Townsend Letter The Examiner of Alternative Medicine
Alternative Medicine Conference Calendar
Check recent tables of contents


From the Townsend Letter,
the Examiner of Alternative Medicine
April 2006


Health Risks & Environmental Issues
by Rose Marie Williams, MA

Search this site

Makeup Goes Organic

Makeup's ugly secrets were discussed last month
in this column. Readers may have been surprised to learn that the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry is basically self-regulating, with little control from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other governmental agency, despite the fact that hundreds of toxic substances are used in everyday toiletries and cosmetics. Many of these chemicals have been identified as – or are – suspected carcinogens and mutagens contributing to birth defects and fertility problems.

Makeup goes organicMercury is a deadly poison and a heavy metal that accumulates in the body and is easily absorbed through skin. The paraben family (ethyl, methyl, propyl, and butyl) are widely used as preservatives in numerous toiletries. They are found in many "natural" products and in some so-called "organic" products. Parabens act as hormone disruptors, raising the risk of breast cancer and low sperm count.1,2 While the public is warned increasingly of hazardous mercury exposure in fish, dental amalgams, and vaccines, no mention is made of mercury compounds in eye makeup.

Propylene Glycol, a petroleum derivative, is used as a moisturizer and emulsifier in most cosmetics, including "natural" products. It is also used in hydraulic brake fluid and antifreeze and may cause allergic and toxic reactions in some individuals. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires workers to wear protective clothing, gloves, and goggles when working with this toxic chemical. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns against skin contact with propylene glycol, citing possible brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities that might result from such contact.1

Fragrance chemicals are added to nearly every personal care product and can even be added to fragrance-free, unscented, and natural products without being listed on the ingredients label. These chemicals enter the body through skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion, and go directly to the brain. Most of the 4,000 different fragrance ingredients are petroleum derivatives. The FDA lists fragrance as the primary cause of allergic skin reactions to cosmetics, while the EPA considers fragrance, second-hand smoke, and formaldehyde as triggers for asthma.3,4

Lipsticks are generally synthetic waxy colors consisting of coal tar dyes and mineral oil waxes. The synthetic ingredients may cause an irritation of the lips called cheilitis. Lipstick is ingested when it comes into contact with food that touches the lips. Over a lifetime, that adds up to a great deal of toxic eating. Aubrey Hampton, of Hampton Organics, recommends consumers switch to natural lipsticks made of vegetarian waxes, such as carnauba or candellia, and natural vegetable colors or carmine, a red color derived from the dried female cochineal beetles of Central and South America.1

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health claims 884 chemicals presently available for use in cosmetics are toxic substances associated with genetic damage, biologic mutations, and cancer. Mainstream brands of personal care products and makeup contain a wide range of undisclosed carcinogenic ingredients and contaminants. The FDA lacks the ability to recall harmful products, relying exclusively on the voluntary cooperation of the industry.5

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Consumers face a rude awakening when they learn that cosmetic ingredients are not adequately tested nor proven safe for long term use. The tide is slowly turning, however. Europe has taken the lead in passing protective legislation, while on the home front, a coalition of grassroots organizations is putting pressure on the industry and getting some favorable results.

In January 2003, the European Union passed legislation banning the use in cosmetics of chemicals known to cause – or strongly suspected of causing – cancer, mutations, or birth defects. As of September 2004, cosmetics sold in the European market had to be reformulated to comply with the new law banning many toxic ingredients. These same companies continued to market products containing the toxic chemicals to American consumers.6

Awareness about the health risks associated with toxic chemicals in cosmetics has also been gaining momentum in this country during the past few years. A diverse coalition led by the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group, Health Care without Harm, and many other advocacy organizations launched a major campaign designed to persuade cosmetic manufacturers to eliminate toxic ingredients from their products and substitute safer alternatives.6

More than 150 companies have signed onto the Compact for Safe Cosmetics agreeing to phase out known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins. Some widely recognized companies, including Avon, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal, Revlon, and others who capitalize on their high-profile roles in raising money for breast cancer research, initially refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, even though they were manufacturing safer products for their European clientele. A coalition of environmental and women's groups protested this double standard until the world's largest cosmetic manufacturers agreed to offer American consumers the same reformulated products required by the European Parliament.6,7

