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Group Questions Safety of Some Cosmetics

Group Questions Safety of Some Cosmetics

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(NBC News) -- What we put on our face, our skin, and our hair is regulated by the FDA.

But the FDA can't pre-approve cosmetics, force recalls or require companies to disclose what's in their products. It can inspect manufacturing plants, but can't mandate changes without going to court. It can require warning labels, but not safety testing. That's left up to each company.

Tim Kropp, Environmental Working Group: "The FDA has never defined what 'safe' means. Does it mean it doesn't cause cancer, or just doesn't make your skin itch?"

The environmental working group says it looked at 75-hundred products. It claims 99 percent contain at least one ingredient that hasn't been tested. A third contain "known or possible carcinogens."

One ingredient the government considers toxic to the environment. It's caused Birth defects in lab rats but isn't off-limits for cosmetics. Another one, even the industry says shouldn't be used on infant skin. But it's found in diaper rash crème.

Tim Kropp, Environmental Working Group: "People shouldn't throw out their handbags full of cosmetics from their medicine cabinet. But they should be aware that most of these chemicals haven't been tested for safety."

In response, the FDA sent this letter to the industry saying it's cracking down on warning labels. The industry's own expert panel reviews cosmetic ingredients. It claims the environmental group's report is flawed.

Gerald McEwen, The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Assn. : “They have name fragments, misspellings, all manner of things suggesting scholarship of report was less than what you'd like before something is used, basically, to scare the public. If you start harming people, how many resales are you gonna have?"

The FDA which declined our interview request, logged 144 complaints about cosmetics in 2003.

The industry argues if products were unsafe there'd be many more.

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