Cal State Northridge chemistry professor Gagik Melikyan has spent decades lecturing his students, friends and family members about the dangers that lie in the supplements, lotions and cosmetics advertised on television or that line the cosmetic aisles.
Worried that slick or misleading advertising may cause people to endanger their lives unintentionally, Melikyan, a widely published expert in the field of radical chemistry, has authored a new book, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Antioxidants, Foods, Supplements, and Cosmetics.” He hopes to raise awareness of the dangers consumers face in the seemingly innocent products that sit in their medicine cabinets and cosmetics drawers.
“When a drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it has gone through years of studies to ensure that it is safe before it is ever sold to the public,” Melikyan said. “Even after it’s on the shelf, there are follow-up studies to make sure that it does not pose a danger.
“The problems arise when you don’t call the chemical compounds involved a ‘drug,’ but call them ‘food,’ or a ‘supplement’ or an ‘antioxidant,’ ” he said. “There is no one properly testing those products. An unsuspecting consumer doesn’t even realize that foods, supplements or antioxidants can cause harm to his/her body.”
Melikyan said he wrote “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” which is available through Amazon, with the layman in mind.
“My concern is that people might be exploiting the public’s ignorance of a purely scientific issue, so I have written my book in the easiest terms possible so that the general public with no scientific background can understand it,” he said.
Melikyan’s book covers dangers in such every day products as green tea, red wine, coffee, sunscreen, hair color and cosmetics—all of which involve chemical compounds that are structurally similar to known organics that have been linked to cancer and other serious diseases.
“The natural items you’re taking are made of tens, if not hundreds, of different chemical compounds,” he said. “Just because it says it’s natural does not mean it’s not dangerous.”
Melikyan pointed out that people regularly smother their skin with lotions, sunscreens and make-up, often forgetting that skin is one of the most fragile and porous organs of the body.
“Doctors often prescribe patches to be worn on the skin so that their patients’ bodies can more readily absorb a particular drug. Yet people will lather their skin, and their kids’ skin, with a sunscreen, completely unaware of what the chemical compounds in that sunscreen will do to their bodies once it’s absorbed,” he said. “The reality is, we need about 20 minutes of sun exposure for vitamin D. Anything more is an excessive exposure to the sun that hardly do any good to the human body.”
He devotes a chapter in his book to “parabens,” a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetics and by the pharmaceutical industry, which have been found in breast cancer tumors and have been known to mimic estrogen, a hormone proven to play a role in breast cancer development.
Melikyan said he began working on his book in 2006, after a number of students approached him following a lecture on the chemical dangers that lay in everyday products saying they were unaware of just how dangerous some of the things he talked about were.
“These were students in a chemistry class,” he said. “It made me wonder about all the people out there who never even studied chemistry, and how much they knew.”