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KUHF Conversations: Stacy Malkan

Lipstick, shaving cream, deodorant, shampoo. We use these products every day, but what’s in them? The campaign for safe cosmetics is hosting a seminar in Houston today to the discuss the latest research on toxic chemicals in personal care products. Stacy Malkan is co-founder of the group and author of the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. She’s one of the experts on the panel at today’s seminar, and spoke with Wendy Siegle.


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Wendy: The name of the seminar is Make-up’s Deadly Cover Up. Tell me about the cover up.

Stacy: So we put these personal care products on our bodies every day: shampoo, deodorant, lotions, makeup, toothpaste, soap. If you think about all the products that we use in a day, for many of us it’s quite a lot. And the question is, ‘What’s in these products?’ And unfortunately we find that many of the products we use every day contain hazardous chemicals that are linked to cancer, infertility, other health problems that have become quite epidemic.

Wendy: What studies have been done on these products?

Stacy: My group, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has done a ton of research over the last six years. We’ve analyzed hundreds of products at laboratories to find out what chemicals are in them. For example, we’ve analyzed children’s bath products to look for known carcinogens. And we’ve identified that many of those products contain formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane, which are both considered to be probable human carcinogens. And they’re not listed on the labels of top selling baby products.

Wendy: But just how high are the levels of chemicals in these baby products, or in my lotion, body wash, my toothpaste?

Stacy: Right, so that’s the question. The companies say that it’s just low doses of any given toxic chemical, and largely that’s true. The problem is that we’re being exposed to multiple doses of low levels of carcinogens, reproductive toxins through the products that we use in a single day.

Wendy: But people do use these products every day, seemingly without any ill effects.

Stacy: The chemicals that we’re concerned about in the products have long-term health effects often. And so we’re looking at chemicals that may be contributing to higher rates of cancer, which is something that wouldn’t develop until many years later. And so, just because a person isn’t seeing immediate effects doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for concern. There are also immediate effects that many people may be experiencing that they don’t necessarily relate to cosmetics.

Wendy: In terms of regulation, how does the U.S. compare to the European Union?

Stacy: We’re far behind other countries unfortunately when it comes to chemical safety and cosmetics. What Europe has done is taken a precautionary approach on chemicals. They’ve said ‘Hey, we know this list of chemicals is hazardous, figure out a way to make products without them.’ And in the United States our system is more along the lines of, you need to prove that a chemical is causing harm before we can do anything to regulate it. Most people believe that the products on the shelves are regulated, that there’s some kind of safety assessments required or some kinds of safety testing system and that’s not the case. Wendy: In the absence of stringent federal regulations, how are companies responding to people who say, “Hey I want my body lotion toxic-free”?

Stacy: The great news is there are many wonderful products on the market without the toxins. The challenge is that you have to do some research to find them. We can’t just trust the labels or the marketing claims of “natural,” “pure,” “organic,” “hypo-allergenic.” All of those terms have no legal standards with personal care products.

Wendy: So you could “natural” or “organic” on a shampoo label and that doesn’t mean anything.

Stacy: Correct.

Wendy: So on a federal level, what’s happening right with getting safe cosmetics legislation on the books?

Stacy: The federal Safe Cosmetics Act will be reintroduced into the U.S. Houston of Representatives this Spring. So we’re looking to build bi-partisan support and I really think that this is an issue that everybody cares about.

Wendy: Well thank you very much for joining me today, Stacy.

Stacy: Thank you very much Wendy, I appreciate it.

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