Is Your Shampoo Safe? It's Time to Regulate the Cosmetics Industry

Late last month, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act to keep personal care products free of harmful ingredients and ensure comprehensive labeling of these products’ contents. It now sits with the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Education and Workforce. Last year’s legislative effort to regulate the safety of personal care products went no further than those same two committees. For all of our sakes, let’s hope this year’s bill progresses further. The safety of products we put on our bodies each day is worthy of more high-profile debate and action.

A 2010 President’s Cancer Panel report warned of nearly 80,000 “un- or understudied and largely unregulated” chemicals on the market in the U.S., and that “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.” Our daily hygiene and beauty routines place us in contact with hundreds of these chemicals on a regular basis. Fragrances contain hormone disruptors and neurotoxins. Even popular baby shampoos advertised as “gentle” and “pure” were found to contain the chemicals formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, both probable carcinogens according to the EPA. As byproducts of the shampoo manufacturing process (as opposed to components directly added to the mix), formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane did not appear on the ingredient labels of the tested products.

Under current law, the cosmetics industry is left to self-regulate the safety of its products’ ingredients. Companies are not required to test cosmetics products for safety before they make their way into the hands of consumers. Given the barriers to complete consumer information, an unregulated marketplace is not sufficient to ensure safer cosmetics. Anyone who has read the back of a shampoo bottle can attest that assessing the danger posed by a combination of 20 hard-to-pronounce ingredients is no easy task.

Opponents of cosmetics regulation (of which the $50 billion a year industry is sure to provide) will protest that regulation will squelch business. It is important that the industry be involved to help establish workable regulations. Indeed, this year’s version of the Safe Cosmetics Act attempts to take some of the cosmetics industry’s criticisms of last year’s bill into account, particularly by exempting small businesses. In the effort to develop sound policies, the U.S. can learn from experience of the EU, which has prohibited certain harmful chemicals from personal care products since 1976.

Rising evidence shows environmental factors contribute to cancer and to reproductive and developmental problems, so it is important to give the FDA power to address the chemicals contained in our daily products. Concerned citizens should tell their representatives that it’s time for the Safe Cosmetics Act to make it out of committee.

Photo Credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget