On July 29th the Safer Beauty Bill Package was announced via press conference. State representatives from Illinois, California, Delaware, and Texas were in attendance, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) including the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), WE Act for Environmental Justice, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, to name a few. A suite of four pieces of federal legislation targeting personal care and cosmetic product safety and ingredient disclosure, the package marks the latest and perhaps most aggressive attempt to levy federal regulation on the beauty industry. More than 70 environmental and consumer rights groups are backing the proposed legislation, as well as several clean beauty leaders including Credo, Beautycounter, OSEA, Amyris and Grove Collaborative.
“The Safer Beauty Bill Package is urgently needed to protect American consumers. The U.S. hasn’t significantly updated its cosmetics law since 1938. More than 40 countries are far ahead of the U.S. in this,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois during the press conference, who authored all four bills. “The EU has banned over 2,000 chemicals, the FDA only 11. There are over 150 unique chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer, infertility, asthma, and other serious health conditions.”
While those in favor assert that the Safer Beauty Bill Package is essential in protecting consumer safety, some industry insiders are quick to raise an eyebrow, arguing that the bill targets chemicals that were either discontinued from use long ago, or have been deemed safe at appropriate levels. They also argue that the industry self-regulates through standards and guidelines set by independent scientific and representative organizations, such as the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).
“We already have laws that make it illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics and big corporations certainly follow those. If you look at the products that are on the market in both the U.S. and the EU, you will not find much difference. So, to me all this legislation is theatrics that will not have any real impact on U.S. consumers,” said Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and co-host of The Beauty Brains Podcast. “Mercury is not used in the cosmetic industry and hasn’t been for decades. Parabens are safe to use in cosmetics as has been determined by the CIR and by the government funded SCCS in the EU. Why would anyone call for banning ingredients that toxicologists have determined to be safe?”
The Toxic-Free Beauty Act of 2021 would categorically ban the use of 11 chemicals in both consumer and professional salon products sold in the U.S., including mercury, formaldehyde dibutyl phthalate, diethylhexyl phthalate, methylene glycol, isobutylparaben, as well as the entire class of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), amongst others. “These chemicals have no business being in the products that we slather on our bodies and our babies every day,” said Janet Nudelman, Director of Program & Policy at BCPP.
“What’s going on here is a propagation of these blacklists that have been circulating for years,” said Ken Marenus, President of the Independent Beauty Association. “Brands create global formulas – except if you sell in China – so everyone who sells in Europe doesn’t use these chemicals. Everyone who sells in California also doesn’t use these chemicals, nor have they for a long time. There’s no one in their right mind who would put something in a product that would be intentionally harmful. One of the elements that’s always missing from these discussions is exposure. There’s a fundamental equation that’s used by toxicologists and safety people around the world, which is the risk is equal to hazard times exposure. Take water. You drink it every day, you bathe in it, but it can also burn you or drown you. It’s all about your level of exposure.”
“Half of the stuff that the EU regulates is regulated by the FDA’s over-the-counter (OTC) monograph system,” said Karen Yarussi-King, President of Global Regulatory Associates. “They consider sunscreens to be cosmetics, for example, but we consider them to be OTC drugs. It’s falsely misleading to say that we don’t regulate as much as Europe does. Our synthetic colorants are more highly regulated than Europe’s. Every batch has to be approved by the FDA; this is just one example. What bothers me the most about all this is that we’re portrayed as being sneaky. There’s so much misinformation out there, it’s scary.”
The Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2021 would require brands to fully disclose all fragrance and flavor ingredients – including allergens – on their product labels, in addition to disclosing any other ingredients intentionally added to the product at or above 100 parts per million on their website.
“The products that we reach for every day – lotion, shampoo, deodorant – are made up of thousands of synthetic chemicals. Some harmless, yet others have been linked to serious health problems. These chemicals are often hidden from public view with a loophole involving fragrance or flavors to hide the truth about underlying ingredients and potential safety concerns,” said the bill’s co-author Rep. Doris Matsui from California during the press conference.
Here, Perry stresses the overarching guidance of IFRA and its effects on the industry. “The IFRA already has prescribed safety levels, and big companies follow those guidelines. In the EU there is a requirement to list out some common fragrance allergens, and that seems like a good idea, but listing every compound in a fragrance would make the back label of a cosmetic product unreadable to most consumers. And for what benefit? Companies are not ‘hiding’ toxic chemicals in their fragrances. This is just a myth. Remember it is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics.”
