can use this technology without first proving its safety, and they also do not have to disclose their products contain, or use nanotechnology.

What Is Nanotechnology?

Pull out a hair on your head.  Ouch!  Look at the width of it–you can barely discern how wide it is, right?  Well, imagine if you can, the width of your hair being 100,000 times smaller than the size it is.  That’s the size of nanoparticles. Here’s another way to picture a nanoparticle from William Hofmeister of University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Center for Laser Applications: ‘If a centimeter is represented by a football field, a nanometer would be the width of a human hair lying on the field.’[ii]

Nanomaterials are smaller versions of their larger counterparts (titanium dioxide, gold, silver, copper, liposomes, etc.) that are manipulated to perform in a certain way or do a certain function. But, (a very important but) they differ chemically from their larger version and that is where the danger lies. Even the FDA recognizes this:

…due to their small size and extremely high ratio of surface area to volume, nanotechnology materials often have chemical or physical properties that are different from those of their larger counterparts.

In other words, nanoparticles can change color, strength, be more reactive, and react differently than their larger equivalent. This is what is known; what is not completely known is how these changes affect the body and our environment. 

Nanotechnology without a doubt is an exciting new scientific field of study and has many non-human applications.  They’re used in electronics; researchers at Rice University even made a molecular car using nanoparticles.  However, nanotechnology is also an incredibly powerful science that is being put to use to market products without knowing the totality of the science.  In other words, the horse is coming before the cart.  Sadly, not only are we the lab rats, we are uniformed and nonconsensual lab rats.

Cosmetic Manufacturers’ Nanotechnology Bandwagon

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are good examples of how cosmetic companies have gotten on the nanotechnology bandwagon.  Titanium dioxide is the compound most often made into nanoparticles.  The Environmental Working group estimates that there are approximately 10,000 over-the counter products using nanotitatnium dioxide.  Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are not new cosmetic ingredients; they’ve been used for years.

Now using nanotechnology, these two ingredients have been manipulated at the molecular level.  When used in sunscreen and other cosmetic applications, the smaller particles allow for greater absorption of titanium oxide and zinc oxide, remove the chalky whiteness of these two ingredients, and is said to increase UV protection.

So, many sunscreen companies are using them, including products that are labeled natural and in some cases organic.  [Aubrey Organics was one company that was caught by Consumer Report to have had nanoparticles in their sunscreen when they claimed not to.  Aubrey’s has since said that they have changed their sunscreen formula–in April.]

This is also part of the problem with this technology, who to trust? It’s not like the average consumer can test their products to see if the labeling is correct.  Also realize that manufactures are not required to put this information on their labels.  The FDA only investigates ingredients in cosmetics after they are in the marketplace and after a safety concern has been raised–not before people use them–only after and if there is a concern. 

The FDA just released today its draft guidance on “Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology.”  As they state on their website, “FDA’s issuance of this guidance is a first step toward providing regulatory clarity on FDA’s approach to nanotechnology.”  This is just a beginning discussion on what constitutes nano-ingredients and not a regulation of nano ingredients in skincare products. It took years to get them to this point; it could take more years for regulations, if at all.

Some studies have suggested that the new mineral sunscreen using nanotechnology are actually more harmful to the skin.  In addition, experiments show that some nanoparticles can get absorbed into the lungs; cause cancer; build up in the body, and can cross from mother into the fetus, causing birth defects[iii].

Stealth Health Bomber

Nanotechnology has the potential of being the stealth health bomber of the modern era.  It is being introduced into more products daily with companies rushing for patents on new nanomaterials.  We are quietly being bombarded with this technology, and most consumers are not even aware of it.  With a slick slight of hand that’s the hallmark of marketing, a compelling message is sent.  We hear that “new science” or “bio-science” has shown a better way for ingredients to be absorbed into the skin to prevent aging, remove wrinkles, and carry nutrients deeper into the epidermis. 

We don’t question whether this is “good for us science” or just “marketing science.”  We say to ourselves: “Hey, the container it comes in looks pure and very pretty. And this is a major cosmetic company; they wouldn’t put anything harmful in there.”  Or, “the skincare line I use is very expensive with high quality ingredients; it has to be safe.”   We trust too easily.   The government does not regulate the use of nanotechnology. All the while, these nanoparticles are entering the body where they don’t leave, and could possibly alter genes.  Stealthily, these nanomaterials are doing who knows what to the body.

Because of their size, nanoparticles are more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles and are able to cross biological membranes and access cells, tissues and organs that larger sized particles normally cannot.[iv]

We may not even know for generations to come the unintended consequences of such ingredients. 

