The Story of Cosmetics and the Dangers of “Scare” Legislation

If you read this blog, you’ll know that the beauty product industry and misleading claims of natural or earth-friendly really annoys me.

So, I was excited when I learned that The Story of Stuff Project, in conjunction with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, was releasing a new video – The Story of Cosmetics. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, 3 Green Angels has been hired by The Story of Stuff Project and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to host an #ecowed Twitter party to promote The Story of Cosmetics.)

The video is really great – informative, clear, concise. I was thrilled that the video targets some big name cosmetic companies. Absolutely thrilled it mentioned L’Oreal’s pinkwashing. Ecstatic that the video talks about misleading claims of natural. You really should watch the video:

But I do have an issue with the desired action urged – legislation to regulate the cosmetic industry based upon the precautionary principle. I do think that the current regulatory scheme leaves a lot to be desired. I do think that chemicals used as ingredients in beauty products should be more thoroughly assessed, particularly for endpoints such as reproductive harm. I don’t think that you should need a chemistry degree to buy products.

But I can’t advocate for legislation without knowing more. Without knowing exactly how the legislation is worded.

I am too familiar with bad legislation developed in response to scare tactics. Legislation that harms small businesses.  For example, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) seemed fantastic with its marketing spin – let’s get lead out of children’s toys. And with that I wholeheartedly agreed. But, of course, the legislation wasn’t just about getting rid of lead in children’s toys where there was a risk of exposure. No. The CPSIA went way too far. Even the lead regulations reach too far – beyond risk of actual exposure. Rick Woldenberg repeatedly blogs about it and the just plain stupid and unduly burdensome reach of the CPSIA. Like the impacts on the ATV industry. On bicycles for kids. Even the loss of bling (and while getting crystals out of children’s clothing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, without a risk of exposure, it is stupid). And the CPSIA imposes too many burdens on the smaller, often greener businesses that should be selling toys to our kids. The kinds of companies featured in the Handmade Toy Alliance’s blog week, which features some dynamite companies and products.

And all the money being spent on testing products for lead that pose no risk of exposure would be much better spent addressing lead based paint in residential housing. With a much more significant reduction in risk.

Now, I know that I often use my XRF analyzer to bring attention to products being sold that aren’t compliant with the CPSIA. That is because the CPSIA is the law we have, and companies need to comply with it. But I still can think the portions of the law are silly. Just like I frequently have to help companies comply with California’s Proposition 65 even if I think Proposition 65 is a bad law.

In any event, I bring the CPSIA up after watching The Story of Cosmetics because well intentioned legislation can go badly wrong.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t urge you to understand what it is you are buying. To adopt the precautionary principle in your purchasing decisions.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should advocate for sensible legislation and regulations.

But that’s it – the legislation and/or regulations must be sensible. And that is hard to do. The devil is in the details. Overbroad legislation has unintended consequences and collateral damage.

As said by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding

Since I don’t suck on it, I don’t care

biker chick sucking on a leather gloveWhen it comes to lead, I get that a lot. Really. I get comments all the time along the lines of, “Well, I’m not going to suck on it, so who cares?” Or, when it comes to lead in paint, “My kids don’t lick the walls, so it isn’t relevant.”

After my segments on Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends After Show Show, I got quite a few comments that it doesn’t matter if there is lead in the purse if the purse isn’t sucked on. There was also an extensive discussion on an eBay board about it.

I understand that there are a lot of risks in the world. The media bombards us daily with the latest health scare. It is hard to sort out what to worry about and what to ignore. And I get that there are more pressing concerns than lead in vinyl or lead in paint.

And we’ve also come a long way when it comes to lead. We’ve phased it out of paints used in the home. We’ve eliminated it as a fuel additive. At the same time, however, we are finding that levels once believed to be safe aren’t. About 290,000 children in the US have ADHD because of exposure to trace amounts of lead. And, as Dr. Greene explains, a number of recent studies have linked childhood exposure to lead to the surge in Alzheimer’s disease that we are seeing today (my rebuttal to those that say that they got exposed to lead when they were young and are just fine, thank you).

Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and kids are more at risk. Part of the reason kids are more at risk is because of the type of behavior they engage in. Part of it is that they absorb 50% of the lead that they ingest, whereas adults only absorb about 11% of the lead that they ingest.

So, tell me you don’t care about lead in vinyl because you’ve got a lot of other stuff to worry about or you don’t think the risk is that big. That’s fine. But don’t tell me you don’t care because you don’t suck on it. That just tells me you don’t understand the issue.

When it comes to lead in vinyl, lead migrates to the surface. Lead doesn’t like being in the plastic matrix so it moves out of it and comes to the surface. That process occurs more rapidly with exposure to friction and light/heat. Also as the product ages. Once the lead moves to the surface, it is transferred to hands upon handling, and from there can be ingested. Take, for example, lead in vinyl purses. If you handle your purse and your purse has lead, then the lead will be on your hands. If you touch your mouth, then you may well ingest some. Say you get in your car and grab some fries. You probably handled your purse before you got in the car, and as you were getting your money out. Don’t tell me you are going to wash your hands before you eat those fries. And the lead dust that transfers.

Or you handle your purse and then hold your child’s hand. And your child sticks her hands in her mouth. Or eats an apple without washing her hands. Or you handle your vinyl diaper bag and then offer your baby a bottle. All of those situations can result in lead transfer.

Don’t believe that lead comes out of vinyl? Well, the Center for Environmental Health did wipe tests of the purses it found lead in, and found enough coming off with the wipe tests to be of concern. And, the Consumer Product Safety Commission acted years ago to take vinyl blinds off the market because of the high levels of lead dust generated and collecting around the blinds.

When it comes to lead in paint, you do not have to lick the walls. Microscopic lead dust is generated around the home, particularly at friction surfaces, or where painted surfaces rub together. Your door jambs, your windows, your built in cabinets. Plus, we get lead dust blown into our homes from weathering of other buildings and we track in lead contaminated dust.

And the thing is, lead exposure is additive. We already get some in our diets. We also get some in our water from the pipes and fittings. We may get some at home – more if our home was built before 1978. Add in the exposure to lead in vinyl products, and your child’s exposure may be enough to shave off IQ points. Is it really worth that vinyl purse?

I was an almost guest on the Dr. Phil show and all I got was a lousy lead contaminated mug

dr phil ceramic mugI was an almost guest on the Dr. Phil show.

I was supposed to be a guest with Jessica Gottlieb on the Madlyn Primoff story, and how we thought it was ridiculous she was charged criminally for kicking her kids out of the car and forcing them to walk home. However, a prior segment went very long because of a surprise guest, so I never spoke.

I was an almost guest.

Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure how to post about being an almost guest. What is there to say – I went, but I didn’t speak? I got my hair done. I waited around. I hung out with Jessica, one of top 50 Nielsen power moms, and she is cool. Who would care?

Then I was putting away the bag of goodies I got – a pen, a journal, a heart shaped stress ball and a mug. I happened to turn over the mug. And what did I see? A Proposition 65 warning that the mug contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer or other reproductive harm. So, I’m an almost guest and I get a mug with lead in it?

proposition 65 warningOf course,, I had to test the mug. Of course, what is the point of having a Niton XRF analyzer if you don’t test everything? So I tested the blue background first. If that had lead, I wasn’t going to be all that worried because then it would be bound up in the high fire glaze. The blue background tested non detect at less than 20 parts per million (ppm). Okay, so then I moved to the “Dr. Phil” logo, which appears to be a transfer or painted on. And, you would definitely handle it, although I don’t think that your mouth would get on it with normal sipping.

That Dr. Phil logo? It tested at 26,400 ppm lead.

Holy carp! I went to the Dr. Phil show and got a lousy lead contaminated mug.

Anyone want to make me a t-shirt? I can wear it at BlogHer

Realistically, would I be exposed to much? I really don’t know. Probably not until the logo started showing wear. But do I want to use it? Hmmm, no, I don’t think so. I’d rather use a food contact item without lead, thank you very much. (And, relating this to Madlyn Primoff, if I let my kids drink out of it, should I be charged with endangering the health of a child?)

I’ve been asked before whether a person should buy an item with a Proposition 65 label. Not familiar with Proposition 65? It is a California law that requires companies to provide warnings before exposing consumers to chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. It has bad points and good points.

