Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Safe Cosmetics Bill — Get the facts

As everyone pressing for non-toxic personal care products is probably aware, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., dropped the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 in the House’s hopper last month.

Now begins the hard work of moving the bill through Congress. It won’t be easy. Powerful forces are arrayed against changing the status quo, which is, essentially, no regulation.

As the national conversation over this issue intensifies, everyone who is seriously involved in the discussion will want the facts. They are persistent things, facts. They can cut through clouds of rhetoric and dispel many a false claim.

You can read the legislation for yourself at this link. Or if you’re like most people and you’re multi-tasking, Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which EWG helped launch, have an easy button for you. Here is the Campaign’s section-by-section analysis of the bill.

There’s a lot to like about the bill, but our hope is that Section 614, requiring safety testing of cosmetic ingredients, is enacted as it is written. It seems obvious that chemicals mixed into personal care products or that crop up as adulterants should be tested for their impact on human health. Unfortunately, they’re not – yet.


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9 Responses to “Safe Cosmetics Bill — Get the facts”

  1. There is an assumption that this bill is the only alternative to the status quo. I certainly hope not, because it would mean that we would no longer have any cosmetics. There is not a single cosmetic ingredient (and there is not a single food either) that would pass the requirements of this legislation. It is massively more restrictive than any other cosmetics legislation anywhere in the world. OK, that’s an understatement, there is of course no existing legislation that effectively prohibits all cosmetic ingredients. Yes, facts are indeed persistent things. Show me a natural complex substance, and I will show you toxins.

    • A reply from Jason Rano, Senior Legislative Analyst:

      Thank you for your comment Robert. We disagree that the safety standard of “reasonable certainty of no harm” would lead to the end of personal care products. That standard is generally considered to be the best to ensure protection of human health. In fact pesticides in the United States already meet this standard, and pesticides are still being manufactured. Also, just because a chemical does not meet the safety standard does not mean it is immediately prohibited. The FDA will have the authority to restrict a chemical’s use to certain products so as to limit our exposure. And while our exposure to individual chemicals in individual uses may be in the parts per million or billions, we are not exposed to just one chemical once. On average Americans use 10 personal care products and are exposed to more than 100 chemicals from those products everyday. Currently the FDA does not even know how many cosmetics manufacturers, products or ingredients are even out there. We believe, just like with drugs, that the makers of these products should ensure their safety.

      • Anne-Marie says:

        That would imply that beauty products actually worked though. Beauty products don’t work – if they did, we’d all look like 12 year olds, botox wouldn’t be the only way to get rid of wrinkles and plastic surgeons would be out of business. Our skin is remarkable at keeping things out.

        In the cord blood study that EWG undertook, how many of the chemicals found in children’s cords came from cosmetics? Or are knowingly added to cosmetics? I’ve read the study and didn’t see any. I did see a lot of chemicals that we see in our every day lives (teflon, flameguard protector etc…).

        Why the emphasis on cosmetics then with this bill? Why not focus on true cancer causing agents (obesity, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, diet) rather than cosmetics – which even in the Presidential Commission’s Report on Cancer – weren’t linked up as one of the environmental toxins that was considered a risk.

        I make bath fizzies, lip balms, soaps etc… every day – with almost all materials easily obtained at grocery stores. They produce fun and safe final products. I’d love to talk to you more about how many of these products are made if you’re ever up for a fun crafting lesson =)

      • Dene Godfrey says:

        If the bill is so concerned about safety, why is there a clause inserted that means that anyone can notify any substance to be placed on the list for assessment, and then only allows 18 months for this evalutaion, after which, if the substanec has not been evaluated, it is banned. What possible justification can there be to ban a substance simply because there wasn’t time to evaluate it? And we know that this would happen, because many organisations such as EWG will notify thousands of substances, and the FDA will probably be able to cope with 100 or so each year. Many safe ingredients will be banned solely due to the time period elapsing. This clause alone makes the bill unworkable and, again, on its own, would ensure that no cosmetics could be used in the USA after 18 months of enactment. And this is only one of the major flaws in this ill-thought-out proposal.
        I don’t know where you get your figures from, Jason, but the average user of cosmetics (in most civilised countries, not just the USA) is in contact with many more than 100 different substances – especially if you include every single minor impurity present above the current detection limit – which your bill wants listed as an ingredient. It could run into thousands.

