Skin Deep

By Monica Dean
|  Tuesday, Jun 8, 2010  |  Updated 1:55 PM CDT
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Skin Deep

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Skin Deep

The cosmetics you use contain ingredients linked to cancer.
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The cosmetics you use or even the cream you put on your baby could contain ingredients linked to cancer or reproductive harm -- that's according to an environmental group that says consumers need to beware.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a website so consumers can view safety ratings of thousands of personal care products. Type in the product you use and the website will give you a hazard rating it ranges from 0, the lowest to 10 being the highest.

A detailed view shows whether ingredients in the product are linked to a list of safety concerns like cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations, allergies, and other concerns.

EWG, a non-profit research organization, created the Cosmetic Safety Database they call "Skin Deep." A spokesperson said they created the site because they want people to make informed decisions. Sr. Scientist for the group, Rebecca Sutton, said “the typical American woman uses 12 different products each day and often exposes themselves to about 168 different ingredients."

She said many of those ingredients are untested and have potential health concerns. The company says its rated more than 55,000 products on the market -- using information from dozens of governmental and scientific databases and they're constantly adding to it.

"This website gives you the kind of information to be able to choose safer products," Sutton said.

La Jolla Dermatologist Darrell Gonzales says the site is a good resource but he says keep in mind most of the data used is from studies done on lab animals not people.

Dr. Gonzales says with most products there are no human tests to support that they're actually hazardous or potentially toxic.

"For my patients, when they ask is this cosmetic agent safe to use?  The answer is, most likely at this time we think it is safe," Dr. Gonzales said.

Dr. Gonzales said scientists are still not sure how the data translates from lab animals to people. But he said most products out there have been used for years and tested repeatedly.

One of the products that repeatedly turned out a high hazard result on the site was perfume.  Sutton says that's because of the "fragrance" ingredient.

"Fragrance is kind of a mystery word because the term fragrance, when you see it on the ingredient list can include any number of chemicals, they're all mixed together and you don't really know what you're getting," Sutton said.

Dr. Gonzales said overall the data isn't strong enough for him to advise patients to stop using certain cosmetics.

“But I still advise my patients to be cautious, do some research, and the bottom line is if it's irritating the skin, stop it and switch to a new product," Dr. Gonzales said.

If your personal care item is not listed on the site, type in the ingredients listed on the product and you can get an approximate safety rating.

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