The Nanotechnology Catapult

The use of nanoparticle technology is catapulting into about every industry you can think of–medicines, electronics, clothing (wrinkle-free), toothpaste, pacifiers, biodegradable packaging to name a few. Some food companies are researching nanoparticles for use in ice cream!  But, it’s the cosmetic and skincare industries that are stepping up the use of this technology.

Most major cosmetic companies use nanotechnology in their products although most are not broadcasting it.

While they may use the same chemicals that they have for years in their products, they are now using smaller version of some of the same chemicals to deliver these ingredients deeper into the skin or new ingredients, such as nutrients. Remember smaller versions are not the same as their larger counterpart. There are at least nine different applications of nanotechnology cosmetic manufacturers are either using or researching and developing. 

The other thing with nano-ingredients is that they have other chemicals properties as a result of being created.  In other words, smaller versions of the larger molecules change chemically.

Research has shown that nanoparticles do pass into the body from the skin.  Research done on nanotubes (carbon nano particles or fullerenes) had the same affect as asbestos does on the lungs.  Although, the study was not done on humans.  While fullerenes are usually used in industrial applications there are some cosmetic companies who have also employed them. 

So, not only does science not fully know and understand what the smaller replicas do to the human body, cosmetic and skincare companies are using them indiscriminately–they don’t know what the chemical attributes of these smaller particles are capable of doing.

Fox Watching the Henhouse

The cosmetics industry says they do testing, but that’s sort of like the fox watching the henhouse.  Also, the use of nano technology for cosmetics is in its infancy. So, it could take years, decades, or even better medical investigative tools than we have now to objectively evaluate the unintended consequences of these infinitesimal particles on the body. 

As stated before, the possible unintended consequence is that these nanoparticles can get into parts of the body (cells, DNA) were they aren’t supposed to be and be harmful in some way that can not be foreseen at the moment.  Harmful effects could take years or possibly decades to show-up not only in the individuals using them but also in their offspring.

Size Matters

Jake Meyers at the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at Chicago-Kent College of Law explains on his blog:

The size of a nanoparticle is what makes it so useful, but size is also what makes a nanoparticle potentially dangerous.  At nanoscale sizes, materials exhibit very different characteristics, such as mechanical, optical, electrical, chemical, or magnetic properties not present outside the nanoscale.  These characteristics exist largely for two reasons.  First, nanomaterials have an unusually high surface-to-volume ratio which leads to significantly increased chemical reactivity.  For example, gold is inert at the macroscale, but at the nanoscale it is highly reactive and therefore potentially valuable as a catalyst for chemical manufacturing.  Second, materials exhibit quantum mechanical effects at the nanoscale.  These quantum mechanical effects lead to unusual electrical, optical, mechanical and magnetic phenomena.  For example, opaque substances become transparent (copper); inert materials become catalysts (platinum); stable materials turn combustible (aluminum); solids turn into liquids at room temperature (gold); and insulators become conductors (silicon).  Nanotechnology capitalizes on these new characteristics, but it also means that nanoscale-sized versions of familiar particles present new challenges and potential for harm to the human body.  The small size of nanoparticles also means that they can enter the body in numerous ways: they can be inhaled, ingested, absorbed through the skin or eyes, or pass to the brain through the olfactory nerves in the nose.  The nanoparticles can also enter cells within the body, pass between organs, get into the bloodstream, bone marrow, nerves, muscles, lymph nodes, and pass the blood-brain barrier.[v]

At the moment, it’s up to you as a consumer to not only demand oversight on this new industry, but to contact your favorite brands and ask what kinds of nanotechnology they’re using in their manufacturing.  Don’t take their word for it that their products are safe.  Radiation was once considered safe with government approved testing done on human subjects, cigarettes were once considered safe, as was asbestos.  Also you can comment on the the FDA’s draft guidance by connecting on the link at http://www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/ucm257698.htm.

[i] Miller, Georgia, “Nanomaerials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics – Small Ingredients Big Risks.” Friends of the Earth, United States: May, 2006.  Online:  http://www.foe.org.

[ii] Schneider, Andrew, “Primer: How Nanotechnology Works.” AOL News: 24 March, 2010. Online: http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/24/hold-primer-how-nanotechnology-works/

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Miller, Georgia, “Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics.” Small Ingredients Big Risks.”
Friends of the Earth, United States: May, 2006. Online: http://www.foe.org.

