After issues such as formaldehyde in Brazilian Blowout products, mercury in skin cream and lead in lipstick, Congress finally met last week about cosmetics safety, for the first time in more than three decades. The FDA is essentially powerless when it comes to controlling what's in the cosmetics we use daily. But will the hearing improve safety?
Not necessarily, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has been critical to increasing awareness about toxins in cosmetics and urging reform—and was pretty peeved about what went on last Tuesday. In the week following the hearing, the organization has raised concerns that mass-cosmetics industry representatives dominated a hearing that failed to include insights from consumer safety advocates and those affected by recent cosmetics issues.
While it is safe to say that change to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act is coming, we’re not quite sure whose proposal holds its fate—cosmetic corporations or safety advocates.
Here’s the lowdown on the battle royal of cosmetics safety.
In the red corner
We have consumer-safety advocates who introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 and 2011, the first proposal for FD&C Act reform. This act would have created a major shift in the current (essentially nonexistent) regulations—proposing full ingredient disclosure and bans on certain ingredients, plus FDA recall authority. Apparently it was too major: Although the bill introduced at last week’s hearing was cut in the same mold, it was considerably less stringent.
That bill is the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act, introduced by Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and John Dingle (D-MI), that would require companies to pay $500 in user fees to support FDA action and would give recall authority to FDA for cosmetics. Where’s it lacking? It wouldn’t eliminate the use of certain chemicals of concern nor require full disclosure of cosmetic ingredients.
Many consumer-safety advocates also support maintaining individual state laws, such as the strict California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005.
In the blue corner
We have reps from conventional cosmetics industry, particularly the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), which represents cosmetics industry giants including Proctor & Gamble and L’Oreal.
In response to the above bills, which left many mass companies shaking in their boots over full disclosure and potential hindrances on innovation (though in my opinion, stricter regulations will improve innovation), PCPC wrote its own proposal that nixes fees and proposes that the FDA use PCPC’s Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel to determine ingredient safety.
Its proposal also pushes for federal preemption of state laws, which would override the California Safe Cosmetics Act.
It does agree that something’s gotta give: Like the red corner’s proposal, it would require companies to report facilities, product ingredients and adverse events.
What would make cosmetics safest? Hands down, the Safe Cosmetics Act. But in an industry where there are basically no government regulations, this isn’t a realistic first step. The next best thing is the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act, which overall will provide the FDA with the resources and the authority it needs to make significant strides in cosmetics-industry safety.
Not to say this bill is foolproof. Small businesses, even in the natural products industry, feel that the fees could be a financial burden, as could keeping up with laws that vary from state to state. But without these fees, what would support necessary FDA action? And without trailblazing states like California enforcing stricter regulations, who will raise the bar? The same mass companies that would be writing the rules, leaving small natural businesses with even less control (#justsayin).
Regardless of what Congress decides over the next couple of weeks, our voices will play the biggest role in what this industry looks like in the future. There’s a reason natural personal care is set to outpace conventional: Consumers are voting with their dollars. Though Congress may not pass the Safe Cosmetics Act or even the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act, many companies in the natural products industry are already living up to these high standards—and when we make smart purchases, the whole industry will feel the effects.
In addition to supporting natural brands that do responsible business, you can check out more ways to get involved through the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.