How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health and What You Can Do About It
Book by Dr. Samuel Epstein
Reviewed by Danté A. Clemons
Issue 5 Fall 2010
Toxic Beauty, by Dr. Samuel Epstein, uncovers the truth behind many of the beauty products we use everyday. Americans are exposed to carcinogens and toxic pollutants on a daily basis, from various sources. These pollutants are found in air, water and the interiors of buildings. Carcinogenic exposures are subject to regulations imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); nonetheless American consumers come in contact with toxins in multiple consumer products, including household, beauty, food and personal care items. Of particular concern is the regulation of cosmetic and personal care products in the United States. Under the 1938 FDA Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, there are no safety requirements that need be met before these products are released for sale to the public.
It is at this realization that Toxic Beauty begins its discussion. Dr. Samuel Epstein, a preventative cancer expert, with additional text by reporter Randall Fitzgerald, aims to educate readers on the shortcomings of federal regulations, and the harmful carcinogens present in many popular products in the American beauty industry. Epstein defines carcinogens as “a chemical shown in standard tests by recognized scientific authorities, the National Toxicology Program, or by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, to cause cancer in mice, rats, or directly in humans.” He further explains, “nearly one out of every two men and more than one out of every three women will get cancer in their lifetime. The cosmetics and personal-care product industries bear significant responsibility for this health crisis.” Epstein asserts that toxic cosmetics and personal care products are the single largest avoidable cause of disease in the U.S.
Epstein frames his assertion with a historical view of how toxins were introduced into consumer products. He references the creation of Chanel No.5, introduced in 1921, which revolutionized the manufacturing process of cosmetics by being the first fragrance to use synthetic additives. Epstein analyzes the impact such synthetics and chemicals have had on human health. Yet, Toxic Beauty was written not only to startle, but also to change consumer behaviors. Throughout the book, Epstein educates readers on how to recognize safer alternatives. He assesses the lack of government regulation within the cosmetics industry and offers steps consumers can take to promote and encourage reform. Perhaps the most promising chapter outlines the principles of green chemistry, “a term that describes the development of sophisticated technologies for synthesizing non-toxic ingredients and products designed to degrade into wastes that won’t hurt humans, wildlife, and the environment.” Green chemistry encourages the development and adoption of chemical processes designed to have zero toxic effects.
Toxic Beauty is dense with startling scientific information organized into reader-friendly tables and charts, many of which are detachable for use as a checklist while shopping. Epstein succeeds in creating a “useful self-defense manual” that weaves a very complex story. The result is an engaging and informative guidebook for the American consumer of cosmetics and personal care products.