That's toxic toothpaste you're using, or so says a consumer health advisory recently issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The study claims that one out of every hundred popular cosmetic products contains ingredients identified by the government as toxins and/or carcinogens. This information, while meant to "heighten consumer awareness," actually exploits a fallacy and accomplishes little more than unnecessarily frightening the public.
The EWG, an alarmist group, constantly puts fourth empty claims to the media, lacking any scientific or medical basis, creating phony health scares. When collecting data, rather than relying on peer-reviewed research, EWG tends toward hyperbole. In the case of this report for example, information is taken from the EPA and other regulatory agencies about chemicals that cause cancer in laboratory animals.
As always, it is important to note that "the dose makes the poison." The "carcinogens" that the EWG states are hazardous are administered to animals in extremely high, nearly lethal doses. Now, unlike the EWG, let us consider the amounts of these chemicals in soaps, shampoos, foundations, and all-natural skin peels. The quantity of chemicals found in these products is minuscule, nowhere near an amount shown to be toxic to people. As explained in the American Council on Science and Health's peer-reviewed literature (see, for example, http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.195/pub_detail.asp ), rapidly improving technology enables scientists to detect infinitesimal amounts of chemicals in the environment. The same is true of cosmetics. There is no scientific evidence to indicate that trace amounts of these chemicals in cosmetics are detrimental to a consumer's health.
The EWG proposes introducing new regulations in the cosmetic industry. There is no need. Even naturally occurring chemicals can cause cancer in laboratory animals in tremendous quantities. However, this doesn't mean that foods containing these chemicals are laced with poison. Nor is your mascara.
Olivia James, a model for sixteen years, thinks that her son's medical condition, hypospadias, might be linked to the demands of her profession. Claiming that excessive make-up application caused her son's birth defect is quite a stretch, but the EWG sees it as perfect material for their report.
A report like this one from the EWG diverts America's attention from real health concerns like smoking. On EWG's website, http://www.ewg.org/ , consumers can get a rating of their favorite cosmetic products and see how dangerous each one's ingredients are. The ratings, a series of check marks indicating safety violations, cancer fears, and unstudied ingredients, are missing a crucial category: legitimate health risks. But then again, if real health threats were the purpose of this report...there wouldn't have been any report at all.
Deborah Gopstein is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health.