Avon Products, Inc. announced it would remove phthalates from all its makeup products at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting this week.

Avon spokesperson Victor Beaudet said that the move was a part of Avon’s “wish to allay public concern, not a safety concern,” contending that phthalates are not dangerous.

“This is a small but important step by a corporate giant,” Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, said. “It’s important for the people Avon markets to, many of whom are women of childbearing age, and it’s important for future generations.”

Beaudet said that phthalates have not been used in their products sold in the United States since early 2004. Avon, along with all other U.S. companies, will be removing them from the products sold in the European Union, effective September 2004, in response to an EU mandate that prohibits use of phthalates. Avon will also evaluate the rest of their products sold internationally.

San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action is a member of Follow the Money: An Alliance for Accountability in Breast Cancer and worked with Trillium Asset Management, a socially-responsible investment group headquartered in Boston, to lobby Avon for changes.

“We are pleased to see Avon follow the lead of Proctor and Gamble and Estee Lauder in removing phthalates,” said Shelley Alpern of Trillium Assets Management in a press release. “As the rates of breast cancer and other diseases skyrocket, the willingness of personal care products companies to address public health concerns is heartening.”

A coalition of advocacy groups gave U.S. companies a deadline of Monday, May 3 to support a ban on the compounds, which help cosmetics adhere without smudging and have been linked to birth defects and cancer. So far, Body Shop International, Urban Decay Cosmetics and Aveda Corporation have volunteered to remove phthalates from all their products. Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. and Procter and Gamble Company have agreed to remove phthalates from nail polish.

For more information:

Breast Cancer Action:

Duramed Pharmaceuticals, Inc.–Plan B:


Despite the overwhelming recommendation of its own expert advisory panel, the Food and Drug Administration this week delayed indefinitely the over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B.

Plan B is a back-up birth control method that prevents ovulation or fertilization, unlike RU-486 which causes women to shed their uterine lining (as in menstruation) and dislodge an embryo. Containing a concentrated dose of the progestin hormone levonorgestrel found in birth control pills taken daily, Plan B reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, according to its makers, Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

The FDA’s advisory panel voted near unanimously (23 to 4) that the drug could be safely sold as an over-the-counter medication late last year. But the FDA voted not to make the medication available over-the-counter because only 29 of the 585 women studied by the company were younger than 16, and that was not enough to ensure safe use among younger women, the agency said.

“The agency held out the possibility of a future approval if the company could prove the drug is safe for young girls or devise a plan that would keep Plan B on by-prescription-only status for girls younger than 16,” reports the Washington Post.

Planned Parenthood says that emergency contraception could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions each year in the United States. Emergency contraception “is a safe and effective method of contraception and women who have used it report high levels of satisfaction,” the organization reports on its Web site.

— Shaya Mohajer.