[v] Meyer, Jake, “Nano Ice Cream – Rich Texture, Low in Fat, and High in Unknown Risk.” On the Edges of Sciences and Law: 6 May 2010. Online: http://blogs.kentlaw.edu/islat/2010/05/nano-ice-cream-rich-texture-low-in-fat-and-high-in-unknown-risk-.html


Miller, Georgia, “Nanomaerials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics – Small Ingredients Big Risks.” Friends of the Earth, United States: May, 2006.  Online:  http://www.foe.org.

“Nanotechnology,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Online: http://www.fda.gov/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/Nanotechnology/default.htm

Environmental Working Group. Statement of Jane Houlihan on Cosmetics Safety. Online: http://www.ewg.org/node/26545

Meyer, Jake, “Nano Ice Cream – Rich Texture, Low in Fat, and High in Unknown Risk.” On the Edges of Sciences and Law: 6 May 2010. Online: http://blogs.kentlaw.edu/islat/2010/05/nano-ice-cream-rich-texture-low-in-fat-and-high-in-unknown-risk-.html

Schneider, Andrew, “Amid Nanotech’s Dazzling Promise, Health Risks Grow.” AOL News: 24 March 2011. Online: http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/24/amid-nanotechs-dazzling-promise-health-risks-grow/

If Formaldehyde Were Money…

15 Apr

This has been in the news a lot recently; we dug a little deeper and found it’s not just the hair salon where you should be concerned.  Read on….

Some salons are issuing gas masks to their clients and to hairdressers to protect them from hair smoothing and straightening products.  This gives a whole new dimension to Il faut souffrir pour etre belle; ahh…who better understands the suffering of beauty than French women??  The handing out of gas masks is in light of OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) warning on the harmful effects of formaldehyde in these products.

Can’t See But My Hair Looks Great

Formaldehyde gets released into the air and possibly comes in contact with the skin during smoothing and straightening hair processes.  Formaldehyde is very yucky (yes, yucky is a technical term…).  According to OSHA formaldehyde is a “sensitizer.” that can cause irritations in the eyes, nose, lungs, (coughing and wheezing), and on the skin.  It can also cause blindness if it gets in the eyes and can cause nose or lung cancer.  Reactions from formaldehyde can happen whether it is in the air or in a product that gets on your skin.

No Charge For The Nosebleed

After OSHA received reports from workers in salons having adverse reactions while using these products, they investigated and found high levels of formaldehyde in the air in these salons.  Both stylists and customers have reported nosebleeds, trouble breathing, and eye irritations.  OSHA has specifically singled out the Brazilian Blowout products whose labels read “formaldehyde free.”

A Rose By Any Other Name

OSHA also found that many hair products claiming to be “formaldehyde free” gave off formaldehyde.  The ingredients that should be avoided are formaldehyde, methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene or Chemical Abstract Service Number 50-00-0.  According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, formaldehyde can also go by these names: merthaldehyde, methyl aldehyde, aldehyd mravenci (Czech), Aldehyde Formique (French), Aldeide Fromica (Italian) and BFV.  All a mouth full to say the least.

Beware Of The Fine Print

While some companies are now claiming that their products are not giving off formaldehyde, OSHA warns that it doesn’t mean the products don’t contain other hazardous ingredients.  Also, just like the “formaldehyde free” claims- hazard ingredients can be hidden by other names.

If Formaldehyde Were Money….

We would all be rich because it’s everywhere!  Our body produces a small amount naturally that isn’t harmful.  Formaldehyde is in the air and is a major part of the smog we breathe.  In the home, you can find formaldehyde in fabric softeners,  some clothing, drapes, some medicines, and is even used as preservative in some foods, such as certain types of Italian cheese.  You can find formaldehyde in vaccines (even ones given to babies), antiseptics, dish-washing liquid, most common wood products; such as particle board and cabinetry.  It’s found in adhesives, paper, carpet cleaners, fungicides, germicides, disinfectant, cigarettes, cosmetics (preservative and nail hardener), and the list goes on.

Yeah Not So Good For Us, But…

Most U.S. regulatory agencies and scientist recognize that formaldehyde is a “probable carcinogen.”  The FDA has not banned it in cosmetics, but does regulate the amount that can be added.  Note that ingredient lists do not have to say it contains formaldehyde.  According to Environmental Working Group, even baby shampoos, soaps, and washes may contain formaldehyde.  They often use FRP (formaldehyde releasing preservative) as a way to mask it.

Both Japan and Sweden ban formaldehyde in cosmetics.  And the European Union along with Canada regulates the use of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-release ingredients in cosmetics with labeling that states “contains formaldehyde.”

When do we think the FDA will catch on?

 Resources: OSHA www.osha.govEPA www.epa.gov;  FDA www.fda.gov; Campaign for Safe Cosmetics www.safecosmetics.org



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