Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

There is another worthy organization I should mention while I'm on this kick about things with which you lather, paint, spray, scent, and goop yourself. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics announced last week that they had reached a benchmark. Five hundred companies have now signed onto their "Compact for Safe Cosmetics." By doing so, these manufacturers have pledged "to replace ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other negative health effects within three years."

I have to say, the names of the signers don't sound like the product choices of either ruthless beauty queens or average Americans. The brands tend to have a whimsical, pagan flavor. I ran across Carrot Tree, Cosmic Tree, Cosmic Dance, Earth Dance, and Dancing Dingo. My cuteness award goes to Munchskins Skin Care. I'm too far out of the mainstream to be much judge, but I thought the participating companies with the greatest name recognition were probably The Body Shop and Dr. Bronner's. The Campaign's website notes that "OPI, Avon, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have thus far refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics."

With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks you can get active and gently encourage the latest Campaign target, OPI, to do the right thing. The nail polish giant has apparently already been cajoled into lumbering in the right direction.

What is my immediate personal stake in this as someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities? I myself don't so much mind tracking down obscure alternative products at the health food store, or paying a little more for them. However, I wish it were easier for an accommodating friend to show up fragrance free for a get together. I don't think most people really want to wear ten differently scented products at once if they stop to think about it. I don't think they want perfume so adhesive they can't wash it out of their clothes if they try--even if they don't know the health risks. It shouldn't require a research project to stop making other people sick by your very presence.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More of Consumer Reports Does Fragrance

I drew ten times my average daily readership yesterday due to Sunday's post. It was about an unsettling Consumer Reports article on cosmetics safety published by AOL. Please, have another helping. My favorite sentence in the report, which alludes to perfumes, reads, "We bought Happy, Poison, and Beautiful in both the U.S. and Europe, and found the E.U.-banned phthalate DEHP in all the samples." Surely the article's author had some fun with word juxtaposition on that turn of phrase. While I admire audacity, I'd suggest Christian Dior, maker of Poison, consider "Young," "Powerful," or "Rich" as more on-message options for a name.

But I'm not really playing to my new-found audience now, am I? The visit counter suggests that my most avid recent reader works for a large firm that produces cosmetics (one with its whole own ISP). Perhaps a bored employee is dropping by, or a chemically-sensitive one, but I'm guessing that someone is actually getting paid to read my little foot-stamping missives from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity land. I don't know whether that's creepy or flattering. It is definitely annoying that being on the right side is so seldom as financially rewarding as being on the wrong. If anyone wants to pay me, please step forward.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Your Shampoo Safe?

We do try (don't we?) to remain ever alive to the teeny-weeny area of overlap between fun and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Today's recommendation is not quite like a night at Mardi Gras, but check out the interactive data base on cosmetics safety put up on the web by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It's part of their Skin Deep project, which also sends out a free e-bulletin on request. You can enter the brand name of your shampoo, or your moisturizer, or heaven forbid, your perfume, and see how they rate it for safety.

I figured my body had long since become a finely-tuned instrument for testing cosmetics safety. I thought I wouldn't learn much on this subject from EWG. It's true that the products I use--not that I indulge in many--were in the low-risk category. However, they weren't the lowest of the low and I think I'm going to making some changes. Why not use a lip balm with zero health risk? I think I should be able to safely eat my lip balm if I get it into my head to do so. Why not use a shampoo with seven ingredients, rather than 37? Please, no whining, I'm sure the simpler one will remove dirt and oil from your shining locks just fine. Did the advertising really have you thinking your current one was going to improve your sex life?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Consumer Reports Does Fragrance

Breathing perfume makes me sick--literally, instantly, and routinely. I'm sure I could discuss the subject rationally with fragrance wearers, if they were just amenable to a simple preliminary procedure. "I'll take the mask off in a minute," I'd say. "Hold onto your chairs there, sir, madam." A quick rinse with the old fire hose and let's chat. Oh, yes, I suppose my imagined interlocutors might be more receptive to a familiar, unbiased source of information--and not complain if it was a little dry. I recently ran across just the thing.

On Friday AOL published a Consumer Reports article on the safety of cosmetics. The piece outlines the appalling lack of safety regulation in general, but focuses on a potentially dangerous class of chemicals called phthalates (THAL-ates). These compounds are contained in all manner of products, including perfume and anything with "fragrance" listed as an ingredient. Consumer Reports found phthalates in all of the eight perfumes they analyzed, although none of the labels listed them. This lack of disclosure isn't surprising, as it's not required. However, several companies were revealed to have made false claims either about whether they use phthalates at all or about which ones they use. And, you bet, the fibbers' names were named, specifically Estee Lauder, Clinique, Aveda, Liz Claiborne, and, for shame, Aubrey Organics.

