One would assume that the FDA regulates the ingredients used in cosmetics, shampoos, perfumes and other personal care products, just like it monitors food and medicine. But the cosmetics industry is largely “self-regulated,” operating under legislation that hasn’t been updated since the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, and cedes most decisions about ingredient safety to the companies making personal care products.
How’s this working out for us? Considering we’ve got formaldehyde in hair treatments, cancer-causing chemicals in baby shampoo, and lead in lipstick, I’d say not so well. But the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, aims to change that. The bill would:
- Phase out ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm
- Require full ingredient disclosure for cosmetics, including salon products, flavors and fragrances, on product labels and/or company websites (historically, flavor and fragrance manufacturers have been exempted from disclosing ingredients, which they claimed were trade secrets).
- Require the FDA to create a list of contaminants likely to be found in cosmetics and provide guidance to companies about which to test for and which need to be on the label.
- Provide funding for the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors, which oversees the cosmetics industry
The bill is an update of the failed Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. This year’s version contains more provisions to ensure new regulations won’t be too onerous for small companies.
“While the 2010 act required safety testing, it was unclear as to who would be required to conduct this testing,” writes Forbes blogger Amy Westervelt. “Given that most cosmetics and personal care companies buy their chemical ingredients from other suppliers (Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical among them), the 2011 bill puts the onus on suppliers to supply manufacturers with up-to-date safety tests.”
Many of these big suppliers are already doing independent testing, they’re just not required to make the results public.
According to Westervelt, the bill has a better chance of passing this year because of the concessions made to small companies and because, in light of recent highly-publicized toxic personal care products, fewer politicians or businesses want to be seen as against safe ingredients. Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics site to find out ways you can support this legislation.
Image: Vintage Cosmetics Ad via Duke University Libraries Digital Collection