Your Cosmetics Could Be Harmful

April 22nd 2015

Laura Donovan

On April 20, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Susan Collins (R-M) introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulation over personal care product ingredients. Beauty products have been an integral part of American culture for decades, but many consumer safety advocates are calling for federal oversight to regulate the potentially cancer-causing chemicals often found in cosmetics.

“From shampoo to lotion, the use of personal care products is widespread, however, there are very few protections in place to ensure their safety,” Feinstein said in a release. “[This bill] will require [the] FDA to review chemicals used in these products and provide clear guidance on their safety. In addition, the legislation has broad support from companies and consumer groups alike.”

Senators Feinstein and Collins are not the only members on Capitol Hill who have pushed for more beauty product regulation -- regulations which have not been updated since 1938. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has been a staunch advocate for safe cosmetics. During three separate sessions of congress, Schakowsky introduced her own bill, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act (SCPCPA). (It failed to pass, and it is unclear if she'll reintroduce it in the current session.)

The goal of Schakowsky's bill was to remove toxic chemicals from personal care products. The bill called for more regulation over beauty products in addition to asking companies to pay fees for annual product oversight and enforcement. Feinstein's legislation would require the FDA to evaluate at least five ingredients every year to test for safety. Feinstein's review process would also "provide companies with clear guidance about whether ingredients should continue to be used and if so, what the concentration levels should be and whether consumer warnings are needed," according to Sen. Feinstein's website

Consumer concerns:

Advocates for regulation argue that certain personal care products contain chemicals, which could cause breast cancer, reproductive problems, and other health risks. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group that aims to expose the potential dangers of chemicals in personal care products, has a search tool on its site that allows users to explore what health risks their products contain. This doesn't merely affect women who wear makeup. Sunscreen, soap, hair products, lotions, fragrances, makeup, nail polish are just a sample of the products that can have chemicals that could pose health risks.

Janet Nudelman, the program and policy director for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told ATTN: that the campaign evolved from the Breast Cancer Fund. The group had "collective concerns about presence of phthalates" in beauty products.

Diethyl phthalate is just one of the chemicals activists worry about. Phthalates are frequently used in perfumes, and may lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer, according to research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine part of the National Institutes of Health. In addition to breast cancer and asthma, phthalates have been tied to other issues, including male fertility problems and ADHD.

Erik Olson, a former deputy staff director for the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, told the Guardian earlier this year that arguing phthalates aren't harmful is getting harder to do. "[With] the tidal wave of research that’s been coming out fast and furious, we’re getting past the phase of complete denial from the industry," Olson told the Guardian. "They can no longer claim that there’s no risk at all with phthalates."

Response from the industry:

Some stakeholders petitioned Schakowsky's bill, attesting it would bring down small businesses.

"The introduction of [this legislation] has created a division in the small business arena, and that’s sad," wrote Lisa Rodgers of Personal Care Truth. "We support safe cosmetics and certainly believe the FDA could use more transparency; however, we should be focusing on improving current legislation instead of completely changing it to serve the goals of non-governmental organizations that have yet to present the science to support their claims."

Last year, the national cosmetics and personal care product trade association Personal Care Products Council came out against the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The council's chief scientist Dr. Beth Lange released the following statement: "This campaign by CSC is an example of misinformation based on superficial interpretation of scientific data taken out of context. CSC also misrepresents the properties of many of these ingredients citing data of no relevance to human safety and ignoring decades of safe use in personal care products. Finally, the group ignores the opinions of independent third party experts who have weighed in on the safety of important ingredients on their list, such as those used as sunscreens that actually protect people from certain types of cancers."

However, the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) supports the Feinstein and Collins bill. CEO Lezlee Westine released a statement on Monday in support of Sens. Feinstein and Collins' legislation. "We support the creation of a national standard that maintains the continued safety of our products while providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with additional regulatory authority over our industry," the statement read. "While we believe our products are the safest category that FDA regulates, we also believe well-crafted, science-based reforms will enhance industry’s ability to innovate and further strengthen consumer confidence in the products they trust and use every day."

ATTN: reached out to the Personal Care Products Council for comment on the two bills and will update with any new information from the organization.

Do Americans care this much about the chemicals in their products?


Mike Melrose/Flickr

Americans will give up a lot to feel (and look) good in the moment (and they are constantly encouraged to do so via marketing and advertisements) so it's hard to picture many of them dumping their entire beauty product collection to start fresh. But Congresswoman Schakowsky believes Americans would make big adjustments to their lifestyles if they better understood the contents of their products.

"The Congresswoman believes it will affect their behavior," Schakowsky's spokeswoman told ATTN:. "Look at No More Tears: Johnson and Johnson was forced to remove the formaldehyde from the baby [product] ... And so we believe that if the word gets out that other products may cause cancer, it will have the same affect as far as companies having to reformulate items."

Nudelman from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics insists that Americans -- namely Millennials -- are already trying to buy safer products that don't contain potentially dangerous chemicals. "I think that young people in particular are taking this issue very seriously," Nudelman said. "I think there's a certain level of outrage that comes with the younger population where they simply can't believe it's legal for cosmetic companies to put toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in cosmetics and get away with it. So they are looking for the safer brands."​