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President's Cancer Panel Report: Findings on Cosmetic Safety of Parabens and Phthalates

The Prez's Cancer Panel Weighs in on Cosmetic Safety

Interesting news on the cosmetic-safety front this week: the President's Cancer Panel has released a report on the thousands of chemicals Americans use on a daily basis. Its conclusion: environmental exposure to some chemicals in air, food, water — and yes, personal care products — is placing people in "grievous harm." The number of cancers linked to these chemicals, the report says, has been "grossly underestimated."

The report (which is worth reading) spans subjects from fertilizers to military activities, but let's focus on personal care products. Environmental activists have long questioned the safety of endocrine-disrupting ingredients like phthalates and parabens, both of which are commonly used in cosmetics. But the PCP is as mainstream as it gets, and it says phthalates disrupt the body's natural hormone system. Its report acknowledges that more research into these ingredients is needed and suggests taking a "precautionary approach" to them for now.

To find out what's next, and what the American Cancer Society has to say, keep reading.

The report also points out that neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Food and Drug Administration regulates cosmetics. Better regulation is needed, the panel says. It recommends the government takes these steps:

  • Conduct research on chemicals in personal care products and cosmetics; only 11 percent of the ingredients in these products have been tested for safety.
  • Create a comprehensive policy agenda regarding environmental health.
  • Create stronger regulations; many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated, and the current system forces the government to prove that a chemical is unsafe before it's banned.
  • Conduct further research into the safety of nanotechnology.

It's all disconcerting stuff, but you shouldn't panic, says the American Cancer Society's Michael J. Thun, an epidemiologist. "Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer, and by its dismissal of cancer prevention efforts aimed at the major known causes of cancer (tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones, sunlight) as 'focused narrowly.'"

So what should individuals do? If you're concerned, the PCP recommends contacting lawmakers to demand more research and regulation. If you're not concerned, then keep calm and carry on.

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