Every holiday shopping season, stores nationwide offer deals on a wide assortment of fragrance and cosmetics gift sets. Nearly every major retailer, from the high-end department store to the neighborhood specialty shop, displays festive towers of boxed cosmetics and perfumes.
And they sell. One in five holiday shoppers will give cosmetics, fragrance or a health-and-beauty aid to loved ones, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday shopping survey. But despite the popularity of holiday gift sets, no one is making sure that these products are safe.
There is very little regulation of the U.S. personal care products industry, worth about $189 billion a year. The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which was intended to guarantee the safety of cosmetics, is nearly 80 years old and falls far short of ensuring that cosmetics are safe.
No other class of products is so widely used, and in such large quantities, with so few safeguards.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test the safety of cosmetics or their ingredients, nor does it approve new personal care products before they go on the market. Over the years, the FDA has only prohibited or restricted the use of 10 substances in personal care products, including toxic mercury and chloroform. By contrast, the European Union bars more than 1,300 chemicals and classes of chemicals.
Moreover, cosmetics companies aren’t required to share their safety information with the FDA or report harmful health effects. Most of the limited safety guidelines are voluntarily set by the industry itself. Companies are under no legal obligation to comply, and many don’t. There is also little oversight of the concentration levels of chemicals in these products. The FDA can’t even require a recall of products that are found to cause serious harm.
In an effort to strengthen these weak safety and disclosure requirements, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a bill to better protect consumers. The Personal Care Products Safety Act (S.1014) would address these glaring safety loopholes and create a modern regulatory framework. Consumer and health groups and businesses have joined forces to support this bill. That includes Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, L’Oreal, Unilever, Estee Lauder and California Baby, as well as consumer and health advocates including EWG, the Endocrine Society and the Society for Women’s Health Research
This marks the first time that federal legislation on this issue has earned the support of both consumer and industry groups.
Before you purchase that holiday makeup gift set, check out EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. It provides information on almost 70,000 personal care products. For your convenience, before you head out to the store, download the app for your Apple or Android devices to help make smarter choices for your loved ones.