If some fragrance houses are deemed lax in disclosing ingredients, “it has much more to do with protecting formulas rather than being purposefully deceitful,” said Ken. “You can’t patent a fragrance so they’re afraid another fragrance house is going to steal their formula.”
The Cosmetics Safety for Communities of Color and Professional Salon Workers Act of 2021 would mandate the full disclosure of ingredients for salon products, enable access to safety data sheets for workers, fund research to identify chemicals of concern and the health impacts of personal care products used by these communities, fund the development of safer chemical alternatives, as well as create an inter-agency task force to share data and generate solutions to toxic exposures.
“Nail and beauty salon workers are most at risk for unsafe exposures because of the toxic chemicals in the products found in their workplaces,” said the bill’s co-author Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware. “The combination of hazardous chemicals, inadequate access to information, lax regulatory standards and enforcement, and a large immigrant workforce with cultural and language obstacles underscores the need for strong federal cosmetics safety protections for professional salon workers. Black women and other women of color suffer from a higher exposure to unsafe chemicals in beauty products including hair dyes, relaxers, and straighteners, skin lighteners, feminine hygiene products and some deodorants.”
Cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder, Ron Robinson, said, “Safety is paramount. If there’s data that shows that any ingredient is unsafe, then it should be banned. I applaud this bill for not only keeping the consumer in mind but also the salon workers who might be unknowingly exposed to potential harmful ingredients.” Regarding unsafe workplace conditions, Ken and Perry agree that this is likely a reflection of a larger Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issue that may need to be addressed.
The Cosmetics Supply Chain Transparency Act would mandate all upstream suppliers – including fragrance houses, formulating labs, and suppliers of raw materials, ingredients, or finished product – to provide cosmetics companies with the ingredient disclosure, toxicity and safety data, and certificate of analyses.
“Small companies are especially challenged in getting information from their suppliers. Suppliers claim ingredients are confidential, or they don’t have the information because their own suppliers don’t provide it,” said Mark Rossi, Executive Director of the Clean Production Action, an NGO in support of the bill. “There’s no sector-wide system of capturing accurate and reliable information on chemicals in cosmetics.”
“I worked in the supply chain for years and years. We had specifications for what the ingredient had to do, we required the data they had to have, and the use limits. Any formulating chemist will tell you the same thing. Anyone who’s in the business of making cosmetics or formulating cosmetics gets what they need from their suppliers, otherwise they’re not using those suppliers,” said Ken.
But keeping track of the entire cosmetics supply chain will likely prove challenging and perhaps unmanageable, according to Perry, particularly when it comes to extracting information from raw ingredient suppliers. “The same raw material can be made in a variety of ways. You can start with petroleum-based feedstocks or maybe plant-based ones. Then the process might have special catalysts to speed things up and so you can have different sources of the catalyst. Then you might have multiple suppliers for all those component ingredients and those suppliers have their own suppliers with different standards. It becomes like a nested Russian doll that keeps getting deeper, and all of these tiny changes can affect the resulting chemical. Imagine having to keep track of all the paperwork for components of the dozen or so ingredients that go into a final product?”
Supporters of the Safer Beauty Bill Package believe that increased regulation and greater transparency in the cosmetics and personal care industries will not hinder business as usual; it will actually help it. “There are hundreds of clean cosmetics companies who are showing safe cosmetics are not only possible, they’re profitable because they’re what consumers want,” said BCPP’s Janet during the press conference.
But Craig Weiss, Co-CEO & President of the Consumer Product Testing Company, does not agree. “They want to dump all this regulation on the industry, and guess what, it’s going to kill innovation. The barriers to entry will be way too high, especially for smaller independent brands who won’t be able to comply. NGO’s and the Environmental Working Group make a fortune from fearmongering, and clean beauty companies see this as a competitive advantage in the market. ‘I have 18 ‘free of’ claims, so my products are safe. I’m all natural.’ Well so are strychnine and arsenic. Just to say something is bad isn’t good enough. Prove it.”
While Karen sees no merit in this legislation package, she believes the federal government should step up when it comes to marketing claims and buzzword definitions. “I’m in favor of introducing legislation regarding the fairness in claims, like what happened in Europe. Brands go out there and say, ‘we’re the only ones that do x,’ but it’s just about how many SEO hits they can get. You have to be honest. A Natural Products Act, which should have been pursued in my opinion, was going to legally define the terms ‘natural,’ ‘clean,’ and ‘toxic.’ I think that is something worth passing on a federal level. It would clear up a lot of the bad messaging and misinformation circulating in the industry.”
The Safer Beauty Bill Package is set to be formally introduced into Congress later this summer.