California Safe Cosmetics Program Product Database
Main Cosmetics Collage
Frequently Asked Questions
Glossary of Terms

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Acute – sudden or short term. An acute disease is one with a sudden onset that tends to be of short duration. Acute exposure refers to exposure that is relatively short term (compared to chronic exposure).

Adipose tissue – the anatomical term for body fat. Adipose tissue stores energy, cushions and insulates the body, and produces several kinds of hormones.

Allergy/Allergic response – an overreaction of the immune system. An allergic response is the body’s defense against foreign substances (allergens). Examples of common allergens include pollen, mold, and various foods. Allergic responses include skin rashes, asthma, or inflammation.

Benign – refers to a medical condition that may not be dangerous. A benign tumor is a mass of cells that grows locally and does not invade or spread to other parts of the body, in contrast to a malignant tumor (which can spread). Benign tumors are not considered cancer, but they still may pose danger when they occur in vital organs such as the brain.

Bioaccumulation – a buildup of chemicals in organisms (such as people) over a long period of time. Bioaccumulation of toxins occurs when the organism absorbs a chemical faster than it expels the chemical.

Biomonitoring – monitoring of a chemical substance in an organism through repeated tests over time. Biomonitoring may be done to evaluate how a population might be exposed to pollutants or whether an individual (e.g. a worker) is overexposed.

Bladder – an organ that collects urine excreted by kidneys.

Blood clot – a clump of blood that stops blood from flowing. Blood clots help heal cuts. However, abnormal blood clots can cause heart attacks, strokes, and other serious medical conditions.

Cancer – the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Examples include lung cancer and leukemia.

Carcinogen – a substance that is capable of causing cancer in living organisms. Carcinogens can be either synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals.

CAS registry number – a unique, internationally recognized, number assigned by the Chemical Abstracts Service to each chemical known to the scientific community.

Chronic – of long duration. A chronic disease is one that develops over time and may last for the duration of the patient’s life. Chronic exposure refers to continuous or repeated exposure that takes place over an extended period of time (months or years).

Concentration – the ratio of the amount of a substance (solute) to the amount of matter in which the substance is dissolved (solvent). A low concentration means that there is much more solvent than solute, whereas a high concentration means that the solute makes up a relatively large portion of the matter. For example, seawater has a higher salt concentration than drinking water.

Cosmetics – products intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering appearance.

Developmental toxin – a substance that negatively impacts the normal patterns of growth and specialization of cells, tissues, and organs.

Digestive tract/gastrointestinal (GI) tract – the part of digestive system through which food passes, extending from mouth to anus (including the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and rectum).

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) – the genetic information found in the cells of living organisms. DNA is passed on from parent to offspring, and, aside from identical twins, is unique to each individual.

Emollient – an agent that softens and soothes the skin by keeping it moist and flexible.

Emphysema – a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which air sacs in lungs are gradually damaged. Patients suffer from breathing difficulty and insufficient oxygen supply. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema.

Emulsifier – chemical additives that facilitate the mixing of different chemicals and keep the mixture from separating.

Endocrine disruptor – a chemical that disrupts the endocrine (hormone producing) system. Endocrine disruption may result in changes in the body’s normal function, leading to developmental or reproductive defects.

Epidemiology – the study of the patterns, causes, and effects of disease in a population

Estrogen – a group of hormones important for sexual and reproductive development, mainly in women. Estrogen is needed for the development of female secondary sex characteristics, regulation of the menstrual cycle, bone formation, and other body functions. In males, estrogen plays a role in regulating the function of the reproductive system.

Exposure – contact with a substance, such as a chemical. The most common routes of chemical exposure include ingestion (eating or drinking); inhalation (breathing in); or absorption through the skin.

Fetal development – growth and specialization of cells, tissues, and organs in the fetus. “Developmental effects” include changes to the normal patterns of growth and specialization of cells, tissues, and organs.

Fixative – a natural or synthetic substance used to reduce the evaporation rate of a mixture. Fixatives allow products to last longer.

Gene – a section of DNA that is passed down from parent to offspring. Genes can code for characteristics such as eye color. Genes may also play a role in how individuals react to chemical exposures or the likelihood that a person will develop a disease.

Genetics – the study of how different characteristics encoded in the DNA, such as color, size, or gender, get passed down from parent to offspring in living organisms.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) – happens when blood stops flowing properly to part of the heart, and the heart muscle is injured.

Hormone – a chemical produced in the body that regulates the actions of the various organs in the body. For example, the hormone insulin is needed to regulate blood sugar levels. Endocrine disruptors affect the production or function of hormones.

IARC – IARC is part of the World Health Organization. It is one of the agencies named in the California Safe Cosmetics Act as an authoritative body for the purpose of identifying chemicals that cause cancer.

