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Cover up? A teen's effort to expose what's ugly about cosmetics.

Grab a bottle of hair gel or a tube of lipstick and read the ingredients label. Having trouble pronouncing the chemicals? Jessica Assaf, a 16-year-old from San Rafael, California, is suspicious of cosmetic chemicals that have complicated names. She wonders about what these ingredients do and what they are doing to your body: "From deodorant to makeup to skincare, teens pile on a lot of products throughout the day. So we accumulate tons of chemicals."

When Jessica learned that scientists have linked certain cosmetic ingredients to health risks, such as cancer, she was alarmed. Jessica decided to raise awareness about cosmetics safety. Her efforts even helped change how her state government deals with the cosmetics industry.

NOT PRETTY

Jessica first learned about the possible risks of certain cosmetic chemicals when she started volunteering at a local grassroots organization called the Marin Cancer Project: Search for the Cause. By talking to scientists working with the organization, Jessica became aware of research showing the potential dangers of using certain cosmetic chemicals.

For example: Parabens, which are commonly used to preserve cosmetics, have been found in breast-cancer tumors. Other studies link phthalates (THAL-ates)--often used to give lotions a smooth texture---to liver and lung damage. Despite the findings, many scientists believe that more research is needed to confirm that these and other chemicals are unsafe for use in cosmetics. But for Jessica, the studies' results are enough for her to take precaution: She switched to using cosmetics made with natural ingredients, which she hopes might be safer.

BEAUTY STANDARDS

Jessica was also surprised to learn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test cosmetic ingredients--except for color additives--before they reach the public. "Thousands of chemicals have not been tested by the FDA for safety," she says.

Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors, says that is the case because the law requires that only colors be approved. "Manufacturers of cosmetics are responsible for ensuring that their products and ingredients are safe before they market them," she says.

After a cosmetic product hits the stores, however, "if the FDA finds that it is not safe for consumers, we can take steps to have the product removed," says Katz.

MAKEOVER

Jessica believes that consumers deserve better cosmetics-safety standards. So she joined an activist group called Teens for Safe Cosmetics. The group, along with other likeminded organizations, worked with a California State Senator who had introduced legislation that requires cosmetics companies to report the use of any potentially hazardous ingredients to the California State Department of Health Services.

In the summer of 2005, Jessica's group met with state senators, as well as an aide to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lobbied their cause. "They were surprised to see teens so passionate about the issue, telling them why the bill must pass," says Jessica. Their efforts paid off. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill into state law.

Does the FDA think cosmetics-safety activists like Jessica are overreacting to inconclusive scientific findings? "You have to put it in perspective," says Katz. "Cosmetic ingredients have been in the marketplace for years with few reports of any injury to consumers. The FDA continually monitors what is in the marketplace and has taken action on unsafe products."

Jessica argues: "It's what we don't know about the thousands of cosmetic ingredients that are being used that's so scary." To this end, Jessica has been working in the lab of Dr. Maggie Louie, a chemistry professor at Dominican University of California, to see how certain cosmetic chemicals stimulate breast-cancer cells. The preliminary lab results haven't been made public yet, but Jessica says that they only encourage her to continue with her mission.

debate it

Should you be concerned about the chemicals in your shampoo, lotion, makeup, and other cosmetic products? Science World invited one leader from the cosmetics industry and one from a cosmetics-safety advocacy group to debate the issue. Turn the page to read their arguments.

LIFE: Public Health

Cover Up

PRE-READING PROMPTS

Jump-start your lesson with these pre-reading questions:

* According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the legal difference between a cosmetic and a drug is determined by a product's intended use. The FDA defines cosmetics as "articles intended to be robbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body ... for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance." These products include skin moisturizers, makeup, shampoos, toothpastes, and deodorants. Drugs are defined as "(A) articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease ... and (B) articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or ally function of the body of man or other animals." What is the FDA's authority over cosmetics?

* Cosmetics labeled "hypoallergenic" are products that manufacturers claim produce fewer allergic reactions than other cosmetic products. There are no federal standards that govern the use of the term "hypoallergenic." Why might cosmetics-safety activists be concerned about this fact'?

CRITICAL THINKING:

* After reading the article, have a class discussion on the topic. Ask students if they are or are not concerned about the safety of the personal-care products they use. Have them explain why.

CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS:

HISTORY: Have each student select a personal-care product and do research on the selected product's history. Then have him or her create a fact sheet on when and how the product was invented and how the product has changed over time.

RESOURCES

* To learn more about the FDA's policy on cosmetics, visit this site: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/cos-toc.html

* Here are Web sites for cosmetics-safety advocacy groups: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org/ The Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/

* Here are Web sites related to the cosmetics industry: The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association: www.ctfa.org/

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review: www.cir-safety.org

Cover Up?

DIRECTIONS: Defend or dispute the following. (Hint: Defend means to explain why a statement is correct. Dispute means to explain why a statement is incorrect.)

1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for testing all cosmetic ingredients before they reach the public.

2. The activist group Teens for Safe Cosmetics helped change a California state law.

ANSWERS

COVER UP?

1. Dispute: The U S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test cosmetic ingredients except for color additives before they reach the public That's because the law requires that only colors be approved Manufacturers of cosmetics are responsible for ensuring that their products and ingredients are safe before they market them After a cosmetic product hits the stores, however, if the FDA finds that it is not safe for consumers, it can take steps to have the product removed

2. Defend: The activist group Teens for Safe Cosmetics, along with other like-minded organizations, worked with a California State Senator who had introduced legislation that requires cosmetics companies to report the use of any potentially hazardous ingredients to the California State Department of Health Services In the summer of 2005. teens from the activist group met with State Senators, as well as an aide to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lobbied for their cause. Their efforts paid off. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill into state law,
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:LIFE: PUBLIC HEALTH
Author:Chiang, Mona
Publication:Science World
Date:Dec 11, 2006
Words:1208
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Next Article:Should you be concerned about the chemicals in your shampoo, lotion, makeup, and other cosmetic products?
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