Malkan says that lead, while restricted in colorants to certain concentrations, can run amok in other products. “Lead is allowed in any amount in finished cosmetic products, with no limits and no requirements to disclose it on the label.”
Rarely are chemicals, even known carcinogens, banned. Products with Food and Drug Administration–restricted ingredients must display warning labels, such as an announcement that an ingredient has caused cancer in lab animals or a recommendation to test the product on a small area of skin for an allergic reaction.
The roll-on makeup with the restricted red dye, for example, warns that it should not be used around the eyes and that it’s “not intended for use by children under 14.” Other packages carry similar generic warnings, with a slew of varying age recommendations: not for those under age 7, 8, 14, 15.
Carbon black, a material produced by the incomplete combustion of petroleum products, graced the ingredient list of a hair dye sold in Walmart. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, carbon black is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” In 2004, in response to an industry petition, the FDA allowed carbon black into cosmetics. Now D&C Black No. 2 is found in many products besides hair dyes, from lipstick to eyeliner to foundation makeup.
“The whole safety system for cosmetics in the United States comes down to one concept,” Malkan says. “We’re supposed to trust the companies to do what’s right. Unfortunately, companies are making safety decisions all over the board. Some are making products safe enough to eat, while others make products with carcinogens, phthalates, and many other toxic ingredients.”
Christy Bartlett of San Diego Bath & Body Company — a signer of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Compact for Safe Cosmetics — says her company “is finding that it’s not difficult to adhere to the compact.
“It is up for debate as to whether or not some ingredients are unsafe to some companies,” Bartlett says. “We believe that ‘all-natural’ means no artificial colors, fragrances, color, or preservatives. For example, grapefruit seed extract is controversial, and so are parabens. Some question use of soy too. We avoid them all.”
Malkan says the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics expects Congress to tackle the issue of cosmetics regulation in the next few months. Such legislation would parallel current efforts to overhaul the limp 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.
Her group has just put out a report on laboratory testing it commissioned on Halloween products. The lab tested ten face paints and found that all had lead. Six of the ten contained the allergens cobalt, chromium, and nickel, which Malkan says “can cause lifelong skin problems.”
Hiram Machicote, the manager at the Mission Valley Halloween shop owned by Canoga Park–based Halloween Adventure, says he’s not aware of any problems with makeup sold in the store. There was one recent customer, though, who told him about a Halloween-related incident, one that involved fake hair and surgery to remove it. The incident didn’t involve his store, and the customer, he says, wanted to buy fake hair again but hoped to avoid what happened last time.
“She used superglue on her husband’s head,” he says. “This year she’ll be using spirit gum.”