Immune system – the body’s biological defense system that protects us against germs and other foreign substances. An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system.

Inflammation – a response consisting of redness, swelling, heat, and pain, which occurs in the body’s tissues in response to certain changes, including chemical or physical damage.

Ingestion – taking in a substance by eating or drinking. Ingestion can be purposeful, as with consumption of food. Ingestion can also be accidental, such as the ingestion of products that stick to one’s hands or to foods.

Intestine – part of the digestive tract. The small intestine is where most absorption of nutrients from food occurs. The large intestine reabsorbs water from the remaining indigestible food matter and passes waste material from the body.

Irritant – a substance that can damage cells and cause inflammation. Irritants may affect the eyes, sinuses, skin, or lungs.

Kidney – the organ in the urinary system. Kidneys filter blood to remove waste and reabsorb water and other nutrients.

Latency period – the interval between exposure to infectious organisms, carcinogens or other toxicants, and the clinical appearance of disease.

Leukemia – a type of cancer of blood cells that starts from the bone marrow, where blood cells are developed.

Liver – a vital organ located in the abdominal cavity that is involved in metabolism and more than 500 vital functions of the body. The liver breaks down nutrients and drugs into forms that are easier for the rest of the body to use. The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and helps the body eliminate waste products.

Lung – organs in the chest that breathe in (inhale) fresh air to supply the body with oxygen and breathe out (exhale) carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Inhaled chemicals can pass from the lung to the bloodstream.

Lymph system – the lymph system includes the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus. It works with the circulatory system to move fluid around the body. The lymph system fights infection by producing white blood cells and filtering lymph fluid to remove bacteria and cancer cells from the body.

Malignant – a tendency in medical conditions to become progressively worse and to potentially result in death. A malignant tumor is considered cancerous because it can spread to other organs or tissues from its original site.

Mammary gland – the organs situated in the breasts that produce breast milk.

Metabolism/metabolite – the chemical reaction that takes place inside living cells in order to break down or transform substances. The word “metabolism” is often used to mean the breakdown of food into energy. Metabolism can also mean the process by which chemicals are broken down in the body. A metabolite is a new substance created through metabolism.

National Toxicology Program (NTP) – a program within the United States Department of Health and Human Services committed to studying toxins. The NTP is one of the authoritative bodies named in the California Safe Cosmetics Act for the purposes of identifying chemicals that cause cancer. The NTP Office of Health Assessment and Translation serves a similar purpose with regard to reproductive or developmental toxins.

Nervous system – the part of the body that coordinates the sensory inputs, and voluntary and involuntary actions. It includes the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves that cover every other part of the body).

Organism – a living being. Organisms can consist of a single cell, such as a bacteria, or multiple cells working together, such as a human.

Physiology – the study of a living organism and the biological functions (both chemical and physical) that occur within that organism.

Placenta – the organ that develops during pregnancy and connects the developing fetus with the uterine wall. It allows the baby to obtain nutrients and eliminate wastes through the mother’s blood supply.

Reproductive System – the system of organs that work to produce offspring for a living organism. Reproductive toxins can affect exposed individuals as well as future generations.

Sensitization – the production of a specific type of allergic antibody by the immune system after exposure to certain chemicals. After sensitization, symptoms can be triggered by exposure to even small amounts of that substance.

Solvent – a substance that dissolves other substances (solute) to make a solution. Solvents commonly used in cosmetic products include acetone in nail polish remover and ethanol in perfumes.

Stroke – a medical emergency in which brain function is lost rapidly. A stroke occurs when brain cells are deprived of oxygen and energy due to ischemia (limited blood flow) or hemorrhage (internal bleeding).

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) – a laboratory measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen against UVB, one type of ultraviolet radiation that damages the skin.

Synthetic – a chemical that is produced through a human-made process. Synthetic chemicals may or may not also be found in nature.

Toxicity – the degree to which a substance can harm a human, animal, or the environment.

Toxicology – the study of the adverse effects of synthetic and naturally occurring substances on humans, animals, and the environment.

Toxin/Toxicant – a poisonous substance. The term “toxicant” refers to substances that are produced synthetically (by humans). “Toxins” are produced within living organisms (e.g. snake venom).

Tumor – an abnormal mass of tissue. Tumors can be benign, premalignant, or malignant, depending on their ability to spread and invade other parts of the body. The term “cancer” refers only to malignant or invading tumors.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) – the federal agency responsible for protecting human and environmental health. The U.S. EPA is one of the authoritative bodies named in the California Safe Cosmetics Act for the purposes of identifying chemicals that cause cancer.

United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) – the federal agency responsible for protecting public health by regulating food, medications, and cosmetics.