BY Eileen Z. Fuentes

As I was walking down St. Nicholas Ave, I was surprised to see that some of the most notable brand name cosmetics were available on any given street corner right here in this neighborhood for a good price. Even the economical drugstore brands could be purchased for less. On this particular day, it was scorching hot so I thought to myself, how could this stuff not go rancid in such extreme weather? Every day of the week, rain or shine, the merchants are here. This question led to a myriad of other issues surrounding not only the quality of the products but instead the high number of toxins that were found in them.

As I began my quest for answers, I learned that most beauty care products are linked to cancer, neurological disorders, asthma, infertility and more. On average, women use at least 12 products a day and men use around 6. Even baby products are loaded with toxic ingredients (including fluoride). One would assume that the government would make every effort to keep us safe against agents that have the potential to cause us harm, however, there is no such regulatory obligation under the existing federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. As a matter of fact, cosmetic companies only have to answer to themselves.

According to the National Cancer Institute, parabens, a preservative found in deodorant is closely linked to cancer. The same applies to Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) an ingredient added to lotions, sun block, soaps and lead, which appears in 61% of lipsticks. Mercury, which causes a host of neurological disorders, is prevalent in mascara. And the risks associated with perfumes/colognes are too numerous to list. Even still they don’t have to disclose the ingredients due to its complex formulations. Formaldehyde is another known carcinogen and is harmful to the immune and respiratory systems but it still appears in many beauty products including nail polish and the Brazilian Keratin treatment, an Uptown favorite.

So how do you protect yourself from these harmful products? Watch The Story of Cosmetics.  This short video is chock full of good information. Do not be deceived by brands, price, pink ribbons adorning the package, and know that words like “herbal”, “organic”, and “natural” have no legal definition and so you should still read the label to ensure that it is free of toxins. Don’t leave home without your wallet-sized shoppers guide to safe cosmetics. Take some time and check out the and see how your existing make-up is rated then go to the to find a healthy alternative. Let your voice be heard by asking congress to get behind the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. And remember the women of Washington Heights/Inwood are already beautiful so let’s keep it really real.


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