How Safe Are Your Cosmetics?

Examining the make up of our makeup.

Woman having makeup applied to her face
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But Roizen couches the concern in relative terms. "This is not probably as high a risk as sitting on your bottom all day and not doing physical activity."

FDA representative Tamara Ward says the agency is "reviewing the recent work that has reported links between phthalate exposure and type 2 diabetes and obesity, in light of the large body of existing scientific information on phthalates, including FDA's own work, to see if it is relevant to cosmetic uses of phthalates and, if so, whether it would change our current perspective." The FDA states, on its website, that it "does not have compelling evidence that phthalates, used in cosmetics, pose a safety risk."

Determining ingredient risk depends on usage and degree, says Halyna Breslawec, chief scientist of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent scientific panel funded by the Personal Care Products Council, the cosmetic industry's trade association. Voting members include estimable academic doctors and professors, with Linda Katz, director of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors, serving as a liaison member.

"Everything can be safe. Everything can be unsafe. It depends on the conditions of use," Breslawec says. "That's what makes it so complicated." But making safe products only makes sense, she says. "The cosmetic industry would not have a market if its products weren't safe...It's not like we're manufacturing products that we're not using ourselves."

[See Beware Free Trials of Anti-Aging Products Sold on the Web.]

Certain ingredients have been deemed flat-out toxic. Mercury, for example, which has been found in imported products that claim to lighten skin or reverse aging, has been banned by the FDA. "It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children," according to the FDA website.