Phthalates are known to cause cancer and liver injury in animals and to cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities in people. They are often used to make other fragrance chemicals linger--I swear, sometimes for years. They are banned in Europe, where regulation is more stringent. Consider that only eight cosmetic ingredients are prohibited in the U.S., while more than 1,000 are forbidden by the E.U. (Not that the Consumer Reports testing suggested that the European law was being followed.) On our side of the Atlantic, "The industry essentially regulates itself," states the article.

So what is our take-home message? Even if you don't have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, buy fragrance-free products from eco-groovy alternative companies. (Or be on guard for a bracing spritz.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Help, We Exist

MCS America is launching a petition drive to give a nudge in the right direction to powerful U.S. organizations that should be doing something about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). The web-based advocacy group has been publishing a free on-line newsletter since August. Last I knew, the head of the group's board of directors, Lourdes "Sal" Salvador, was spearheading its activities out of the van in which she lives due to her MCS. (Gotta love her.)

With permission, I've copied below the one-sentence petition statement to be delivered to the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In my understanding, the group will send out a more detailed letter over the signature of its leaders on the 1st of February and there will be additional opportunities for the rest of us to lend support then.

I hereby petition the AMA, CDC, and NIEHS to support further studies, endorse the full recognition of MCS as a physiological medical condition, and to educate physicians about MCS and environmental illness for the betterment of public health.

To sign the petition send a message with your name, state, and any title/affiliations to:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Half a Million Canadians MCS Diagnosed

Statistics Canada released a report Friday estimating that 2.4% of Canadians over age 11 have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). That's about 643,000 souls. The government agency conducted a survey asking participants about MCS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia, all classed as diseases with "medically unexplained physical symptoms," or MUPS. Over 5% of the Canadian population, more than a million folks, are believed to have at least one of the three MUPS, with MCS being the most prevalent. Hard to say what the figures really mean when it seems that half the potential diagnosers don't believe in the existence of one or more of the diseases, but onward...

What else did the study purport to tell us about our north-of-the-border comrades with MCS? They are more than twice as likely to be female as male. The middle aged are harder hit than the young or the old. (The grim thought occurs to me that MCS may prevent old age.) Compared to the general population more people with MCS are likely to class themselves as previously rather than currently married. MCS is the most frequent in the lowest income bracket. And, finally, there is a relatively high percentage of self-reported mental illness and dissatisfaction with life among the chemically sensitive.

Careful, now, with those cause-and-effect conclusions (and Statistics Canada was admirably so). Granted, getting MCS isn't going to change your gender--except in truly exceptional circumstances--so I'd say we can safely consider double X chromosomes to be a risk factor for the disease (as long as we assume that men come forward and are diagnosed as readily as women). But consider that MCS could drive you into debt, drive you crazy, and drive off your spouse, or failing that, drive him to the grave. On the other hand, being poor might mean you eat poorly or breathe polluted air and thus are more likely to get sick. Who knows what causes what.

And, don't forget, when two things are found together a third factor may be causal. Being female contributes to the likelihood of both poverty and MCS, and obviously in some ways that aren't related to each other. Or, considering the mental health issue, I'd guess that traumatic stress could soften up your neurons for both MCS and, say, depression. Or all those medications you're taking could prime two pumps. Or all those pesticides you're eating. All that perfume you're breathing. Just speculating.

How do the U.S. and Canada compare in terms of MCS incidence and the number of chemicals circulating in the two countries? State-side studies of MCS prevalence have usually come out with at least slightly higher estimates. One surprising study showed that about 6% of Californians had been diagnosed with MCS and about 16% said they were "allergic or unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals." According to an article in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, Canada has a mere 35,000 chemicals in common use, while there are over twice that many floating around in the U.S. I'm sorry, these facts are no doubt unrelated, but I couldn't keep myself from pairing them.

Of course the label "medically unexplained" is subtly pejorative and in line with efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the diseases. Many other illnesses have mechanisms that aren't understood and yet the fact isn't included in their names. The MUPS label also says nothing about the real associations and possible common biology of the diseases. But what do I know; I'm just a MUPPETTE (marginalized, unemployed, poor patient entertaining thoughts of toppling the establishment). It's probably best to listen to those pulling the strings, who are PAID-OFF (pompous, arrogant, ignorant doctors offering farcical folderol).