It has become almost a sacred rite for a woman to temporarily turn the area
around her bathroom sink into a toxic waste site in the name of beauty. Whether
it's a home pedicure or a frost-and-tip job, we have resigned ourselves to the
eye-watering fumes, stinging creams and instructions to ``apply with rubber
gloves in a well-ventilated area.''
But a revolution is on the way. Finally, more of us are asking if all this
beauty can be good for our health.
As the rate of unexplained cancers creeps upward, there has been a growing
sense of suspicion about the thousands of chemicals that have come into use over
the past half-century. And since federal law doesn't force the cosmetics
industry to do any product-safety testing, advocacy groups are calling for more
investigation into possible long term risks of the daily beauty ritual.
California has led the way by proposing laws that seek to regulate and
monitor the use of some chemicals, but, predictably, the cosmetics industry has
spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting them. Still, one bill was able
to squeak through the Assembly with 41 votes and make it to the governor's desk
SB 484, otherwise known as the California Safe Cosmetics Act, is only a
modest beginning, but if it's signed into law it could be a step toward the kind
of cosmetics regulation that has recently been adopted in Europe.
The bill, by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would require cosmetics
companies to notify the Department of Health Services about ingredients in their
products that have been known to cause cancer or birth defects. The DHS could
post a list on its Web site of products that contain these ingredients, and the
agency would be authorized to investigate the health impact of the chemicals.
The law stops short of requiring warning labels on products, but it's still a
sign of the changing times. It's a message to the industry that women are less
willing to buy into the marketing of the ``science of beauty'' when there are
still too many unanswered scientific questions about how it may affect their
health in years to come.
Not much testing
Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco,
which co-sponsored the bill, is among those who are not reassured by the
industry's insistence that their products are safe. A report issued last year by
the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group found that almost 90
percent of the more than 10,000 ingredients used in beauty products have not
been tested by government regulators.
``What might we know about these chemicals 20 years from now?'' Brenner
asked. ``We can't continue to pretend that as long as we don't know about any
risks, we don't have a problem.''
It's fine for the cosmetics industry to dismiss these concerns as ``junk
science'' and hysteria, but I think they're about to find out that attitude is
not going to help them sell beauty products.
Brenner reports that some teenage girls in Marin County, which has one of the
highest rates of breast cancer in the country, want to meet with the governor so
they can talk to him about SB 484 and their health concerns about chemicals in
That's right, teenagers. The marketers' mother lode. What are the odds that
they will one day buy anti-aging creams if they worry that the ingredients may
not be safe enough to let them grow old?
The days of the unquestioned beauty ritual are fading fast.
products without controversial ingredients
For Moms Helping Moms