By Arielle Padover
If you’re among the two-thirds of Americans who believe that the government regulates the chemicals that go into your personal care products, think again.
According to the Environmental Working Group, American women use an average of twelve personal care products that contain 168 different chemicals every day, while American men use an average of six personal care products that contain 85 different chemicals. These chemicals are currently regulated by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which has not been substantially updated since it was introduced in 1938, almost 80 years ago.
The 1938 legislation gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very limited control over the chemicals that go into personal care products. According to the FDA’s website, the “FDA does not have legal authority to approve cosmetic products and ingredients (other than color additives) before they go on the market” under the existing law. The FDA cannot mandate testing of ingredients or recall products, and cosmetic companies do not have to register with the FDA, submit ingredient lists, or report adverse events. Currently, only 11 toxic ingredients are specifically banned by statute from use in beauty products in the United States, two of which are mercury and chloroform. When compared to the 1,300 ingredients banned in Europe, it quickly becomes evident that we are behind.
Science has come so far in the past 80 years, but our laws regulating personal care products have not. In an effort to update these regulations, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014) in April 2015. If passed and enacted, the bill would require the FDA to evaluate the safety of at least five ingredients per year, and would give the FDA the authority to mandate ingredient testing and recall unsafe products. It would also require manufacturers to register with the FDA, provide a list of ingredients to the FDA, and report serious adverse effects to the FDA.
The current lack of regulation in the personal care products industry has the potential to be very harmful to both consumers and industry workers. Exposure to some chemicals used in personal care products has been linked to serious health problems like cancer. A New York Times article exposed the harm to reproductive health that many nail salon technicians face as a result of the chemicals in products to which they are exposed at their jobs. Even more recently, we have seen chemicals in WEN hair care products causing hair loss, breakage, balding, itching, and rashes. The FDA currently has no authority to take these products off the market. This injustice should not continue.
Shockingly, not everyone is on board with the bill; the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors (ICMAD) believes the Act puts “unnecessary regulatory burdens” on small businesses, making it difficult for those businesses to survive. While encouraging the success of small businesses is typically positive, is it really worthwhile or fair to continue putting consumers at risk solely for the sake of helping small businesses grow? Additionally, Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter, has argued that updating the federal regulations would actually “help businesses by increasing the transparency along our supply chain. More transparency means increased business security and confidence knowing the products we bring to market can meet our higher standards.”
As consumers, we deserve to know about and be protected from harmful chemicals that may be in products we use everyday. It is clear that the 1938 legislation is no longer sufficient to keep us safe: we need the FDA to have the ability to more carefully monitor the chemicals that Americans are exposed to on a daily basis. If passed and enacted, the Personal Care Safety Act would do just that. The bill’s progress can be monitored here.