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New Cosmetics Framework Provides a Path Forward
Moving to address a gaping void in the nation’s system of consumer protections, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) filed a bill (April 20) – the “Personal Care Products Safety Act” -- that would create a long-needed bipartisan framework for ensuring that cosmetics ingredients are safe.
For nearly 80 years, cosmetics have largely escaped regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. The only pre-market assessment of the safety of cosmetics ingredients is done by the very industry that profits from their use, and the FDA lacks the basic tools the agency needs to monitor the behavior of cosmetics manufacturers. FDA’s oversight of cosmetics has remained largely unchanged since 1938.
While not perfect, the legislation developed by Sens. Feinstein and Collins would require FDA to evaluate five cosmetic ingredients a year to determine whether they can be used with reasonable certainty of no harm – the same rigorous standard required for pesticides on produce. The first five ingredients to be reviewed would include chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and damage to the nervous system. Coal tar chemicals used in hair dyes, which are currently completely exempt from regulation despite known links to serious health problems, could also be investigated and regulated by FDA.
If enacted, the bill would pave the way for assessing of many of the riskiest cosmetics ingredients within a decade. Industry would provide more than $20 million a year to help finance these reviews and enable FDA to act quickly if particular products or ingredients are found to pose a danger. The bill would require cosmetics makers to register with FDA, submit ingredient statements, report adverse events, adopt good manufacturing practices and provide access to company safety records.
Importantly, the bill would give FDA the power to order mandatory recalls of unsafe products and suspend a company’s registration – basic powers the FDA lacks under current law.
States would largely retain the authority to act on their own under the bipartisan proposal, including under existing reporting laws. States would also be free to issue new regulations under existing state chemical safety programs, such as those established under California’s Safe Cosmetics Act or Maine’s Children’s Safe Products Act. Although the bill would suspend some new state actions once FDA begins to review an ingredient, this “pause” would only last one year, and the FDA would be prohibited from adding the same chemicals to the list year after year.
The bill would create other new tools, such as allowing consumers to learn the identity of cosmetics ingredients, including those in fragrances. Companies would be required to list on their web sites the same information that is now included on product packaging. Products used by salon workers, who generally are more heavily exposed to the chemicals in personal care products, would include the same information as is provided for products sold to the general public.