“There was a wealth of new literature all repeating the same studies that high levels of formaldehyde caused cancer,” says CIR Director F. Alan Andersen, PhD, who spent 22 years with the FDA as a regulatory scientist. “So we’re pretty comfortable that we know how the industry is using it and they’re below the levels we’ve established.”
However, if you want to keep your kids from all personal care products containing formaldehyde, you may have difficulty. A recent study commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in conjunction with the Environmental Working Group, found formaldehyde in baby lotion, baby bubble bath, and baby shampoo. The chemical was not an intentional ingredient but was a byproduct of the manufacturing process.
Parabens are some of the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetics such as moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners, and many types of makeup. In the Environmental Working Group study of teenage girls, all 20 participants tested positive for two parabens: methylparaben and propylparaben.
Parabens entered the radar of environmental advocacy groups because several studies have found parabens in tissue samples of breast cancer tumors. However, those studies were far from conclusive and were unable to show a direct connection between paraben exposure and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Because parabens are typically used at levels between 0.01% and 0.3% and have been deemed safe in cosmetics at levels as high as 25%, the FDA official stance is that currently there’s no reason for consumers to be worried about using cosmetics that contain parabens. However, the FDA continues to evaluate the chemicals.
If you are concerned, it’s relatively simple to tell if parabens are in a product your child wants to try. Check the label and look for ingredients such as propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben.
Looking for Healthy Products
As environmental advocacy groups such as Environmental Working Group point out, the ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are not regulated. Indeed, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act gives no authority to the agency to approve cosmetic ingredients -- except for specific coloring additives in certain hair dyes.
According to the FDA’s web site, “Cosmetic manufacturers may use any ingredient they choose, except for a few ingredients that are prohibited by regulation.”
However, you can check products for many chemicals -- such as phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde -- by visiting the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. The online guide looks at the safety of more than 7,600 ingredients in nearly 62,000 products. You can use it to narrow the cosmetics field to find potentially healthier products.
Until there are comprehensive safety standards for personal care products, read the labels for suspect ingredients in the makeups and lotions your teen is clamoring to use. And use common sense. Mary Beth Genter, a toxicologist and editor-in-chief of International Journal of Toxicology from the American College of Toxicology, says, “Everything depends on the level of exposure.”