Legislation Could Give Beauty Industry a Makeover

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, introduced on July 21, has heightened the buzz recently about federal chemical policy reform. The Act would amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, which supporters claim includes loopholes in chemical safety assessment.

In 2004, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimated that women and girls use an average of 12 personal care products a day. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

There’s been a lot in the news about purportedly harmful chemicals, like parabens, phthalates and sulfates, which may cause you to raise your eyebrows.

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

In addition, there are many chemicals in “fragrance” undisclosed due to a trade secrets loophole in current law.

In fact, in the May 2010 “Not So Sexy” report, researchers found that “top-selling fragrance products contain multiple allergens and hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to asthma attacks, headaches and serious long-term effects such as infertility, thyroid problems and increased risk of cancer.”

Timothy Long, Ph.D. and Sr. Science Fellow of External Relations, P&G Beauty & Grooming, maintains that much of the media coverage of potential harmful effects associated with various personal care product (PCP) ingredients is misinformation.

“All cosmetic and [PCPs] and their ingredients are thoroughly evaluated for safety using globally accepted scientific safety assessment methods before they are ever approved for marketing,” Long says. “This is a requirement of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and is a responsibility that companies like P&G take very seriously.”

According to Long, P&G safety scientists evaluate new chemical studies as part of ongoing product stewardship programs. “Our products are used by over 3 billion consumers a day and nothing is more important to us than [consumer product safety],” he says.

But fragrance products are not just perfumes: they also include shampoo, body wash, moisturizer and cosmetics.

“If there were any indication of a new potential hazard to consumers, we would withdraw such a product from the marketplace. […] Cosmetic[s] and [PCPs] have an extensive history of safe use and consumers should feel confident to continue using them,” Long says.

Still, your blush may do more than give you glowing skin. According to Waterkeeper Alliance, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin and excreted, poured down the drain or disposed of in the trash, PCP chemicals are an environmental danger.

Contaminated sewage and landfill leachate may enter soil or the aquatic ecosystem due to septic system or wastewater treatment facility leakage or failing landfills. Both surface and groundwater PCP contamination has been found to taint drinking water supplies worldwide.

When you hear negative information as to what is in your PCPs, which of your inclinations is it best to follow: finish, recycle or trash immediately?

First, contact the company and ask whether there is a product take-back program, and if not, suggest one.

You can also return the PCPs to the manufacturers with a letter saying that you don’t want a product with possibly toxic ingredients in it. This has the effect of making a clear consumer statement about companies’ responsibility for their products.

If you feel strongly about disposing of the PCPs, throw out the tubes and bottles rather than pour their concentrated contents down the drain. Even better, use the products up in the recommended way and reuse or recycle the packaging.

Grist’s Asks Umbra recommends that you check a PCP’s ingredients before buying, and look it up on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database for a toxicity rating. Make an effort to buy products from companies that have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pact.

Because we don’t always have control over the fate of our PCPs, we must focus on the consumption aspect. Garbage creation is inevitable, but we can do the best we can to monitor what we create, especially by making an attempt to buy natural, organic and fair trade products.

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