Parabens Lurking in Beauty Products

Not long ago a chain e-mail rumor made the internet rounds, claiming that a common chemical preservative found in antiperspirants and bras caused cancer. Many read the email and hit “delete.” Others might have burned their bras and discarded their deodorant. Don’t worry, wearing a bra won’t give you cancer.

Dig deeper, however, and there’s a nugget of truth to the dangers of parabens, the class of chemicals in question. Parabens are one of many ingredients found in the fine print of certain beauty products. Meaningful Beauty skin cleanser, contains five varieties of parabens. Meaningful Beauty users airing their grievances on the website, owned by market research firm Opinion Corp., complain of rash, wrinkles, pimples, oily skin, swelling, peeling, dryness and sagging skin. Some consumers report multiple symptoms.

Other Meaningful Beauty users exhibit no symptoms, but the lesson is clear: When buying beauty products, always read the fine print. Meaningful Beauty is endorsed by Cindy Crawford in a popular late-night infomercial; Crawford does not bother to explain the pitfalls of parabens.

Meaningful Beauty isn’t alone in its culpability. The popular product line Dermitage has also been blamed for making skin look older, not younger. “The cream makes my face red and develops ugly and irritable rash,” writes one user. “It causes irreparable DAMAGE to my skin and my self esteem.” Writes another Dermitage user, “I tried this product for four days and my face broke out, burned and peeled. This product is not for sensitive skin.” Again, a closer look at Dermitage ingredients is helpful. Dermitage’s lifting cream and Skin Renewal Complex both include Hyaluronic Acid, a chemical compound known to cause serious adverse events in knee osteoarthritis patients.

The cosmetics/beauty supply industry has grown from a $4.4 billion enterprise in the United States in 1997 to $6.3 billion in 2002 and $10.3 billion in 2007, the most recent year’s data released on the U.S. Census Bureau website. As the market expands, so does the allure for fraudulent fortune-seekers. This merely increases the need for consumers to be vigilant.

A doctor wouldn’t prescribe any medication without first asking or testing for their patient’s list of allergies, but makers of health and beauty products don’t take such a personal approach. It is the responsibility of consumers to read the fine print on each label before investing in any beauty product, taking careful note of the sixteen-syllable chemicals you’ve never heard of. And don’t expect the government to bail you out on this one — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only has limited jurisdiction in the cosmetics arena. According to the FDA website, its legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. With the exception of color additives, cosmetic products and ingredients aren’t subject to FDA premarket approval authority. However, the FDA may pursue enforcement action against sketchy products, or against firms or individuals who violate the law.

That rash, wrinkle or pimple may be nothing — or the basis for a lawsuit.

Beth Fields