Monday, February 20, 2012

The (Unnecessary) Price of Beauty

Cosmetics aren't a modern phenomenon. For centuries (perhaps millennia) women have enhanced and exaggerated their natural features with makeup. In fact, in the quest to achieve cultural ideals of beauty, the fairer sex has often gone to extremes. Take Elizabethan-era women, for example. To get the pale, fair-skinned look that was all the rage during that time, they would apply a poisonous lead paste to their faces. Of course, that was nearly 500 years ago. Surely we've come a long way from such practices, right? Here in 21st century America women wouldn't be putting lead and other toxins on their faces, would they? Well, the answer is: not knowingly.

You see, many of the cosmetics you can find today at drugstores and beauty counters contain unsafe chemicals and are only very loosely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Perhaps the most outrageous example of this is lipstick, which often contains unacceptable levels of lead.

Lead Findings
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pioneered lipstick testing in 2007 when they found that two-thirds of the 33 lipsticks tested contained lead. This prompted an FDA study in 2009, which was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science. The authors of that study tested 20 different lipsticks and found traces of lead in all of them. The highest lead level they found was 3.06 parts per million (ppm). Last year, the FDA did another study on lead and lipstick, broadening it's testing range to 400 products. This time, they found levels as high as 7.19 ppm in name-brand lipsticks. So that you have a few points of comparison on these figures, consider other approved levels of lead:
  • Lipstick levels recommended by the state of California: 5 ppm
  • Approved levels for house paint: 600 ppm
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-recommend levels for water: 15 parts per billion (that's billion, not million!)

While the levels found in lipstick are considered trace, any amount presents health problems because: 1) lipstick is worn near the mouth and can be easily ingested, 2) children and pregnant women shouldn't be exposed to any level of lead, 3) lead toxicity builds up over time and 4) studies seem to indicate that levels of lead in lipstick are increasing.

Lack of Regulation
The makeup industry isn't intentionally adding lead to cosmetics. It's an impurity that can be found in a number of the ingredients that make up lipstick and other types of makeup. However, cosmetic companies face little monitoring and no oversight concerning the safety of their products.

While technically under the jurisdiction of the FDA since 1938, the cosmetics industry is not required to receive pre-market approval for its products or ingredients. This means consumers most likely have a false sense of confidence in the cosmetics on the marketplace. In fact, before reading this blog post you may have assumed the makeup you wear contains safe, tested ingredients. The reality is that the FDA's testing of lipstick only occurred when a private group, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, prompted it to do so by releasing their own findings.

There is a push underway to change the status quo as it relates to regulation of the cosmetics industry. Last year, a bill known as the "Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011," or H.R. 2359, was introduced in Congress. The bill has 20 co-authors and is currently in subcommittee. If enacted, it will require cosmetics companies to, among other things, phase out any ingredients related to birth defects, developmental delays or cancer. The bill will also create a cosmetics oversight committee within the FDA.

Dangers of Lead Exposure
This bill is important because it can reduce the number of toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis. Lead, in particular, is a dangerous substance. And while the government may accept limited amounts of it in the products we use, the deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry testified before Congress that there are no safe levels of lead.

ER physicians and pediatricians easily recognize a sudden, recent (acute) poisoning with lead. Symptoms of lead poisoning include nausea, vomiting and other stomach problems; fatigue; headaches; muscle weakness; seizures; paralysis; coma; memory loss; and mood and personality changes. Blood tests confirm the diagnosis.

Chronic lower level exposure is more subtle. In children, lead damages their ability to grow. Their bodies and brains are both damaged. The developmental problems that lead can cause in children—such as lowered IQ, ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities and stunted growth—may be irreversible.
In adults, chronic low level lead exposure occurs from personal care products, ceramic cookware, occupational exposure, drinking water and food, cigarette smoke, and lead paint in homes built before 1978. Lead causes accelerated atherosclerosis, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, angina and heart attacks, memory loss and kidney failure.

Unfortunately, in adults, the effects of chronic, excessive lead accumulation don't usually show up until organs have been damaged and people are older. Don’t despair, there is treatment. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself if this damaging metal is removed from the body.

You can have your body tested for lead and other heavy metals. A blood test or 24 hour urine test will not detect chronic exposure to lead. Special testing is necessary. We offer such a test at Vaughan Integrative Medicine. If we determine you do have unsafe levels of lead, we can perform chelation therapy, an effective treatment for removing lead from the body.

While you're at it, you might also want to switch out your current lipsticks with brands that are lead free. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a list of cosmetic companies that have reduced or removed lead and other toxins from their products.

To inquire about heavy metal testing and chelation therapy at Vaughan Integrative Medicine, contact Chris Eller at (336) 808-3627, extension 13.
Take care of yourself,
Elizabeth Vaughan, MD

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