One Month In!

For the past month, I’ve been working as the Environmental Working Group’s environmental health research intern. I can honestly say that my experience has been amazing thus far! My internship site is in Washington, D.C, so I’m staying with my grandmother, who lives in Waldorf, Md. That’s given me the priceless opportunity to commute for 1.5-to-2 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic into the city each morning!  -_-

Despite the commute, I’m getting the chance to network with and learn from an experienced group of environmental advocates, spend quality time with family and reunite with my Spelman sisters, all while enjoying the countless free events and easily accessible happy hours happening in the city. Summer doesn’t get any better than this!

Enough about how happy I am to be given this opportunity; let’s talk more about what I’ve been doing since I arrived at EWG!

Since my primary interests lie in understanding the health effects associated with chemicals in hair and cosmetic products, I am working under the supervision of David Andrews, Ph.D. – a senior scientist at EWG. During his time with the organization, Dave has worked tirelessly to expose the dangers associated with formaldehyde-laced Brazilian Blowout hair products, enhance the toxicity information available in EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database, and advocate for passage of more health protective reforms of the Toxic Substances Control Act, among a host of other projects.

Given his expertise on toxic cosmetics, Dave wanted me to be exposed to and develop an understanding of cosmetic regulations across the globe. During my first week, I was tasked with utilizing the United States’ Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) and the European Union’s Cosmetic Ingredient and Substances (CosIng) databases to do a comparative analysis of the two sets of regulatory policies. Our key areas of interest are differences in cosmetic ingredient restriction levels, restrictions on animal testing, the processes for doing chemical review of ingredients, who is responsible for chemical reviews, and how often reviews are done, to name a few.

Interning with EWG also allows me to travel out of the office to get a sense of what’s happening during governmental meetings. On June 10 I was able to attend the CIR’s 127th annual review panel meeting! During the meeting, the panel reviewed formaldehyde, isethionate, retinol and a host of other cosmetic ingredients. As it was my first time attending any official event related to cosmetics regulation, being at the 127th annual was exciting! It was especially entertaining to see a member of the Keratin Smoothing Council, an industry group, try to explain why the council considers formaldehyde and methylene glycol to be two distinct chemicals. I also enjoyed listening to scientists debate why a specific ingredient should be deemed unsafe, restricted, unsupported, or “insufficient data available.”

In addition to my research on cosmetic regulations, I will be helping the Skin Deep team to parse ingredients for products being added to the database – work that is sure to give me a good sense of the types of chemicals used in cosmetics and the health implications that daily exposure to them might have! Stay tuned!