Not Too Pretty

It may be time to look as closely at your beauty products' labels as you do your grocery labels.

September 1, 2005

One-third of all personal care products contain one or more ingredients that could cause cancer. The Environmental Working Group, which monitors the ingredients of cosmetics, found that among products that were potentially the most carcinogenic were hair dyes, anti-aging creams and acne treatments.

No government regulator requires cosmetics safety testing before a product is sold, and many products are not tested at all. According to the group, out of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products, 89 percent have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA, or any other publicly accountable institution.

In March, California Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) introduced a bill to ban cosmetics containing chemicals called phthalates (“tha-laytes”) that can lead to infertility, cancer and birth defects. A study of baby boys even showed a link
between phthalates and sexual underdevelopment of boys in the womb, according to the Associated Press in May. The European Union banned phthalates from cosmetics last year, and Chu hopes to do the same in her state.

California Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) is also backing a bill requiring cosmetics manufacturers to report all ingredients that may cause cancer or harmful reproductive effects.

Phthalates are used in many cosmetics, but the highest concentrations are found in nail polish. This affects Asian American nail workers, who comprise a significant part of the nail industry. In California, about 80 percent of nail salons are Vietnamese-owned, according to Nails Magazine.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association criticized Chu's bill as unwarranted and maintains that U.S.-sold beauty products are safe. But when in doubt, it may be best to go au naturale. —Lisa Wong Macabasco

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Lisa Wong Macabasco

Former Editor in chief

Lisa Wong Macabasco joined Hyphen in 2006; she has worked as the magazine's features editor, managing editor, and editor in chief. She has written for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, AsianWeek, Audrey, Filipinas and ColorLines’ RaceWire. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and co-founded the National Asian American Student Conference. She was formerly an editor at AsianWeek newspaper and an editor in the marketing department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.