The Ugly Side of Beauty
by Judi Vance
For ten long years, Judi Vance, author of Beauty to Die For – The Cosmetic Consequence has been voicing a conflicting account on the safety of cosmetics. Her latest endeavor is an Internet community, Cosmetics – Are they worth the risk? The publisher sponsored Web site allows Vance to continue her quest to educate on the subject of cosmetic risks.

“Not everything we women do in an attempt to enhance our beauty is necessarily good for us.” says Vance “Years ago, in the Elizabethan times, it was fashionable (and aristocratic) to present a pasty white complexion. Women powdered their faces with a mixture including white lead called ceruse, and colored their lips with a reddener containing fucus-red mercuric sulfide. Even though this beauty regime destroyed the outer layer of skin, they continued using these poison palettes well into the 18th century.”

“Today isn’t much different,” Vance concedes. “Thousands of Filipino women expose themselves to the dangers of severe skin disorders and possibly even cancer through their desire to have paler skin. Although the full extent of the dangers of hydroquinone , the active ingredient in the skin bleaching cream are still unknown, U.S. studies have linked it with leukemia, liver damage, and thyroid disorders. Animal studies show that it could cause mutations in developing fetuses.”

“In our quest for beauty we forget that the skin is an organ that serves vital body functions.” She emphasizes that our skin is part of our respiratory system, absorbing oxygen and releasing waste; cooling or heating us in accordance with the outside temperature; creating natural oils to prevent moisture loss and over-hydration and also to protect us from invading microorganisms. The skin also plays a major role in immunity. “Cosmetic use does not respect these bodily functions—it destroys them.”

According to Vance, “most women have no idea that cosmetics could cause harm. They tend to think that the new “miracle” ingredients are coming from years of scientific discovery. Wrong! Most of the ingredients have been around for many years. It’s only now that they have moved from an industrial purpose into the world of beauty. The ultimate wrinkle removers (according to cosmetic ads)—alpha hydroxy acids—have been used for years in the processing of textiles, leather, and metal and also used in cleaning, polishing, and soldering compounds, copper pickling, adhesives, and electroplating.”

Vance, who participates in the upcoming four-part Discovery Channel documentary called “Hope and beauty: the story of cosmetics” says, “cosmetic chemicals are not adequately tested. The cosmetics business is a self-regulated industry and, as quoted by a Health Canada toxicologist, compliance is as low as 30 percent.”

Several months ago, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) completed a study in relation to the phthalates found in children’s soft plastic toys. The study showed that the particular phthalate used in toys were at rather low levels. However, other phthalates, like the ones used in fingernail polish, were at levels high enough to raise concern. Warnings were then issued advising women not to use nail polish during pregnancy because of the possibility of birth defects.

“Science doesn’t have all the answers,” she says. “There’s no scientific agreement on what tests can correctly determine whether someone’s immune or nervous system, or genes have been damaged. Nor is there a consensus on what constitutes a safe level of exposure. Reproductive, developmental and genetic damage is a non-threshold event and the only safe dose is zero. Until, science knows the answers to these baffling questions, avoidance of the suspect chemicals is probably our antidote.

“Some women are becoming wise,” says Vance and cites the onslaught of natural cosmetic products to the marketplace as validation that safety is an issue. Alternatives exist. Education is a must.