CHICAGO, IL, July 2, 2004 --/WORLD-WIRE/--
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) should be commended for its June "Skin Deep" report on personal care products. EWG should also be commended for its FDA petition to recall or issue "warning labels on 356 personal care products" that, as admitted by the industry's Cosmetic Ingredient Review safety panel, "lack sufficient data to support their safe use in personal care products." Regrettably, however, EWG's report is confusing and scientifically flawed.

EWG emphasizes that "only 11 percent of 10,500 personal care products, identified by the industry's trade association, have been publicly assessed for safety." However, this seems an overstatement. Such "suspect" ingredients include: purified water; sodium chloride (table salt); citric acid; natural amino acids; natural botanicals; FDA-approved colorants; and many food additives approved in 1958 by the FDA as "Generally Recognized As Safe."

Moreover, EWG is apparently unaware that substantial information on a wide range of carcinogenic ingredients, carcinogenic contaminants in other ingredients, and ingredients causing dermatitis in most products, marketed by most major companies, has been widely available for nearly a decade. The Safe Shopper's Bible (Macmillan, 1995), which I co-authored, details such information on these unsafe products. The book also provides information on safer products, marketed by smaller companies.

Furthermore, EWG's claim that "consumers and government officials have no way of knowing of ingredients that can be contaminated with impurities linked to cancer" is questionable. This information is admitted, although trivialized, by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, with particular reference to a large group of detergents (ethoxylates) which, unless purified, are contaminated with potent carcinogenic impurities. More disturbingly, officials of the federal National Cancer Institute are fully aware of such long-standing information, of which they have failed to inform consumers; the American Cancer Society goes still further by virtually dismissing any cancer risks from cosmetics.

EWG's listing of "Carcinogens in Personal Care Products" identifies eight "known and probable human carcinogens." However, no reference is made to talc, identified as a lung carcinogen, following inhalation tests in rodents by the National Toxicology Program in 1993. This is of particular importance in view of the common use of talcum baby powders. Of greater importance are several publications, in leading medical journals since 1982, reporting that frequent use of talc as a genital dusting powder, practiced by about 17% of women, increases risk of ovarian cancer by four-fold.

Based on these concerns, the Cancer Prevention Coalition and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a 1994 petition to the FDA seeking "Carcinogenic Labeling on all Cosmetic Talc Products." The FDA has remained unresponsive.

EWG's computerized "Skin Deep" report is detailed in two major searchable sections, Find Products You Use, and Customer Shoppers Guide. The Find Products section evaluates 7,500 products sold by many leading cosmetic companies. These products are evaluated on the basis of "Health Concerns," including: cancer; pregnancy problems; safety violations; harmful impurities; penetration enhancers (ingredients which increase skin absorption of other ingredients); unstudied ingredients; and allergies and other health concerns. Products in 25 different categories are each evaluated on the basis of "Top Five Ingredients of Concern."

However, these evaluations are marred by errors of omission and commission: