How Safe are Your Cosmetics?

Greetings LC and Lynchburg Community! As we get back into our weekday schedules, I think it is important to share some information I have recently been made aware of concerning the beauty products which we all use on a daily basis. This week we will discuss the importance of understanding what kinds of chemicals are found within our beauty products, and how those chemicals can possibly affect our health.

It is safe to say that every one of us, regardless of gender, use a variety of beauty products on a daily basis. Whether it is the use of cosmetics, sunscreen, shampoo and conditioner, perfumes, or soaps all of our products contain an assortment of chemicals which are being absorbed into our bodies. Not all of these chemicals are dangerous to the human body; however, many of the ingredients commonly found in beauty products have been linked to cancer or other fatal illnesses.

Recently, I was introduced to the website The Story of Stuff, which is run by an organization whose goal is to enlighten the world regarding common misconceptions that we face in the U.S. From their website,, I have learned that there are many potential dangers to using the beauty products that are offered to us through many large cosmetic companies. There are many commonly used products, including the ones listed above, that generally contain chemicals which have been shown to potentially cause cancer, and many chemicals that have been banned in other countries. For instance, a common ingredient found in anti-bacterial soaps is a chemical called Triclosan which has been proven to cause a variety of health hazards throughout its life cycle. It is not a chemical which can be purified through wastewater treatment, so it can be present in drinking water; and, it is also a chemical which can be passed into a fetus through the placenta. There have been many studies done which have found alarmingly high levels of toxic chemicals in newborns across the U.S., and it is thought that a pregnant woman’s exposure to these kinds of chemicals can unknowingly damage her unborn child.

The question arises of how these companies are able to add known toxins into their products without government interference. The answer to that question lies in the fact that the FDA is not required to regulate the ingredients put into personal care products, and the companies are not required to list all of the ingredients found in a product on its label. Also, there is little information on the toxicity of the kinds of ingredients commonly found in beauty products. “As of January 2010, the Cosmetics Ingredients Review (CIR) panel – the industry funded panel that is charged with assessing the safety of ingredients in cosmetics – assessed 1,594 cosmetic ingredients for safety, out of the 12,500 ingredients that FDA estimates are used in cosmetics” (The Story of Stuff). The chemicals that are known to be dangerous are often added to products in small amounts, which companies have argued are too small to be dangerous to the human body. The problem with that argument is that even a small amount of a toxin can be dangerous once it has accumulated within the human body over a period of time, not to mention the potential danger related to chemical reactions that have barely been studied. Finally, cosmetic companies are legally allowed to market their products as “natural” or “organic” without any basis for doing so. Unlike food products, beauty products are virtually unregulated by the U.S. government.

Although these statements are shocking, there are campaigns that have been fighting for new legislation which will require that all chemicals added to beauty products be tested and studied at length prior to their release for sale. In the meantime, there are a few internet resources which can help consumers make more educated decisions on their personal care products, such as Another reliable resource is the “Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at, which ranks products for toxicity on a scale of 1-10” (The Story of Stuff).

To learn more regarding this subject, please visit the Story of Stuff’s website, A footnoted and annotative script of Annie Leonard’s movie can be found at that website, as well as a list of Ms. Leonard’s sources.


As always I appreciate any comments, questions, or suggestions, which can be sent to


Quote of the Week: “Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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2 comments on “How Safe are Your Cosmetics?
  1. elly says:

    many cosmetics that are not from a “major” company have small amounts of toxic chemicals. Never buy any makeup make in China or at a Flea Market as they may be expired and decaying. Always throw away any lip balm where fingers are placed in after 3-6 months. Also any lipsticks, lipgloss and lip sheen where you are putting on with a wand needs to go out in the garbage at month 3.
    There was an instance of a girl contacting a very bad almost fatal streph infection from sharing a lip balm with a friend. YUCK!

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Ruthy Olds

Ruth Olds ’14 is an environmental studies major at Lynchburg College. A Lynchburg native, Ruth is considering a career in forestry.