Monday, November 21, 2011

What’s in my makeup bag? — junk science

The Oregon Environmental Council and the regional government for the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area recently released a survey of young women regarding their personal care product use, entitled What’s in My Makeup Bag? This report suggests that the young women are uninformed about the chemical risks posed by their makeup. But rather than offer women and the public-at-large sound and balanced information about cosmetics and health, the survey authors push misinformation and junk science.

CEI has already debunked most of their points in various publications, with particular detail to the cosmetics industry in our recent paper on cosmetics: The True Story of Cosmetics: Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign. Our report includes information on chemicals that greens never mention. For example, greens never point out how the chemicals they want to eliminate are necessary to prevent the development of dangerous bacteria or other pathogens in consumer products. You can learn more about that in The True Story of Cosmetics.

Take a look at the key chemical “villains” in the What’s in My Makeup Bag? report, and you will see how misguided the activist claims really are:

Claim about Parabens: “They [parabens] can mimic the hormone estrogen, and in animal studies, they have been linked to cancer and shown to interfere with reproduction at high doses.”

Reality Check: So what? Rodents get cancer from lots of things when administered high doses — including carrots, broccoli, and lots of other healthy foods. Rodent studies are of limited value because human metabolic processes differ from that of rodents, and our exposures to parabens are thousands of times lower. Check the chapter, “The True Causes of Cancer,” in our The Environmental Source, and see why you need not fear trace chemicals. As for mimicking hormones, consider the fact that the potency of these chemicals is too low to have any impacts. The CEI study, Nature’s Hormone Factory, demonstrates that we have more to fear from eating peas, which contain far more potent “endocrine mimicking” chemicals — complements of Mother Nature. Of note parabens are chemicals used to ward off the development of dangerous bacteria. For more information on parabens see: The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about Fragrances: “We know that fragrances may contain allergens, sensitizers, neurotoxins and ingredients that interfere with hormones.”

Reality Check: Frankly Scarlett, some people are also allergic or sensitive to flowers or peanuts. That does not mean the rest of us should not experience the joy of a lovely aroma! The simple fact is, everything is life is made of chemicals — some smell good, some don’t. What is wrong with taking the nicer scents from Mother Nature’s inventory and incorporating them into our consumer products? Nothing. There isn’t any compelling evidence that such scents at the low doses found in consumer products have serious adverse human impacts. In addition, the fragrance industry employs a host of privately funded scientific review panels to ensure a high level of product safety, which is detailed in a CEI paper on green chemistry scheduled for release later this week. After all, the goal of business is to gain repeat customers — not to poison them! Watch our website for details about the green chemistry paper. And again, trace exposures to fragrances or other chemicals are unlikely to have any hormonal effects on humans because both the doses and potency are too low. See Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Phthalates: “In animal and human studies, phthalates have been linked with a whole host of health concerns, including birth defects, asthma, early puberty and low sperm counts.”

Reality Check: Greens have been after phthalates for decades despite scant evidence of any problems from use in consumer products, and amidst considerable evidence that these products include many important public health and other benefits. CEI debunked such claims a decade ago, but greens won’t let the issue go despite the paucity of evidence that these chemicals pose any health problems. More recently, a study on PVC safety conducted by the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Directorate-General concluded: “So far, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that DEHP [a category of phthalates] exposure via medical treatments has harmful effects in humans.” Again, see Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is “is known as a probable human carcinogen. It can also cause skin and lung irritation.”

Reality Check: A problem with many governmental cancer classifications is they don’t mean very much. They don’t bother to consider actual risk levels to humans based on exposure and dose. Formaldehyde is a concern for workers exposed to high levels of the substance over long periods of time — exposure that can be managed by proper worker protection practices to bring risks close to zero. But most humans are exposed only to trace levels every day in our food (mushrooms and many food naturally contain formaldehyde) and air (cooking and consumer products release trace amounts). There is no evidence that these trace exposures have any serious adverse public health impacts. Instead, formaldehyde has health benefits in cosmetics where it acts as a preservative, preventing adverse reactions related to spoilage. See the case study in the appendix of The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): “The U.S. National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has classified BHA as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”

Reality Check: Again, if that’s a problem, we also need to stop eating carrots, apples, and more foods because they have the same effect. There are some serious problems associated with the murky science at the National Toxicology program. CEI will be releasing a study in a couple weeks documenting these issues. In the meantime, there’s no need to panic. BHA is a preservative used to ensure products don’t pose health problems related to spoilage.

Claim about Oxybenzone: What’s in My Makeup Bag? says that this chemical “is a potential hormone-disrupting chemical linked with endocrine disruption, cell damage and low birth weight when used by pregnant women.”

Reality Check: Again, if you believe that, don’t ever eat soy or other legumes, which are thousands of times more potent “endocrine mimickers,” as detailed in Nature’s Hormone Factory. The sad reality is, if people follow the advice of the greens on this one, some could die from skin cancer. Oxybenzone is a key ingredient in sunscreens. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, claims about oxybenzone are not only wrong, they could be dangerous if fewer consumers use sunscreen as a result.


The land where pizza is one of your five-a-day vegetables … because it is covered in tomato paste

I have removed some judgmental wording below in favour of more factual language -- JR

A school lunches Bill going before Congress aims to reclassify pizza due to the tomato paste on the dough... this thin coating would be enough for pizza to go towards a daily count of fruit and vegetables.

The move has been derided as a cost-cutting drive so the U.S. government will not have to spend so much on fresh food for school lunches. Subsidised school meals must include a certain amount of vegetables.

A congressional committee is pushing for the move and to keep french fries on school lunch lines in a fightback against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains.

The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.

Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn't be telling children what to eat.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would 'prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.'

School districts had said some of the USDA requirements went too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.

Schools have long taken broad instructions from the government on what they can serve in federally subsidized meals that are served free or at reduced price to low-income children. But some schools have balked at government attempts to tell them exactly what foods they can't serve.

Reacting to that criticism, House Republicans had urged USDA to completely rewrite the standards in their version of the bill passed in June.

The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in their version. Neither version included the language on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains, which was added by House-Senate negotiators on the bill.

The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says.

It would also slow efforts to make pizzas — a longtime standby on school lunch lines — healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium.

'They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,' she said.

A group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill. The group, called Mission: Readiness has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.

'We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,' Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress before the final plan was released. 'It doesn't take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.'

Specifically, the provisions would:

• Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.

• Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

• Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

• Require USDA to define 'whole grains' before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.
Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

'This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,' said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

The school lunch provisions are part of a final House-Senate compromise on a $182 billion measure would fund the day-to-day operations of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week and send it to President Barack Obama.


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