But for consumers, the question usually is whether they should buy products with Proposition 65 warnings. And the answer is, at least for me, I think it depends on the product. Food contact items? Probably not. Adhesives? Probably okay, although follow the directions (usually well ventilated area, etc.) for proper use.

A warning doesn’t mean that the product necessarily even has a listed chemical present at a level that would require a warning. Business can place warnings on consumer products if the company, based on its knowledge, or assumption, believes that a Proposition 65 listed chemical is present without evaluating the exposure. So, for example, companies place Proposition 65 warnings on vinyl items assuming lead may be present since it is used to stabilize vinyl without testing to find out if lead is present. So a Proposition 65 warning may not mean that a listed chemical is even present.

That being said, I still don’t want Proposition 65 warning labels on food contact items. So, Dr. Phil, perhaps you should re-think your guest gift items.

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TheSmartMama – CPSIA Solutions – XRF Testing for Lead Content CPSIA Compliance

Okay, so this is a service pitch.  Just skip it if you are not in the market for lead content testing. 

As you know, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 set mandatory lead content standards for all children’s products sold or distributed for sale in the United States, among other requirements. While the testing and certification requirements are stayed, you still cannot distribute in commerce any children’s product, or any part of a children’s product, that exceeds 600 parts per million (ppm) lead. That level drops to 300 ppm. 

Trying to figure out whether your products comply?  TheSmartMama provides x-ray fluorescence (XRF) screenings for lead content to support certification claims for CPSIA compliance.  I can provide handheld XRF screenings in my facility (you mail the product) or onsite at your location – whether it be your sales showroom, your warehouse or your store.   

XRF testing is non destructive and is relatively quick.  Components identified with levels of lead potentially of concern can be further tested for lead content, or can be replaced.  The XRF testing is recognized by the CPSC for lead content testing.  Please note that lead in metal children’s jewelry and lead in paints and coatings must be tested using 3rd party accredited testing.  Also, XRF screening cannot identify phthalates.

A Toxic Soother? Lead in Brass Keys

How many people jingle keys to soothe a fussy infant? I mean, how easy is it to grab your keys if your baby starts to fuss in line at the grocery store.

But those brass keys may have lead present. That’s right, keys can potentially have toxic lead present.

In fact, in a lawsuit under California’s Proposition 65, testing was done to determine if there was enough lead in brass keys to result in an exposure to lead to require a warning.  If you aren’t familiar with it, California’s Proposition 65 law requires warnings to consumers before exposing them to certain substances, including lead. Lead is added to brass to make it easier to machine, and there were claims that brass household keys could have lead present in them resulting in exposures such that Proposition 65 warnings would be required.

In 1999, the California Attorney General filed a complaint against 13 manufacturers of brass keys and lock sets, alleging that the products exposed individuals to lead and the manufacturers were selling them without the necessary warnings. To see if exposure to lead was actually happening, laboratory testing was conducted. The laboratory tests showed that handling brass keys could result in exposure to lead.  The highest test results showed exposure at 80 times the Proposition 65 so-called safe level of 0.5 micrograms per day, while the lowest was still above that safe level.  As a result, in California, brass keys must carry a Proposition 65 warning if they contain more than 1.5% lead.

I don’t know about the lead level in brass keys sold in other states.  A concerned parent in an article indicated a higher level than 1.5%.  But even the 1.5% is too much for me – it is significantly above the lead level allowed in paint (0.06%).  Of course, I recognize the medium is different.  Yet, with the news about no lead level being safe for children. I didn’t want my children to get in the habit of chewing on keys. 

What can you do?  Don’t let you children play with your keys.  Don’t forget to remind other caregivers as well.  My mom, despite lots of warnings, still doesn’t hesitate to jingle keys to calm my daughter . . . just too ingrained.  Make sure you wash your hands after handling your keys and digging in your purse – there’s enough lead dust in there to be a significant exposure if you let your keys rattle around loose.  This is especially important if you are pregnant or nursing.  You might want to think about keeping your keys in a designated pocket.  The plastic key covers are supposed to help reduce exposure, but I don’t know how much.