Natural Foods Merchandiser

European Union Regs Make Cosmetic Ingredients Safer

The pressure's on for U.S. companies to follow suit

Last spring, the European Union banned a large number of chemicals widely used in cosmetics. These chemicals, highly suspected or scientifically proven to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins, are now illegal in cosmetics sold throughout the E.U. However, U.S. law still allows the majority of these chemicals in cosmetics formulations, including a class of substances called phthalates, which are thought to cause cancer and birth defects.

In response to the EU ruling, the Breast Cancer Fund and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics worked to convince major cosmetics companies, including L'Oreal, Revlon and Unilever, to undertake a global reformulation of their products, so that products sold in the United States would also meet the higher safety standards established by the European Union.

On Jan. 13, the Breast Cancer Fund announced that both L'Oreal and Revlon had agreed to reformulate their products to eliminate phthalates and other toxic chemicals.

"This is a victory for women's health and consumers," said Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund. "Regrettably, U.S. law still permits companies to put unlimited amounts of toxic chemicals into cosmetics sold in the United States." Unilever announced that products it sells in the United States do not contain the phthalates DBP and DEHP, but the company did not indicate whether it would cease to use more than 1,000 other toxic chemicals banned under the E.U. directive.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is asking all cosmetics companies to sign a pledge to immediately remove all E.U.-banned chemicals and develop safer alternative ingredients. The CSC will issue a report card this month grading cosmetics companies on their responsiveness to reformulation issues. For information on how companies rank, visit

While applauding the reformulation decision by Revlon and L'Oreal, many consumer-safety organizations believe that company self-regulation is no match for governmental scrutiny of ingredient safety. Currently, of the more than 10,000 ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care, 80 percent have never been assessed for safety by FDA, according to the Environmental Working Group.

"Ideally, we'd like to see the [United States] change its policies to match the European Union's, where chemicals are actually tested for safety before they're put on the market," says Liz Moore, press secretary for EWG, based in Washington, D.C. "So far, that hasn't happened."

Few consumers realize, Moore says, that FDA has no pre-market system for assuring ingredient safety. Whatever safety testing is conducted is done by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, an industry-run committee without any regulatory power. "The government requires no testing for cancer or other long-term effects of these chemicals," Moore says. "Once a chemical goes onto the market, it can't be pulled from shelves unless it's proven to cause harm."

Since consumers currently bear the burden for choosing non-harmful products, EWG has analyzed more than 7,000 individual products, assessing their levels of carcinogenic ingredients, as well as other ingredients thought to have reproductive and developmental toxicity. Product scores range from 0 to 10, with 10 signifying the highest health concern. A complete listing of products tested can be found at

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