UK's Cancer Prevention Coalition has lauded a leading health food chain for withdrawing cosmetics containing some toxic ingredients, but also warned similar products remained on the shelves.
Holland & Barrett, the UK's largest nationwide chain of health food shops, recently announced that it would "ban hundreds of leading beauty products over claims they contain toxic ingredients" in their 525 stores nationwide.
Holland & Barrett said that they have been working over the past year behind the scenes with suppliers to eliminate the use of these chemicals. As a result, they decided to reject certain well-known brands from their stores and reformulate all their own label products.
The main ingredients of concern to Holland & Barrett in this ban are a group of hormonal preservatives known as parabens, and an unrelated harsh detergent known as sodium lauryl sulfate.
Holland & Barrett has additional stores in the Republic of Ireland, in South Africa and in The Netherlands, where they use the trade name "De Tuinen."
Holland & Barrett is the first UK company to take this action, but it is not alone.
In mid-October, the giant retailer Morrisons, one of the nation's leading supermarket chains with over 400 stores, announced that it would shortly review concerns regarding the dangers of parabens.
Cancer Prevention Coalition Chairman Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. warns that numerous published scientific studies over the last two decades have shown that the parabens - methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, and benzyl - pose toxic estrogen-like effects.
"These vary widely, from the most potent, butyl, which is hormonal at levels 100,000 times lower than natural estrogen, to the less potent methyl," Dr. Epstein says.
"Parabens readily penetrate the skin of immature female rodents, from where they can pass directly into the blood, and stimulate premature uterine growth," he explains. "Even at very low concentrations, parabens have also been shown to stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells in laboratory tests," Dr. Epstein emphasizes. "Of additional concern, administering parabens to immature male rats decreases their sperm counts and testosterone levels." "Parabens have been identified in the breast tissue of a woman with breast cancer, presumably originating from its presence in a product used as an underarm deodorant or antiperspirant," he cautions, saying, "This incriminates parabens as a possible cause of breast cancer."
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a well-known harsh detergent and a penetration enhancer. Dr. Epstein explains that this chemical damages the superficial layers of the skin and causes prolonged damage to the skin barrier. This allows the ready penetration of carcinogens and other toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products through the skin.
Evidence on the danger of parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate is still denied in the Cosmetic Ingredients Review's annual U.S. Compendium. This document details the industry's claims on the safety of about 1,470 ingredients listed on the labels of cosmetic and personal care products, including parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate.
These two ingredients continue to be claimed "safe" in the 2009 Cosmetic Ingredients Review Compendium, an annual publication of The Personal Care Products Council, formerly The Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
The Council also assures that all products that U.S. consumers buy are safe, and under control. This reassurance remains in the Council's 2009 annual Cosmetic Ingredient Review Compendium.
Dr. Epstein cautions that the Council maintains dozens of full-time lobbyists at the federal and state levels, and pursues an aggressive political agenda against what it considers to be "unreasonable or unnecessary labeling or warning requirements."
"Holland & Barrett is to be commended for its initiative in phasing out parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate," says Dr. Epstein. "However, the company appears strangely unaware of other toxic ingredients. These include a wide range of other hormonal ingredients, such as phthalates and bisphenol, besides a still wider range of carcinogens."