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Clean cosmetics: The science behind the trend

March 12, 2019

About the Authors

photo of Molly Wanner, MD

Molly Wanner, MD, Contributor

Molly A. Wanner, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist and an Instructor in Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She practices at MGH’s Dermatology Laser and Cosmetic Center, one of the leading laser and cosmetic centers in the … See Full Bio
View all posts by Molly Wanner, MD
photo of Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS

Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS, Contributor

Dr. Neera Nathan is a dermatologist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. Her clinical and research interests include dermatologic surgery, cosmetic dermatology, and laser medicine. She is part of the … See Full Bio
View all posts by Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS


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Sharon Ekstrand
March 8, 2019

What about ammonia, which is found in most hair dyes? Could it be harmful to the brain? I once found an approximately 1/2 inch hole in the cement floor of our garage where ammonia had leaked from its container.

March 5, 2019

“Clean” is a misnomer, clean has nothing to do with the issue, non-toxic is a far better term.

“and at higher doses than people would typically be exposed to through a cosmetic or personal care product. ” Sounds nice until you recognize that people are exposed to phthalates from many other sources, many types of cans as well as other commonly used/sold/ sources. Makes sense to eliminate ANY source when possible. In addition, Hawaii has banned “the distribution of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate that scientists have found contributes to coral bleaching when washed off in the ocean. ” from a NYT article, so it’s not just exposure to humans–it’s possible for a person to wish to avoid further contaminating/polluting or damaging the environment–and needlessly so. How many of the chemical compounds listed in the article are now present in many water supplies? Joining antibiotics, anti-depressants, traces of illegal drugs . . . .

There’s no mention, let alone discussion, in this article regarding the possible effects cumulative exposures as well as potential synergistic effects exposure to multiples of the above & other pretty ubiquitous compounds (such as glysophate) of humans–including children– (animals, beneficial insects, amphibians, fish, plants, etc). Or to at least ten of the chemical compounds listed in the above article. Possibly because so little research has been done and it’s unlikely either the NSF or any corporation will do so.

Cathy Gunn
March 5, 2019

What about red dye?

March 5, 2019

You could have dug a little deeper into this subject on some of the topics. For example, no large company in the cosmetic industry is adding formaldehyde to their formulas. Instead ingredients like DMDM Hydantoin or Diazolidinyl Urea are used which are formaldehyde donors. There is no evidence that formaldehyde donors used in cosmetics cause cancer.

You should also have noted that the EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are not science-based organizations. They do not make assessments of ingredients based on what Toxicologists say.

March 7, 2019

“There is no evidence that X (or Y or Z) causes cancer (or any other harm) “: such statements in my opinion may sound “evidence-based”, but can also be read as “there is no evidence either that they are safe” (or effective for that matter). Most users woud prefer evidence of safety, at least, for compounds to be used on (or in) their bodies. More so if we take into account the fact that the sole purpose of many ingredients in the cosmetic industry is to reduce production costs (replacing more expensive ingredients, extending shelf life to ease distribution) or just make the product more appealing (color, smell, etc. ) but have no cosmetic function at all.
The way evidence is presented always matters. As an example, while there is evidence that high levels of exposure to sunlight are a risk factor for skin cancer, it does not imply, as is often touted even by health professionals, that you should use a sunscreen: staying in the shade or covering up (clothes, hats and umbrellas….) have a perfect record for safety and effectiveness. Using solar cosmetics in order to stay longer in the sun reminds me of ancient Roman banquets, in which guests voluntarily vomited in order to eat more…

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