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Toxicology in the Age of Twitter

By: Steve Herman
Posted: March 8, 2011, from the March 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 3 of 5

The cosmetic database2 sounds like a good starting point. It gives the appearance of an objective, independent champion of consumer safety. In fact, it is a spin-off of the EWG, which has a fundamentally anti-industry bias. EWG uses science, but it is fundamentally flawed science, outside the realm of peer-reviewed research. Whatever criticism one may have of the beauty industry, it never puts forth critical data with the recklessness of the EWG.

The official industry voice is the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC).3 For insight on safety, go to—it links to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review site.4 The first edition of the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association’s (PCPC before its name change) Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary dates back to 1973. The industry set up an expert panel to assess cosmetic safety in 1976. But since most consumers seem totally unaware of the industry commitment to safety, it is clear that the wrong sites get googled when the average person looks for information.

Some companies have taken a proactive position on ingredient disclosure beyond that mandated by law. SC Johnson is a good example, and it does it with household products, which have little to no labeling requirements. Its site5 explains the use of chemicals; why dyes, preservatives, and fragrances are in their products; the importance of quantity, and the potential harm of natural products.

You shouldn’t forget the role of the government in establishing safety standards. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can surely provide clear and definitive guidance. So how has the EPA handled a hot button topic, dioxin, for example? Not well. In 1982, a high level of dioxin was found in the soil of Times Beach, Missouri.

The residents were evacuated, and a $100 million cleanup that took 10 years reclaimed the land for a park. The levels of dioxin in Times Beach were 100 times above the level EPA found acceptable.