Beauty Politics

by Kezia on June 10, 2008

Parabens, phalates, mercury, lead, neurotoxins. . . when it comes to cosmetic and personal care products, these ingredients are just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of chemicals and chemical compounds in the products we use everyday that haven’t been evaluated for safety by the FDA. Last month the Environmental Working Group (EWG) met with congress to discuss the current (abysmal) structure of reporting and testing by the cosmetics industry.

“Cosmetics are essentially unregulated under federal law,” Environmental Working Group (EWG) VP of Research Jane Houlihan testified at a hearing on proposed legislation…

“Cosmetics are essentially unregulated under federal law,” Environmental Working Group (EWG) VP of Research Jane Houlihan testified at a hearing on proposed legislation that would strengthen U.S. laws and regulations effecting cosmetics.

“The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act provides the Food and Drug Administration with virtually no power to perform even the most rudimentary functions needed to ensure the safety of an estimated $35 billion of personal care products purchased by consumers annually.”

Under the current system, the FDA can’t even perform the following necessary functions:

  • Require companies to test cosmetic products for safety before marketing.
  • Regulate cosmetic products until after they are released to the marketplace.
  • Require product recalls; but must go to court to remove misbranded and adulterated products from the market
  • Require manufacturers to register their cosmetic establishments, file data on ingredients, or report cosmetic-related injuries.

Stronger laws equal safer European cosmetics

So, the cosmetic industry has been policing itself and the U.S. government doesn’t even require pre-market testing? Yikes. Yet another reason we really need someone in the White House who gives a damn about healthcare and the environment. By the way, The European Union has stricter laws for cosmetics than the US. The EU amended the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC) in January 2003 to ban the use of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects.

Laissezz-faire beauty

In the 80s, President Ronald Reagan deified the free market by implementing laissez-faire (the belief that economies work best without government intervention) policies. I’m no economist, but it sure seems the hands off the market approach contributed to- if not caused-California’s 2001 energy crisis, post-deregulation coal mine fatalities, not to mention the mortgage meltdown. Due to loopholes in federal law and decades of laissez-faire economic policies, the cosmetics industry has never been fully regulated.

Take Action

To learn more about cosmetics safety and legislation, check out Skin Deep, EWG’s cosmetics/personal care products safety guide and database.

Images by: Orin Optiglot and Kanko*

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Kezia June 10, 2008 at 11:06 am

Oh, I forgot to mention a couple of state initiatives: In Oct. 06, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the California Safe Cosmetics Act (SB 484) into law. It requires companies to report ingredients linked to cancer or birth defects. Not surprisingly, it faced opposition from major cosmetics companies including Mary Kay, Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Neutrogena, Proctor and Gamble and Johnson and Johnson.

On May 29 the California State Senate approved the first bill in the nation that bans lead, a known neuro-toxin, in lipstick.

Poochie June 10, 2008 at 12:21 pm

My only issue is with those companies still doing animal testing. We know that much of the results do not translate.

I’d rather pay more or have fewer options than have animal tested products. Not everyone will agree, I know.

Kezia June 10, 2008 at 12:41 pm

I don’t advocate animal testing. There are cruelty-free ways to study and quantify the damage that these chemicals and neurotoxins inflict upon our health (and to the environment- groundwater, animals, soil, etc.) Big companies need to be held accountable.

Jess June 10, 2008 at 1:49 pm

This is the perfect opportunity to do a follow up article on natural and organic cosmetics.

Patti June 11, 2008 at 9:17 am

Right on, Kezia! I agree with Poochie too. You are right there are other ways for these products to be tested and laws need to be passed NOW!!

Make Do & Mend June 11, 2008 at 10:22 am

We are lucky in the UK that the EU is so strict but it’s not perfect. You’re right to point out that cosmetics are a minefield and it is very worrying.

Susan Serafin June 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Given the sorry state of the environment as well as the economy, it makes sense to systematically reevaluate our consumption. Makeup doesn’t get a pass because it makes us beautiful. Of course, testing must be cruelty-free.
This is yet one more example of the perils of deregulation — it was the deregulation of credit lending that led to the current financial crisis.

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