From the soaps we use in the shower to the makeup we sweep on our faces, the options for personal care products are plentiful. Step into any drugstore, department store or specialty boutique and you’re probably greeted by myriad scents, colors and formula options. Many of us assume that if these products are on the shelf, they’ve met and surpassed lofty safety standards set in place by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), thereby making them safe for us—and our families—to use daily. Unfortunately, safety standards surrounding personal care products are nearly non-existent.
The Past and Present of Your Personal Care Products
In 1938, the FDA passed the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, designed to ensure the safety of personal care products. Since then, the United States has banned or partially banned 30 ingredients for use in personal care products; the European Union, by comparison, has banned 1,400. That means that the personal care products we use every day are manufactured adhering to the same laws that were put in place 80 years ago. From shampoos and conditioners to body washes, fragrances, deodorant, moisturizer, facial care, toothpastes and styling products, there is no governing entity ensuring the safety of these products.
While the FDA oversees personal care and cosmetic products and mandates ingredients be listed on labels, they don’t regulate those ingredients in these products, nor can they issue a recall if a product is found harmful—recalls in regard to personal care products are currently voluntary. On average, women use 12 personal care products a day—and that means exposure to approximately 168 toxic ingredients daily. For women of color, those statistics are even more staggering. As our bodies absorb up to 60 percent of what we put on our skin every day, unsafe and questionable ingredients can take their toll, their collective exposure influencing everything from hormone disruption to cancer.
Fighting for a Safer Future
As more consumers become aware of the lack of regulation surrounding personal care products and the long-term health effects of toxic ingredients, they are voting with their wallets and choosing natural, organic products that are often made by people—not in a lab. This surge in consumer spending for “green” personal care has Washington taking notice: The global natural beauty industry is expected to reach $13.2 billion by the end of this year. Numbers like that are hard to ignore. In response to the lack of vetting by the FDA and the huge groundswell of the natural beauty movement, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a bipartisan bill to address the need for reform in the regulation of personal care products. The Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1113) would require companies to be vetted, ensuring their products are safe for consumers before they hit the market. It would also entrust the FDA with more power to protect the public.
Proposed Requirements in the Personal Care Products Safety Act
Under the proposed bill, the FDA would have more tools to ensure companies creating personal care products are adhering to safety guidelines—just as they would with if these companies were manufacturing food or drugs. According to ewg.org, the FDA would be able to review the safety of five ingredients annually, including formaldehyde-releasing chemicals and a long-chained paraben. In addition, ewg.org reports that:
- Companies would be required to register facilities.
- Companies would be required to disclose ingredients they use to the FDA.
- Manufacturers would be required to ensure that products are made in a clean environment.
- FDA could inspect factories and records.
- Companies would be required to report serious adverse events to the FDA within 15 days.
- FDA could require recalls of dangerous products.
- FDA could require specific labeling and warnings for products that contain ingredients not suitable for all populations.
- Cosmetics companies would provide $20.6 million annually in fee revenue.
Now You Know. But What Can You Do?
- Begin at Home. Work to rid your bathroom and cleaning cabinets of products that contain questionable or known toxic ingredients. Made Safe makes it easy to find highly vetted, safe products you can trust—without getting overwhelmed. (Promise.)
- Get to know the Counteract Coalition. Beautycounter founder and CEO, Gregg Renfrew has founded the Counteract Coalition with other companies—including both conventional brands and green beauty brands—to take their safety mission to Washington, D.C.
- Vote With Your Wallet. Explore natural, ethical and sustainable brands that don’t rely on toxic ingredients to fill or preserve their products. Then support them with your business. When huge conglomerates begin losing money, they will start paying attention—and eventually, stop using toxic ingredients.