Two thousand and seven will be a testing year for the cosmetics industry. First, the Food and Drug Administration decides if the skin lightening drug hydroquinone is safe. Next, California enacts its Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005 which requires California cosmetics manufacturers to report product ingredients linked to cancer or birth defects to the state’s Department of Health Services.
But is the trend of new safety regulations necessary or is it the result of misconstruing of medical evidence by activist groups. Luis Cabrales, a California organizer for the National Environmental Trust, told the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that, “For decades the FDA has allowed the cosmetics industry to police itself. Now, California is stepping into the breach in order to address the latest science on chemicals and human health.”
Activist based consumer safety arguments on an ingredient’s potential to cause cancer in animals. Members of the medical and cosmetic industries rebuff such claims as unfounded because of the format of these studies and inherent differences among lab animals and humans.
In an interview with Skin and Allergy News, Dr. Valerie Callender, a dermatologist in private practice in Mitchellville, Maryland, said it is “ridiculous” to suggest that animal data could be used to raise concerns about human carcinogenicity.
Because of the heightened attention given to cosmetic safety, The American Council on Science and Health was forced to issue its perspective on the topic in the International Journal of Toxicology in August of 2006. According to the council, health related allegations about cosmetic ingredients are based on the findings of high-dose animal testing. The council argued that these studies fail to consider scientific studies and government regulations that have not found common cosmetic ingredients like preservative parabens and the common nail polish ingredient phthalates to be dangerous.
Moreover, the council declared the fact that animal and human physiology differ in crucial ways invalidated the “simplistic” attempts to extrapolate rodent testing to human health risks. Activists groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics want manufactures to meet the standards set by the European Union Cosmetics Directive, a body that sets policies for cosmetic safety. Yet, in a surprise move, this January the European Union Cosmetics Directive recognized a need to improve the way scientists conduct carcinogenicity tests.
In a report in Mutagenesis, the EU Cosmetics Directive acknowledged the upsurge of knowledge concerning the cellular and molecular events leading to carcinogenesis. Like the American Council of Science and Health argued, the EU Cosmetics Directive admitted that there is a need for more accurate approaches to determine genotoxicity and carcinogenicity.
While activists and academics argue over carcinogenic potential of cosmetic ingredients, fortunately, cancer deaths continue to decline. A new American Cancer Society (ACS) report shows that fewer people died of cancer in 2004 than in 2003, marking the second consecutive year that cancer deaths have declined in the United States.
In the mean time, as consumers debate trashing their cosmetics, they can use the advise of the ACS and focus on lifestyle issues such as nutrition and physical activity to prevent the onset of cancer.