Responding to voters' demands, California has become the first state to pass its own Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005. Unfortunately, industry lobbyists were successful in killing a bill that would ban phthalates in cosmetics. Phthalates are plasticizers that accumulate in human tissue and have become the most abundant synthetic chemical in our environment. Some phthalates mimic female hormones, while others interfere with male hormones which leads to birth defects and sexual abnormalities. According to chemist, John Brock of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "women of childbearing age (20-40) have 50% higher phthalates than average." This is an area of concern that should be getting more attention.8

Massachusetts is working on a bill to replace the phthalate DEHP and other toxic chemicals with safer alternatives. Legislators in New York are also considering a ban on two phthalates commonly used in cosmetics. A battle is gearing up between consumers and cosmetic industries. It remains to be seen which group will exert the strongest influence over lawmakers. Cosmetic sales generate a $35 billion industry, while exposing users to hundreds of uncontrolled toxic substances. A growing number of vocal consumers are expressing outrage at this affront to public health and are making strides in the legislative process. This issue goes beyond women who use makeup. Parents should become more knowledgeable to help young people avoid toxic products, and health professionals may wish to do the same for their patients. (To find out how you can join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, visit

Choosing Safer Products
SKINDEEP is an online, brand-by-brand, personal care product safety guide providing in-depth information on 14,108 personal care products and the 6,903 ingredients they contain. The SKINDEEP project was initiated by the consumer advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help consumers choose safer products by reviewing product safety ratings.9

Over 200 companies have signed onto the Compact for Safer Cosmetics, and the SKINDEEP database lists the signers by company and brand name. The following ten companies are representative of signers:

11. Aubrey Organics
22. Avalon Natural Products
33. Burt's Bees, Inc.
44. Clearly Natural, LLC
55. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
66. Ecco Bella Botanicals
77. EO Products / Small World Trading Co. Inc.
88. Farmaesthetics
99. Kiss My Face Corp.
1010. Lily of Colorado

A review of the top ten makeup "brands of concern" listed by SKINDEEP include the following:

1. Chanel
2. Sally Hansen
3. Ultima II
4. Revlon
5. Gillette (men's skin care products)
6. Estee Lauder
7. Clarins
8. Ulta
9. Cover Girl
10. Elizabeth Arden9

Many smaller companies are dedicated to making safer products. Myra Michelle Eby, creator of MyChelle Dermaceuticals LLC, has developed a line of lip colors and skin care products using non-toxic and paraben-free ingredients that are safe for the consumer and for the environment. Their contact information is 1-800-447-2076 and

Aveda offers an extensive line of beauty and personal care products made with pure aromatic flower and plant essences while protecting biodiversity and sustainability. Their comprehensive web site,, also includes the ingredients for each product.

Neways International is company that has made strides in eliminating carcinogenic chemicals from its products by using non -certified organic ingredients in many of its makeup and personal care items. They do use paraben preservatives in some products. Neways can be reached at 801-418-2000,

Magick Botanicals is a company that makes products tolerated by individuals who are chemically sensitive and environmentally ill, including individuals with celiac disease. Their products are fragrance and gluten-free, and contain no corn, wheat, or soy. They have even removed the botanical ingredients for the benefit of consumers who were intolerant of those substances. The products may contain parabens or other synthetic ingredients, however, and can be ordered from N.E.E.D.S. 1-800-634-1380.

Organic Makeup Hits the Scene
Consumer demand drives the market, and the direction is definitely toward organics. Along with a growing demand for organic food comes an increasing demand for organic cosmetic products.

By its own admission, the FDA is unable to protect the public from harmful ingredients in personal care products. A further blow to consumer protection came on June 1, 2005 when the US Department of Agriculture refused to allow the use of its "USDA Organic" label on cosmetics, claiming they did not "have any standards for personal care or cosmetic products," because these commodities fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA!

Some manufacturers of body care products protested the USDA's denial of allowing organic cosmetic products from carrying the "USDA Organic" label, and together with the Organic Consumer's Association sued the department for its refusal to certify cosmetics.10 Two months later the USDA reversed its previous denials and decided to allow the "USDA Organic" seal to be used on approved cosmetic and personal care products. This should help consumers make better choices among the thousands of personal care items competing for the same dollar.11

Leading this battle was Dr. Bronner's, a long established and well respected manufacturer of pure nontoxic soaps. They feature a new line of Dr. Bronner's & Sundogs MAGIC lotions and balms with certified organic ingredients.11

Organic Choices
In addition to Dr. Bronner's ( several additional companies have developed makeup and personal care products using organic ingredients. Aubrey Hampton, founder of Aubrey Organics, has also been a pioneer in developing cosmetic products made with natural and nontoxic ingredients. His entire line of products can be viewed on the web site,

ONE Group of Australia proudly offers Miessence, a line of organic cosmetics and makeup which includes a large selection of lip colors, face powders, blush, and mascara. Miessence products carry the "Australian Certified Organic" and the "USDA Organic" labels. More information is available from their web site, (1-866-221-9167 or 705-855-6964).

