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Cosmetics Popular with Teenagers Linked to Breast Cancer, Other Serious Health Problems

Adolescents are Especially Vulnerable to Toxic Exposures from Chemical Ingredients

Contacts: Genevieve Roja or Kevin Donegan, Breast Cancer Fund (415) 346-8223

SAN FRANCISCO—Several cosmetics and personal care products popular with teenagers contain ingredients linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems, according to a new analysis of cosmetics products.

While the presence of such ingredients does not prove that an individual product causes cancer or other diseases, their use in multiple products applied to the skin is cause for concern, environmental health advocates say. Many teenagers, however, are unaware of hazardous ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products that are linked to cancer, genetic mutations and reproductive harm, or that safer choices usually exist in the market.

A recent study of beauty products by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, called “Skin Deep”—an online, brand-by-brand safety guide that contains in-depth information on more than 14,000 products and their ingredients—revealed that several products specifically marketed to teenagers contained ingredients linked to cancer.

One nail polish brand popular with teens and used widely in nail salons, OPI Products uses multiple ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, including formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). The Skin Deep report rated the brand as being of “higher concern,” scoring 5.0 on the report’s safety scale, with 0 being of lowest concern and 5 being of highest concern.

The U.S. National Toxicology Program says toluene has been “shown to induce mammary tumors in animals.” Both toluene and formaldehyde are listed by the NTP as “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens. DBP is suspected of harming human reproduction and development because it is considered a potential endocrine (hormone) disruptor, which may increase the risk of breast cancer and other cancers, according to the Breast Cancer Fund’s “State of the Evidence 2006,” a forthcoming report on the connection between the environment and breast cancer. DBP is banned from cosmetics in the European Union and was added to the list of California's Proposition 65 chemicals on December 2.

Although the Skin Deep report ranked no nail polishes as “low concern” picks, there were several “moderate concern” products, including Caboodles Nail Paint, scoring 2.3.

Scientific studies have shown that the most critical windows of vulnerability to chemical exposures that contribute to later development of breast cancer are the prenatal, prebubertal and adolescent periods, through to a woman’s first full-term pregnancy.

“Puberty is a time of rapid cell development. Tissues are more sensitive to external toxicants, including those that can impair fertility and increase the risk of breast cancer,” said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco-based environmental health organization. “That’s why we’re concerned about hazardous ingredients in cosmetics products.”

Many other beauty and body care products popular among teenagers raised concerns about links to cancer and reproductive health problems in the Skin Deep report, accessible at Here’s a sampling:

• Sally Hansen Hard As Nails Strengthener Clear, which readers of CosmoGirl! ushered into the magazine’s annual “Kiss of Approval Beauty Awards Hall of Fame” as “best nail polish,” also contains DBP. The Skin Deep report rated it as being of “higher concern,” scoring 4.0 on the report’s safety scale. Other Sally Hansen Hard as Nails nail polish shades received a similar score in the safety report.

• Cover Girl Cheekers Blush, a CosmoGirl! reader’s choice for best blush, scored 3.9. It contains three ingredients potentially contaminated with impurities linked to cancer or other significant health problems. It also contains propylparaben and methylparaben, common preservatives that are potential endocrine (hormone) disrupters; parabens have been shown to act like estrogen in the body, increasing the risk of breast cancer. Several cosmetics and body care companies are removing parabens from their products. Among the lower concern picks in the report: Burt's Bees Natural Cosmetics All-Natural Blushing Creme with Vitamin E, scoring 1.1 or less.

• Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash Foam Cleanser scored 4.0. It contains three ingredients potentially contaminated with impurities linked to cancer or other significant health problems, the Skin Deep report says. Paradoxically, for a product intended to treat acne, the product also contains PEG-8, which the Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel (CIR), an industry group, deems “not safe for use on injured or damaged skin.” It also contains six ingredients with the “potential to instigate immune system response that can include itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of skin,” according to the report. As a safer alternative, the Skin Deep report ranks “Tea Tree Oil Facial Cleansing Pads” by Desert Essence among the products of “low concern” in the acne treatment/cleanser category, with a score of 0.5.

In October, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a first-in-the-nation bill requiring cosmetics companies to disclose to the state Department of Health Services ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. The “Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005” was authored by Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund.

Sasha Hoffman, the current Miss Teen USA-World, believes the new law will help protect teens who don’t know that the FDA does not review or regulate cosmetics products or ingredients for safety before they are sold to the public and has no legal authority to require safety assessments of cosmetics.

“This gives us the opportunity to know about the toxic ingredients in our products and make safer choices,” said Hoffman, who has replaced products in her makeup bag and medicine cabinet with healthier alternatives. “It means disclosure. It’s a first step.”

An industry report published in December 2004 by Mintel International Group revealed that 90 percent of 14-year-old girls say they use makeup. The survey—which questioned 5,856 seven to 19-year-old girls—revealed that the number aged 11 to 14 who use lipstick or lip gloss on a daily basis has more than doubled in two years, with 63 percent of seven to 10-year-olds now wearing lipstick. More than two in five girls in the same age group wear eye shadow or eyeliner, and almost one in four uses mascara, the report said. Chain Drug Review reported in September that teenagers spend about $49 on beauty items every month, according to market research released at a recent trade conference.

The Breast Cancer Fund is a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of U.S.-based health and environmental groups. To date, more than 200 cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers have signed the “Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products,” a pledge to replace hazardous ingredients with safer alternatives.