Beauty Secret: The Dangers of Cosmetics
(05/03/07) (WTVD) -- They're banned in Europe because of safety concerns, but they're still widely used in this country. Some clinical studies link phthalates to cancer and birth defects and a federal lab in the RTP is revealing why you should be concerned about the beauty secret.
"They have to put tons and tons of makeup on you because of all the lights," said Olivia James, former model.
James spent 15 years living the glamorous life.
"You know you've got someone working your hair, and you've got someone working your face," James said. "There's someone painting your nails."
James was a New York model.
"Not just your face but your body was covered with a lot of corrective makeup, whether that's foundation, concealer, um, very thick consistency, um, to make it look as perfect as possible," said James.
She thinks all that makeup was filled with chemicals called phthalates, and she's convinced it led to a birth defect in her son, Darren. Something called hypospadias when the urethra does not form correctly.
"I felt very guilty, as a mother," she said. "You want to do everything you can to have a healthy happy child."
Dr. Earl Gray is a researcher in RTP. In his lab, he's found evidence phthalates produce the very birth defect her son has.
"We've studied about 13 or 14 different phthalates and of that group eight of them are positive for these kinds of effects," said Dr. Gray.
Gray works with the EPA. He's doing some of the world's leading research on the impact of phthalates.
"There are also a lot of studies, human epidemiological studies, that have shown associations between phthalate exposures and cancers," he explained.
Those studies show a connection to breast cancer and testicular cancer.
In 2005, FDA researchers tested 48 different products everything from body lotion, hair spray and deodorant to nail polish, body wash and shampoo.
They looked for four different phthalates and found them in a total of 32 products or 66 percent, but the same study said there was no basis to regulate phthalates in the U.S. at that time.
"I think consumers would have a very difficult time in deciding the products to not use, to avoid," Gray said.
That's because Dr. Gray said phthalates aren't always included on the label.
In Europe, it's easy to avoid phthalates. Two of them have been banned since 2004. Cosmetic companies have reformulated their products.
"I personally take offense to that, that you can reformulate it for another country but you know, you can't do it for us, our money is green just like anyone else," James said.
Burt's Bees is a natural cosmetics company headquartered in Wake County. Burt's refuses to use phthalates.
"I do believe it's putting people at risk because there's enough evidence through a lot of research that they are carcinogens," said Celeste Lutrario, Burt's Bees.
Lutrario spends a lot of time in the lab as head of research and development. She said it's harder to make products without phthalates, but it's the right thing to do.
"They don't need to be in them, and the fact is Europe has formulated without them, we've formulated without them, so they don't need to be in the products," said Lutrario.
A trade group called The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association disagrees.
It says: "The use of phthalates in cosmetics and personal car products is supported by an extensive body of scientific research and data that confirms safety."
The FDA and EPA have examined phthalates used in cosmetics and have not restricted that use.
But Dr. Gray says that could change. Federal officials are now scrutinizing his research. "The EPA has, is beginning, to do risk assessments on some of the phthalates."
For now, James is on her own crusade to convince people to stay away from phthalates. "Whenever I'm in the store, and I see the young girls they're putting the makeup on. They're trying them on, and you see pregnant women, and they're putting makeup on and I just want to shake them."
Three cosmetic companies have recently announced they're removing phthalates from their nail polish. They are Essie, OPI and Sally Hansen.
This isn't just a concern for women.
In 2005, the CDC found breakdown chemicals from two of the most common cosmetic phthalates in almost every member of a group of 2,800 people.
An advocacy group said it has obtained ingredient lists for nearly 15,000 personal care products.
In January, Consumer Reports tested eight perfumes, and it said the products all contained phthalates.
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