Say Goodbye to Your Toxic Relationship with Beauty
After decades of self-regulation, lawmakers are finally seeking to enforce federal safety standards and clean up the beauty industry.
When you buy a lipstick, or an eye cream, or body wash from a major retailer or an established brand, it would be fair to assume the product had been thoroughly tested and vetted for safety. Well, yes and no. While legally companies cannot sell harmful products cosmetics, their ingredients are not subject to premarket approval requirements or FDA safety review, nor are manufacturers required to register products or list their ingredients with the FDA before putting them on the market. While in the European Union cosmetic products must undergo an expert scientific safety assessment before being sold, under current rules in the U.S, the FDA can only act on a product that shows evidence of harm after it’s been introduced to the market–effectively making consumers into test subjects.
The beauty industry has been mostly self-regulated for more than a century.
While the government has been painfully slow to revisit and revise this archaic 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (yes, you read that right - the law predates the invention of dry shampoo, sheet masks and brow gel), it has been left up to independent organizations such the the Environmental Working Group, ChemForward and the Environmental Defense Fund to take the lead. As the beauty industry continues to boom with hundreds of new products hitting the shelves each week, these groups have been developing resources to help consumers and manufacturers learn more about the ingredients in beauty and personal care products and worked with brands and retailers to develop safety standards across the industry.
The 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act predates the invention of dry shampoo, sheet masks and brow gel.
Thanks to the clean beauty movement, however, things are beginning to change. As consumers have become more aware of what is in their beauty and cosmetic products, seeking more information and demanding more transparency, a number of new bills have been introduced to better regulate an industry which has been plagued by poor oversight. After over 80 years of stagnation, last year alone saw the introduction of the Personal Care Products Safety Act, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Safer Beauty Bill Package, which includes four standalone cosmetics bills including the Toxic-free Beauty Act, the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act, the Cosmetic Supply Chain Transparency Act, and the Cosmetic Safety for Communities of Color and Professional Salon Workers Act.
“When the FDA finds an unsafe product, it cannot force a company to stop selling it.”
It is not a coincidence that these bills come after an FDA investigation into the presence of asbestos in talc-based makeup products sold at major national retailer Claire’s and Johnson & Johnson talc products. Last year, at a hearing in front of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee on the public health risks of carcinogens in consumer products, the EWG’s Scott Faber testified that "cosmetics and other personal care products have fallen into a regulatory black hole... It’s hard to think of a category that is less regulated.” " Senator Feinstein agrees. “We use personal care products every day, but most Americans don’t know the government lacks authority to ensure the safety of products we put on our bodies and hair,” she said of the Personal Care Products Safety Act. “What’s particularly striking is that when the FDA finds an unsafe product, it cannot force a company to stop selling it. Our bipartisan bill will finally bring the FDA into the 21st century by giving it authority to ensure personal care products are safe.”
The bill, which seeks to update legislation governing the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of personal care products and their ingredients to protect consumer health, has gained the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Endocrine Society’s Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals Advisory Group and the Environmental Working Group among other organizations. The Safer Beauty Bill Package, meanwhile, which was introduced last October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, has been broken down into four parts, each addressing different yet equally pressing concerns.
A suite of new, federal, safer beauty bills will address gaping holes in oversight and regulation and protect consumer health.
The Toxic Free Beauty Act seeks to nationally ban eleven of the most toxic chemicals including mercury, formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, phenylenediamines (hair dye chemicals), and the entire class of PFAS “forever” chemicals. All these chemicals are already banned in California, Maryland, and the EU. The Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act will require the disclosure of proprietary fragrance and flavor ingredients which have been secret, unlabeled and often toxic. This is also already required in California.
The Cosmetic Safety for Communities of Color and Professional Salon Workers Act seeks to defend the health of women of color and salon workers– two vulnerable populations that are among the most highly exposed to toxic chemicals because of the products marketed to them or commonly found in their workplaces. Finally, the Cosmetic Supply Chain Transparency Act seeks to ensure supply chain transparency so that cosmetics companies can get the information they need from their upstream suppliers to make safer products.
Increased safety, transparency and oversight can end our toxic relationship with beauty.
While these bills shuffle through a lengthy legislative process, the responsibility to ensure safety in the beauty and personal care sector therefore still lies with manufacturers and suppliers while consumers are left to do their research about which products meet their standards. The good news is that as consumers and leaders in the beauty industry get behind increased safety, transparency and oversight, there are more reliable, science-backed resources available than ever before to help us navigate the world of beauty and end this toxic relationship once and for all.
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