On October 19th The Beauty Brains (one of my favorite beauty related blogs) published a great post about how the EWG scares consumers needlessly over the safety of sunscreens and cosmetics. Numerous times I’ve written in my blog about how I think the EWG’s sunscreen report does more harm than good in the end and that their fear mongering could potentially lead many people to stop using sunscreen thus contributing to the national epidemic of (truly preventable) skin cancer. (The EWG also enjoys widespread media coverage in the popular press every time they come out with a new and ridiculous sunscreen report.)
Luckily, it turns out that I am not alone in my feelings about the EWG, and someone is actually doing something about this issue. The main group taking on the EWG is called the Competitive Enterprise Institute a group who calls themselves:
a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. Our mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics. We make the uncompromising case for economic freedom because we believe it is essential for entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity to flourish.
In an article from October 18th, 2011, on CEI’s website, called The True Story of Cosmetics Dana Joel Gattuso writes the following about the EWG:
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and its partner, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), are on a crusade to scare consumers away from using cosmetics and hygiene products that contain preservatives and other useful chemicals. As part of their effort to ban the use of synthetic ingredients from skin products, these environmental extremist groups are working to incite fear among consumers, making outrageous and bogus claims that we are poisoning ourselves by using lipstick, makeup, deodorants, skin creams, and even baby products. Specifically, they claim that the additives can cause cancer, create neurological disorders, or cause hormone disruption—even though they are present in trace amounts.
In fact, these preservatives protect users from bacteria. Present in quantities so small—typically, less than 1 percent of a product’s total weight—they are added to prevent contamination and to protect consumers from the buildup of dangerous bacteria that can cause eye infections, skin rashes, and even deadly infections such as E. coli and Salmonella.
Parabens, for example, are added to makeup, deodorants, moisturizers, and body creams to prevent bacteria, fungi, and mold. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens are linked to breast cancer and can cause hormone dysfunction. Yet scientists have refuted the claims, arguing that concentrations of parabens in cosmetics are too small to have an adverse effect, and are at levels in our body thousands to millions of times lower than naturally produced estrogens.
Another example is the chemical oxybenzone, used in sunscreens to protect users from the ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer. The Environmental Working Group warns consumers to stay away from oxybenzone because it “contaminates the body” and can cause hormone disruption and cell damage. Yet cancer research organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation refute EWG’s assertions, arguing that there is no evidence to back the claims of oxybenzone risks. These cancer foundations worry that such fear mongering will scare consumers away from using sun block products that protect consumers from the risks of skin cancer from the sun’s rays.
I was happy to read what CEI wrote about the EWG, their tactics, and shoddy research, but then I found out a bit more about the CEI and was pretty upset. It turns out the CEI is supported by and partners with very conservative groups (like Philip Morris) and furthermore (and this really upset me), according to the website Sourcewatch, they deny certain scientific facts like how greenhouse gases are causing climate problems:
CEI is an outspoken anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change skeptic and an opponent of government action that would require limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It favors free-market environmentalism, claiming that market institutions are more effective in protecting the environment than is government In March 1992, CEI’s founder Fred Smith said of anthropogenic climate change: “Most of the indications right now are it looks pretty good. Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture.” 
In May 2006, CEI’s global warming policy activities attracted attention as it embarked upon an ad campaign with two television commercials. These ads promote carbon dioxide as a positive factor in the environment and argue that global warming is not a concern. One ad focuses on the message that CO2 is misrepresented as a pollutant, stating that “it’s essential to life. We breathe it out. Plants breathe it in… They call it pollution. We call it life.” The other states that the world’s glaciers are “growing, not melting… getting thicker, not thinner.” The other states that the world’s glaciers are “growing, not melting… getting thicker, not thinner.” It cites Science articles to support its claims. However, the editor for Science stated that the ad “misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers… by selective referencing”. The author of the articles, Curt Davis, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said CEI was misrepresenting his previous research to inflate their claims. “These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate,” Davis said. (From Sourcewatch)
Luckily it turns out that there is a way to support better oversight for the cosmetic industry without needlessly scaring consumers or compromising on your morals. You can support the Safe Cosmetic Alliance which is:
comprised of leading beauty and personal care product and services industry trade organizations representing manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retail owners, salon/spa owners, and licensed beauty professionals who support science-based legislative and regulatory policies that enhance consumer and product safety standards.
Together, Alliance members account for nearly 8.2 million U.S. jobs and contribute nearly $189 billion in U.S. GDP every year. The beauty and personal care industry is one of the fastest growing employment segments globally.
Members of the Safe Cosmetics Alliance touch people’s lives every day and reach virtually all Americans who use cosmetic and personal care products, as well as beauty salon services. We represent every aspect of the beauty and personal care industry, including:
- Your local salon and spa owners, employees and licensed beauty professionals
- Retail employees that sell cosmetics at your favorite store
- Independent business owners and direct sales representative agents who sell directly to consumers
- Companies ranging from small startups to global corporations
We believe it is critically important that laws and regulations reflect the current advances in science and technology, enable industry to innovate, meet consumer expectations, and continue to earn their confidence.
The Safe Cosmetic Alliance has created a petition that asks the FDA to update their oversight over the cosmetic industry. According to the Safe Cosmetic Alliance website:
While the personal care product and services industry has exhibited an impeccable safety record going beyond the current requirements for safety, it is essential the law keeps pace with advances in science and technology. We must provide new tools for the FDA that modernize and strengthen oversight of personal care products, increase transparency, and enhance existing consumer safety measures.
We can keep our favorite cosmetics and personal care products at the highest level of safety by giving the FDA new tools that improve and strengthen their oversight of personal care products. That is why we must urge lawmakers to support science-based legislation that includes:
- New FDA review of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel findings. CIR is a non-profit, independent panel of scientists and physicians who currently review ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products in the U.S.
- New FDA process to review cosmetic ingredients, allowing the FDA to review and set safety levels for trace contaminants used in cosmetic and personal care products.
- Registration with the FDA by manufacturers of personal care products. This would make the current voluntary reporting program mandatory for all cosmetic manufacturers and would include the registration and reporting of facilities, product ingredients, and unexpected adverse events that may occur.
- Requiring the FDA to issue good manufacturing practices for personal care products.
You can sign the Safe Cosmetics Alliances petition here.
Bottom Line: While I am glad to see that someone is taking on the EWG and refuting their claims I am saddened that the rest of CEI’s politics make me uncomfortable (why can’t people stop fighting the idea of global warming and start doing more about it? If you don’t believe global warming is a real threat take a few hours out of your day to watch An Inconvenient Truth). As such I was glad to hear about the Safe Cosmetics Alliance’s work and petition. Better oversight from the FDA for cosmetic and beauty products will help all consumers, and I hope these efforts will succeed. (And thanks to The Beauty Brains for doing a great job at keeping their readers updated on all these developments)