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Honest Labeling Can Fuel Market Growth

by Sandy Almendarez Comments

The personal care marketplace is experiencing a shift in labeling. Although regulations are light on personal care labeling, many companies, retailers and vendors are making it uncomfortable, and at times impossible, to make “natural" and “organic" claims on their label without substantiation.

“A company that sells a body lotion that is primarily natural, but with some chemicals could legally label itself organic because there is little regulation on body care," said Darren Rude, NeoCell’s vice president, adding more products are shifting away from this unscrupulous practice.

This shift may be due in part to retailers who require vendors to practice true labeling. “True labeling" is the way of the future, and personal care products, from supplements to serums, can help fuel market growth by practicing this standard, Rude said.

Natural foods retail giant Whole Foods Market announced a new labeling policy for personal-care products and cosmetics making an “organic" claim. By June 1, 2011, these products must be third-party certified under the USDA National Organic Program (USDA NOP) standard, the same standard to which organic food must be certified. Products making a “made with organic ingredients" claim must also be certified to the NOP standard, and products making a “contains organic ingredients" claim must be certified to the NSF 305 ANSI Standard for Organic Personal Care Products, a consensus-based industry standard accepted by the American National Standards Institute and managed by NSF International.

“At Whole Foods Market, our shoppers do not expect the definition of organic to change substantially between the food and non-food aisles of our stores," said Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “We believe the ‘organic’ claim used on personal-care products should have just as strong a meaning to the ‘organic’ claim used on food products."

While government has not taken a stance to regulate personal-care product labels, independent organizations have created their own standards that consumers and retailers use to guide purchases. For instance, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database is an online source for assessing and comparing the safety of personal-care products that combines ingredient listings with more than 50 integrated toxicity and regulatory databases and rates products based on their safety.

Similarly, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to eliminate potentially dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal-care products. According to its website, the organization is working with more than 100 endorsing organizations, thousands of grassroots supporters and more than 1,300 companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove hazardous chemicals and replace them with safe alternatives within three years. Companies that sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics must demonstrate compliance with the European Union (EU) directive on personal-care products, and a list of participating companies is posted on the nonprofit’s website.

The campaign uses EU’s directive because it is more comprehensive than the United States’ rules; however, the EU does not ban parabens and many other potentially harmful ingredients, so companies that sign the pledge can formulate with parabens and still be in compliance with the guidelines. This brings up the issue of just what is toxic, and who has the authority to make up the rules.

“Everyone has their own opinion of the hazardous rating of an ingredient," said Angie Morasch, national accounts manager, Hyalogic. “We try to accommodate everybody, but it’s been difficult to make a truly clean natural product that is accepted by everybody."    

Still, a few ingredients are generally avoided by natural personal-care product manufacturers. While the EU says they’re OK to use as preservatives, many are looking to reduce parabens in products, as Rude noted they mimic estrogen in the body and may be linked to certain cancers. A 2004 Journal of Applied Toxicology study detected traces of five intact parabens in the breast-cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied,1 and a 2002 study found they increased the expression of genes usually regulated by estradiol (a form of estrogen); these genes cause human breast tumor cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies.2

Phthalates are used in a variety of common personal-care products like cosmetics (used to hold color and scents) and nail polishes. A University of Rochester, New York, study found prenatal phthalate exposure at environmental levels can adversely affect male reproductive development in humans3, and in women, they have been shown to significantly increased proliferation of breast-cancer cells.4 Most personal-care products that contain phthalates don't list them on the label. In the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics 2002 report, "Not Too Pretty," the nonprofit found phthalates in nearly three-fourths of tested products, even though none of the 72 products had phthalates listed on the labels.

Similarly, because 1, 4-dioxane is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, FDA does not require it to be listed as an ingredient on product labels. However, consumers may want to avoid this ingredient, commonly used in products that create suds, like shampoo, liquid soap and bubble bath soap, because it is considered a probable human carcinogen by EPA, is listed as an animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program, and is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or birth defects.

“Synthetic fragrance" is an encompassing term that can include up to 4,000 ingredients, some of which may be toxic or carcinogenic. For instance, German researchers found a statistically significant increase in proliferation rate of human breast-cancer cells after exposure to two nitro musks (musk xylene and musk ketone), a major metabolite of musk xylene (p-amino-musk xylene), and the polycyclic musk fragrance AHTN.5

Numerous other ingredients concern consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike. More products are promoting their lack of propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), mineral oil, artificial dyes and ureas. Still, as Kristine Carey, vice president of marketing for MyChelle Dermaceuticals, pointed out, “Many mainstream skin-care companies use toxic and unsafe ingredients simply because it’s cheaper to buy a synthetic, toxic chemical than it is to buy a natural, effective substance, such as a plant or nutrient." But, she said, these harmful ingredients aren’t necessary. “There is a misconception that nontoxic products are not effective and that is not the case."

References on next page.

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