Saving Face: Cosmetic products with harmful ingredients could be messing with your hormones

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Choosing skin care products that do what they say they will do is a tedious and some say a fruitless endeavor.

Dr. Peter Kunz, a plastic surgeon in Indianapolis, says consumers are confused and he understands why.

“The hype is incredible,” said Dr. Kunz. “And it’s very hard for all of us to be able to figure it out, because a lot of the regulatory pathways for these products to get on the marketplace require no clinical studies or testing.”

Change may be coming. The Personal Care Products Safety Act, if passed, would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to take a closer look at makeup, lotions, anti-aging treatments and more.

In the meantime, CBS4 took some basic questions to Dr. Kunz and his partner Dr. Ashley Robey.  Both are plastic surgeons.

Dr. Kunz advises his patients to get smart and read the labels.

“I  think you should also look at ingredients and get as few ingredients as possible and as many natural or organic ingredients as you can.  And of the products which you can get in prescription strength, look for Retin-A," he said. "It’s a really great product. It’s been available, it’s now generic because it’s a prescription medication. It had to go through all the testing and had to have proper clinical studies. Studies have shown it does reverse sun damage and can help with pre-cancerous cells on your skin.”

There is a trick to getting the most benefit from Retin-A though.

“You really need to apply them at night, because some of the problem with it is, mixed with ultraviolet light, it can sometimes cause more skin damage than benefits," he said. "So we have to be very careful about when it’s applied, but it’s a great ingredient. Just use it only as a night time application."

Kunz likes vitamin C and even green tea, which is an oxidant. Alpha hydroxy acids, he says,  are good ingredients for good skin care too.

Kunz and Robey both feel like sunblocks and sunscreens are important to protecting your skin, but they also think consumers need to know the limits of these products.

“SPF is only about UVB, which is only one ultraviolet wavelength of light, " he said. "There is also UVA, which is a huge area of concern because it could be promoting skin cancer and by having all this SPF of 50 in the marketplace, people feel as though they have protection in the sun, where they only have protection from burning. They don’t actually have protection from ultraviolet light coming in and those are of concern to us as well.”

Robey, who is a mother as well as a plastic surgeon and head and neck surgeon, had an additional warning for parents of young children using sunscreens and sunblocks.

“Your body absorbs two ingredients found in these products: oxybenzone and octanoxate,” said Dr. Robey.

“It can mistake them for being like other hormones, and so especially on infants and young kids, the concern is what is the hormone stimulation doing as far as development and higher risk of cancer, and those kinds of things. Odds are, if you’re grabbing a bottle that says sunscreen there’s a pretty good chance that you happen to grab one that’s potentially harmful to you or your family.”

It’s estimated there are 60,000 ingredients found in cosmetics in general. The law that governs the cosmetic industry hasn’t been updated in decades. The one tool consumers and physicians like Dr. Kunz use is a data base put together by the environmental working group, or EWG. The group’s “skin deep” site ranks cosmetics by potential hazard with levels of green, yellow or red.

Among the concerns of EWG are parabens and phthalates.

The bottom line is to  read labels and look for the products that work, you may have to get a prescription to get the strength you need. Do protect your skin with sunscreens and sunblocks, but understand they only block UVB rays. Protection from UVA rays takes products like zinc oxide.

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