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Study: Unsafe cosmetics may cause cancer

by Bay City News ServiceSan Jose Mercury News
December 12th, 2005

Several cosmetics and personal care products popular with teenagers contain ingredients linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems, according to Washington-based Environmental Working Group's recent study of beauty products.

In light of "Skin Deep," the brand-by-brand safety guide with information on more than 14,000 products, environmental health advocate group Breast Cancer Fund is asking for governmental intervention and hopes to raise public awareness about these potential harms.

"We don't believe that consumers should have to stop using cosmetic products," Breast Cancer Fund spokesman Kevin Donegan said. "We just believe consumers should have access to safer products."

Breast Cancer Fund, a founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, also asks for producer responsibility, pointing the finger at Sally Hansen, Procter and Gamble's Cover Girl and Neutrogena, none of which were immediately available for comment.

Breast Cancer Fund and "Skin Deep" named several toxic chemicals that should be avoided.

Found in some nail polish products, Dibutyl phthalate or DBP, is banned from cosmetics in Europe and may increase risk of breast cancer and other cancers.

Formaldehyde and toluene, both found in nail polish, "are particularly nasty ingredients," and are listed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as "reasonably anticipated" carcinogens.

Parabens, which are found in some blush products, are preservatives that act like estrogen in the body, increasing the risk of breast cancer. While several cosmetics and body care companies are removing parabens from their products, `Skin Deep'' warns against Cover Girl Cheekers Blush, which contains propylparaben and methylparaben.

Since adolescence is a time of vulnerability to chemical exposures that contribute to later development of breast cancer, Breast Cancer Fund is concerned for cosmetic use among teens.

Registered Nurse and Breast Cancer Fund Executive Director Jeanne Rizzo said puberty is a time of rapid cell development when tissues are more sensitive to external toxins.

And teens are using cosmetics at increasing rates, according to Donegan. The number of girls ages 11 to 14 who use lipstick or lip gloss on a daily basis has more than doubled in two years, according to a 2004 industry report by Mintel International Group, and more than two in five girls in that age group wear eye shadow or eyeliner.

"It appears that there's an upward trend," Donegan said.