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Safe cosmetics bill aims to regulate personal care products

Jane Hoback

August 2, 2010

3 Min Read
Safe cosmetics bill aims to regulate personal care products

Consumer groups say proposed legislation regulating ingredients in cosmetics will help protect Americans from harmful substances found in hundreds of personal care products. But some industry players worry that certain provisions could be problematic.

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, introduced in the House in July, would phase out ingredients in personal care products linked to cancer and birth defects and require manufacturers to list all chemical ingredients on labels of personal care products. It requires companies to conduct safety tests and submit ingredient statements to the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory agency for the law.

“This legislation would give FDA real authority to ensure that personal care products sold in the U.S. meet a basic standard of safety,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group.

“This could be a good turning point,” said Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. “Consumers have a right to know what’s in a product and this will make it mandatory for manufacturers to disclose what’s in their products. It will force problematic and toxic chemicals out of personal care products.”

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Americans use an average of 10 personal care products every day, resulting in exposure to more than 126 unique chemicals.

But Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association, said that several provisions in the bill raise issues and that the legislation could be “throwing the baby out with the bath water. It delegates a lot of authority (to other agencies) and it pretty much defines everything as toxic material.”

For example, he said, “With today’s technology the definition of a contaminant that is present at levels above technically feasible detection limits is huge. It would contain infinitesimally small amounts of trace elements that are found in water, the earth, air and all forms of nature, and define them as.”

In addition, the provisions allow the FDA to ban an ingredient “if the agency believes—not has the data to support, but believes—that there is a one in a million chance of a risk of an adverse effect with such an ingredient.”

Fabricant also said the legislation “requires that even the small mom and pop at the local farmers market to make publically available cosmetic and ingredient test data on all finished cosmetics. The costs and testing in this portion of the bill alone will result in substantial economic burden towards small cosmetic companies.”

“We like full disclosure and of course we promote safe ingredients. But this should be a science-based decision,” Fabricant said.

Fabricant predicts there won’t be much movement on the bill before the November elections.

But Cummins said he thinks “this could actually pass,” thanks in part to the European Union’s regulations banning 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics and requirements that all companies exporting to European Union countries register ingredients and comply with the regulations in the next few years. “There has been foot-dragging here on the part of American companies, but they’re going to have to do it eventually anyway,” Cummins said.

To read the full text of the bill, go to

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