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Consumer advocates lead push for 'green' cosmetics

By Michaela Vincent, CNN
updated 9:58 PM EST, Fri December 28, 2012
  • The FDA doesn't have to approve most beauty aids before they go on the market
  • Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 seeks to remove harmful ingredients from products
  • The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working with Congress to support the bill
  • Johnson & Johnson pledged this year to remove potential toxins from its toiletries

(CNN) -- Cosmetics are a part of the daily grooming regimen for women across the country, but now consumer advocates say your favorite lipstick or mascara may be harmful to your health.

"There's lead acetate in hair dyes, lead in lipsticks, formaldehyde and 1, 4-dioxane in baby shampoos and other shampoos," said Lisa Archer, co-founder and former director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and current director for the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Health-care giant Johnson & Johnson pledged in August of 2012 to remove trace amounts of carcinogens and other potentially toxic chemicals from its toiletries and cosmetics by the year 2015. The company had previously pledged to remove such ingredients in baby products by the end of 2012.

According to the federal laws enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, cosmetics companies are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products. Unless there is a color additive, the FDA does not require ingredients in beauty aids to be approved before going on the market. Regulation dates back to 1938 and has seen minor changes over the years.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working with U.S. representatives to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011. The organization was also a driving force behind Johnson & Johnson's monumental announcement.

In a statement to CNN, Johnson & Johnson said, "Nothing is more important to us than the peace of mind of people using our products, that's why on August 15th, we made a global commitment to remove a number of commonly used ingredients from our baby and beauty consumer products."

The company created a website where consumers can view its policies and procedures on its ingredients and safety measures.

Johnson & Johnson also stated that despite the change, the company believes the products it currently sells are safe.

"What matters most isn't what we think. It's what our customers think. That's why we decided to take the unprecedented step of removing or reducing ingredients that, at their present levels, are safe by scientific standards and considered safe by key regulators around the world, including the EU, the U.S. and China," said the company in its statement to CNN.

Archer disagrees.

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"It's really important for consumers to know that small doses can add up to harm and the timing of the dose of the toxic chemicals really matters as well," she said.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' website offers resources for consumers to research what is in their products. The site also lists what the organization calls "chemicals of concern."

For Nakia Evans, an Atlanta medical assistant who has suffered with breakouts and skin irritation for years, the discovery was an epiphany.

"We want to look great on the outside, but we also have to educate ourselves when we're applying makeup about what we're doing not only to our skin, but internally," she said. Evans has since discovered natural and organic skin care products such as LAMIK Beauty.

"We are paraben free, we are talc free and we are free of those things because we feel that you should not have to sacrifice your health for beauty," said Kim Roxie, creative director of LAMIK Beauty.

In 2010, the company was a finalist for HBA Global's International Package Design Awards for its green packaging. HBA Global is a product development source for the beauty and personal care industry.

"It's really about educating the consumer and making them more aware," Roxie said.

Meanwhile, Evans said her new discovery means a new way of thinking for her and no more breakouts.

"It actually helped my skin, so I would recommend that you research what you're putting on your skin," she said.

Archer said she hopes other multinational companies follow Johnson & Johnson's lead by removing the potentially toxic chemicals from their products, but she also advises consumers to continue to do their homework.

"We encourage buyers to beware and do your research," she said. "Because it's the wild wild West and nobody is actually monitoring that aisle in the store."

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