  2. Thank you for your response Jason. I still can’t think of any substance for which there is solid evidence that any adverse effects are at less than one in a million. The “safety standard” in the bill “provides a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the cosmetic or ingredient…” And, “reasonable certainty” means “data demonstrating that exposure to all sources of the ingredient or cosmetic present no more than 1 in a million risk for any adverse effect…”. So, for any substance containing, for example, formaldehyde, benzo[a]pyrene or acetaldehyde (all probable human carcinogens, and all ubiquitous in fruit and other foodstuffs) presumably this standard would have to be met. In fact, it presumably would have to be met for any ingredient. Are you aware of such “less than 1 in a million risk of adverse effect” data for any substance, whether or not a cosmetic ingredient? If the intention of the bill is simply to give the FDA the power to prohibit or restrict cosmetic ingredients as it sees fit, then it needs to be drastically simplified, because that is not how it is currently written.

  3. Cindy Jones says:

    Yes, we do want the facts. Please give us the facts about these ingredients that you say are so toxic. Please tell us why any level of any carcinogen is harmful, please tell us why something that causes a reaction in only 1 in a million persons should be banned. As Robert said, there is no food that does not cause a reaction in 1 in a million people, yet you want to prohibit those ingredients in skin care. No plant (fruit, vegetable or herb) is completely free of carcinogen or estrogen yet this bill says that there is no acceptable level of carcinogens or estrogens. You think a chemical is defined as something that comes from a smoke stack but perhaps you don’t realize that plants are chemical factories and make hundreds of chemicals – these are chemicals that the majority of which have not been tested. But we do know that some people react to them and some are carcinogens but they are present at very minute levels that any scientist knows is not harmful, but your bill reads zero tolerance! Robert is right, this bill would eliminate all most all cosmetic ingredients; the only one’s that could pass your stringent guidelines would be highly synthetic processed chemicals. Please show us some facts.

    • Julianne Brown says:

      “Please tell us why any level of carcinogen is harmful.”

      Because “carcinogen” is defined by any substance that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer. I don’t think it needs further explanation as to why anything that causes cancer is undesirable, particularly when you’re talking about substances with alternatives that are not carcinogenic.

      A simple internet search would have yielded the answer to this question.

  4. Julianne Brown says:

    Most of the authors posting in this forum cry that cosmetics will cease to exist under this system. I think you misunderstand the proposed legislation, and intentionally ignore the fact that virtually any cosmetic can be manufactured without harmful (endocrine disrupting, carcinogenic, etc) SYNTHETIC chemicals. This bill does not propose to eliminate plant-based substances simply for containing natural estrogen (NOT xenoestrogens, which mimic estrogens and cause harm to living things). It is SYNTHETICS that are the problem. And cosmetics can be manufactured without them. The reason they continue to be used is because they are cost effective, and thus far, consumers don’t know enough about the harmful effects of certain synthetic chemicals to demand an alternative.

    But eventually, they will. And they will refuse to buy cosmetic products with these products, and then manufacturers will be forced to do what should be done, and begin producing cosmetics without harmful additives. But this legislation is a good first step toward making the public aware of the risks.

  5. Cindy Jones says:

    Julien, although that may be one definition of a carcinogen, even the American Cancer Society says that carcinogens do not necessarily cause cancer. And while I can think of many synthetics that are not carcinogenic I cannot think of any herb, fruit or vegetable that does not contain carcinogenic molecules and if you know of any please tell me. Since I make natural cosmetics this bill would prevent me from making my natural cosmetics and instead force me to choose synthetics that have already had rigorous testing done on them that naturals have not had done. But happily, we now know that this bill has been shelved, at least temporarily.