Seminar set on personal care and health

The Wellesley Townsman

By Sara Frost Azzam/Guest Columnist
Thu Dec 04, 2008, 01:04 PM EST

Wellesley –
Three years ago, I wrote a series of columns for the Wellesley Townsman about the potential chemical hazards in personal care products. Since then, this topic has become popular in the news. From lead in lipstick to plasticizers in hair products, many genuine concerns have been raised by the media and by the public about the chemicals that make up our personal care products.

I originally became interested in this subject because of getting my nails done, and wondering what the chemicals were in nail polish. Until that point in time, I rarely checked the “ingredients” list of any of the personal care products I used on a daily basis, whether it was shampoo, facial cleanser or deodorant. Even if I tried to check, the print was often small and/or confusing. However, three years ago, while researching those articles for the Townsman, what I learned about the toxic chemicals in nail polish made me decide to become

consumer-savvy about all of my personal care products. First, I assessed the number of products I used on a daily basis. When I shared that assessment with my friends, they were surprised … until they went through their own daily routine. On a daily basis, most individuals — male and female — use an accumulation of the following products: shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, soap, toner, facial moisturizer, eye cream, body moisturizer, shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste. Add to that number such items as aftershave, nail polish and saline solution. Then add the chemicals inherent in cosmetics, and add to that any number of hair-altering products (coloring, straightening, permanents), and the number of chemicals we put into our system through personal care products alone becomes rather alarming.

I was assisted in my research by the work of a not-for-profit group out of Washington, D.C., called the Environmental Working Group ( Their mission is “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.” Since their founding in 1993, their team of scientists, engineers, lawyers and researchers have brought to light “unsettling facts” (to use their description) about myriad chemical hazards in the world around us. For me, the research they had done — and continue to do — was just what I needed to educate myself and my family. Their cosmetics Web site — Skin Deep — listed many of the products I used, and provided me with alternatives.

More recently, my daughter became a teenager, that age where kids become conscious of their looks. I felt that I had looked out for her best interests when she declined invitations to nail salon parties and spa parties held by her friends for their birthdays, and when she made fun of my twice-yearly pedicure (even though I brought my carefully researched brand of nail polish to the salon). Then, just this fall, new research by the Environmental Working Group said that “teens tend to use an average of 17 body/skin/cosmeticproducts a day compared with adult use of an average of 12 products.” Their study indicated that teenage girls in the United States are already typically contaminated with a wide variety of known toxic chemicals routinely used in many personal care products and cosmetics. I should also add that I am a teacher by profession, and have worked with a number of different age groups, and I have always been alarmed by the age that girls start wearing nail polish, and boys start using cologne. I might have instilled in my daughter some of my own beliefs (which, as any of you with teenage daughters know, is not an easy task!), but what about the population in my community who might not be so well-informed? I shared my research with friends, but I wanted to do more. There had to be a way that I could help.

I am fortunate that, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, I am also in a position to share my findings with my community. The Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project is a local advocacy group whose mission is to raise awareness of the relationship between environmental issues and the incidence of cancer. We have also added to that mission statement the desire to encourage the people in our community to assess their potential health risks, regardless of whether such risks lead to cancer or to other disorders or diseases.

Therefore, I write to share the following statistics:

·In Europe, over 1,100 chemicals are banned from cosmetics, but in America, only nine chemicals are banned from the same types of products.

·A September 2008 study of teenage girls revealed that many are contaminated with hormone-disrupting chemicals, which is the result of chemicals found in cosmetics and personal care products.

·The FDA does not regulate any over-the-counter products that are applied to the skin, as all personal care products are.

The toxicity of product ingredients is evaluated almost exclusively by a self-policing industry called the Cosmetics Ingredient Review.

(When I researched their regulations, I came to the conclusion that an industry is not necessarily capable of self-policing; for example, Philip Morris could not police the tobacco industry.)

The Board of Directors of the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project agreed that we should educate our community about this chemical exposure. We reached out to the community, via several seminars about the subject of personal care products, the chemicals inherent within, and how they might affect our health. We were able to do so because of the interest of the Wellesley Mothers Forum and the student committee charged with locating programs for the WHS Seminar Day, and through grants from the Village Congregational Church and the Wellesley Hills Junior Woman’s Club.

Our mission to educate the community remains steadfast. The message about chemicals in personal care products has been increasingly clear, and it is a message that we would like to share with you. Please join the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project as we present a seminar entitled “Personal Care Products, Chemicals and Your Health,” at the Wellesley Free Library on Dec. 11 from 7-9p.m. Additionally, we will be taking a look at the Skin Deep Web site produced by the Environmental Working Group that provides guidance on selecting better products for your needs and the needs of the next generation.

This column was submitted on behalf of the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project by Sara Frost Azzam. For more information, please go to