Story of the Safe Cosmetics Act
In the third story of our ongoing series, "Independence from Toxic Chemicals," Ryan Berghoff describes California's Safe Cosmetics Act, the first law in the country to address toxic chemicals in cosmetics.
Every day millions of people cover their bodies in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products hoping to look more attractive, but there is a price to pay for beauty (and I’m not talking about how expensive cosmetic products are). Independent testing in the United States and the European Union has determined that some cosmetic products contain substances known or suspected to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity that can harm the mother, fetus, and nursing children. Dangerous chemicals have a knack for showing up in our every day products, from toys that our children play with to the cosmetics in our bathroom cabinets, and that is why California has taken the lead in passing legislation to protect its residents.
In 2005, California became the first state to pass a bill that helps regulate chemicals in cosmetic products called The Safe Cosmetic Act . The Act requires that the manufacturer of a personal care product must disclose to the Department of Public Health any ingredient in their product known to the state to cause cancer or birth defects, including those ingredients that are found in a fragrance. Fragrances are exempt from federal ingredient disclosure laws in cosmetics despite the fact that over 100 different chemicals can be in a single fragrance!. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005 closes this huge loophole. Furthermore, the act allows the state Department of Public Health to demand that manufacturer’s supply any health related information about cosmetic products, and authorizes CalOSHA (California Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to regulate the products to protect salon workers if they determine any ingredient poses a safety risk to workers.
Under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to be approved before they are sold to the public and the FDA does not have the authority to require manufacturers to file health and safety data on cosmetic ingredients or to order a recall of a dangerous cosmetic product. Prior to the passage of the Safe Cosmetics Act, California merely regulated the packaging, labeling, and advertising of cosmetics, but had no authority to identify, review, or regulate ingredients in cosmetic products that may cause chronic health effects. Therefore the passing of the Safe Cosmetic Act is a huge leap forward in tackling the issues related to chemical reform in California.
Cosmetic products are most heavily used by women of childbearing age, increasing the likelihood of exposing mothers, fetuses, and nursing children to substances that can cause cancer and reproductive toxicity. Additionally, beauty care workers, who are predominantly women and minorities, are exposed to the potentially harmful effects of carcinogens and reproductive toxins in cosmetics more than any other group of people. In California, an estimated 80 percent of nail salons are operated by Vietnamese women, exposing them to numerous harmful toxins in dangerous amounts.
But men aren’t exempt form danger either. The Safe Cosmetics Act covers products such as shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, aftershave and lotion.
The chemical and cosmetic industries both vigorously opposed the bill, mounting a major campaign to convince salon owners and workers that they would be shut down if the new law passed. The cosmetics industry spent heavily to defeat the Safe Cosmetics Act. Proctor and Gamble alone paid Sacramento lobbyists more than $90,000 in the first six months of 2005, and the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association (CTFA) spent more than $600,000 in the 2003-04 legislative session and the first quarter of 2005 to oppose the bill and other environmental health legislation in California. Despite the typical chemical lobbyist’s tactics, California once again prevailed in passing legislation that transformed the state into a healthier community.
The California Safe Cosmetics Act has paved the way for transformational federal legislation to be introduced to overhaul the way all cosmetics are regulated and formulated in the United States. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, federal legislation introduced by Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is a huge moment for consumers, parents and environmental health advocates: for the first time in 70 years, we have a real chance to pass national legislation that would eliminate harmful chemicals from the products women, men and children put on their bodies every day. In order to make this happen, Congress needs to hear from us. Please take action today and tell your elected officials this common-sense legislation is important to you! To take action click here.
Furthermore, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics just launched a new 7 minute video, The Story of Cosmetics! This cutting edge new film will show people that many cosmetics ingredients are unsustainable toxic petrochemicals, and that the system of regulating chemicals in personal care products is, like other chemical policies in the US, badly broken. Watch the video here below, and at storyofstuff.org/cosmetics!
Ryan Berghoff is a recent graduate in the Society and the Environment program at the University of California Berkeley and is an intern at the Center for Environmental Health.