The Organic Makeup Company in Ontario, Canada, adheres to stringent guidelines for creating a full line of makeup products with certified organic ingredients. The company has even substituted plant waxes for beeswax to accommodate their vegan customers. Their contact information is 905-479-9295 and

Many additional companies, offering less toxic products and organic makeup products, can be found on the internet. This is by no means a complete list of companies.

Consumer Action
It behooves consumers to always read ingredient labels on all products. Advertising can be misleading. Products may claim to be "natural" or made with "organic" ingredients, but may still include parabens, synthetic fragrance, or other unwanted ingredients.

In addition to signing onto the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, consumers can phone the companies whose products they use and express their concerns directly. Many product labels carry toll-free phone numbers. Companies want to know what their customers are thinking.

A wonderful example involves the Emerita Company, makers of a natural progesterone cream that was highly promoted by the late Dr. John R. Lee in his newsletters and books. This writer was disappointed to find the product contained parabens as a preservative and wrote the company of this concern. A response was received acknowledging that other preservatives were being considered. The company now uses natural lemon peel oil instead of parabens. It is a wonderful win-win situation.

For more information on the topic of makeup ingredients, readers may check the following sites:

Safer products to purchase can be found at these sites:

1. Hampton, A. Natural Organic Hair & Skin Care. Tampa, FL: Organic Press; 1987.
2. Lark, S. Are you dying to look good? The Lark Letter. (877-437-5275). 2004;11(6).
3. Williams, RM. Cosmetic chemicals and safer alternatives. TLDP. 2004;247/248.
4. Henkel, J. Color additives fact sheet. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: Accessed November 27, 2005.
5. FDA fails to protect consumers fact sheet, Environmental Working Group. Available at Accessed January 18, 2006.
6. Small, G. WTC joins the campaign for safe cosmetics. Alternatives (Washington Toxics Coalition), Summer 2005.
7. The campaign for safe cosmetics. Weavings (Women's Voices for the Earth). Summer 2005.
8. Williams, RM. Plastics, the sixth basic food group, part II. TLDP. 2001; 211/212.
9. SKINDEEP. Environmental Working Group. Available at: Accessed January 10, 2006.
(3/18/06: Above link is no longer a valid page:
10. USDA prohibits body care products from carrying organic seal. Beyond Pesticides Tech Report. 2005;20,7.
11. Vincent, R. Organic beauty products get a lift with USDA about-face. LA Times. August 5, 2005.

Rose Marie Williams, MA
156 Sparkling Ridge Road
New Paltz, New York 12561 USA
Fax 255-5101

"Health Risks and the Environment"
by Rose Marie Williams, MA, president of the Cancer Awareness Coalition, Inc.
P.O. Box 533, New Paltz, NY 12561 (
$20.00 (free postage within US) – Please specify Video or DVD
Check or Money Order made out to the Cancer Awareness Coalition, Inc.

How environmental risk factors affect health more than inherited genes is discussed in this candid talk by health advocate, Rose Marie Williams. Included are suggestions for reducing toxic exposures around the home, contact numbers for reasonably priced water testing, pesticide information, and references for useful books and pamphlets.

The Cancer Awareness Coalition, Inc. is a 501©(3) grassroots health and
environmental organization dedicated to raising awareness about health risks associated with pesticides and other pollutants and to encouraging use of safer practices to protect public health. Video sales support this mission.


Subscriptions are available for Townsend Letter, the Examiner of Alternative Medicine magazine, which is published 10 times each year.

Search our pre-2001 archives for further information. Older issues of the printed magazine are also indexed for your convenience.
1983-2001 indices ; recent indices

Once you find the magazines you'd like to order, please use our convenient form, e-mail, or call 360.385.6021 (PST).


Order back issues
Advertise with TLDP!
Visit our pre-2001 archives
© 1983-2006 Townsend Letter
All rights reserved.
Web site by Sandy Hershelman Designs
April 21, 2006