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Life and Religion

Cosmetic ingredients under scrutiny
Feds will decide safety, effectiveness debate
Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 8:27 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

Whether it’s styling our hair for work in the morning or taking a bath at night, Americans depend on the aid of cosmetics for virtually every aspect of personal care. Most of these products are safe, but sometimes their contents give cause for concern.

The FDA continues to review the safety of Triclosan, which is commonly found in soaps and other cosmetics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines “cosmetics” as products intended to be applied to the body “for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance.”

The legal definition includes a host of products that most people may not think of as cosmetics, such as face and body cleansers, deodorants, moisturizers, skin lotions and creams, baby lotions and oils, hair care products, hair removal creams, temporary and permanent tattoos, perfumes, colognes, face paint and shaving products.

“Even though these products are widely used, most don’t require FDA approval before they are sold in stores, salons and at makeup counters,” says Linda Katz M.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

Research has linked some ingredients commonly used in cosmetics with the alteration of hormone regulation and certain types of cancer. Others have been blamed for contributing to the emergence of “super-germs” or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Cosmetics, cancer and super bugs
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products. In 2004, a study published in the “Journal of Applied Toxicology” detected parabens in breast tumors. Although the study did not show that parabens cause cancer, it raised several questions because of the estrogen-like properties of parabens.

According to the FDA, estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer, and although parabens can act similarly to estrogen the agency says there is no cause for concern. On its website, the agency cites the fact that parebens have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen and are used at very low levels in cosmetics.

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is often added to antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes and some cosmetics.

While triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, the FDA is currently engaging in an ongoing review of this ingredient in light of recent studies that have raised concerns about its safety.

For example, animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. However, this has not been proven in humans. Other studies in bacteria have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

The FDA says there is no proof that triclosan added to antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any extra health benefits over soap and water and advises concerned consumers to simply wash with regular soap and water.

The FDA is conducting a regulatory review of the safety and effectiveness of triclosan. The findings are expected to be made public by year’s end.


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