How many hair and beauty products do you think you use in a day? 3? 33? Today, I added all mine up — my makeup, face wash, serums, toners, etc. — for a grand total of 19. I don’t usually think much about the products I use on my face. I’ve always just assumed that someone, somewhere was in a lab with a Q-Tip and a test tube dutifully checking off safety boxes before shipping out face lotion to the masses. But, as it turns out, the process personal products face might be a bit less rigorous than that.
A study led by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the average American adult uses 9 personal care products per day which contain 126 distinct chemical ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees the personal care product industry, specifically prohibits only 11 of these chemicals. By contrast, the European Union has banned 1,382.
But wait… it gets even crazier.
The law doesn’t require the FDA to review any new products or ingredients (other than color additives) before they’re shipped out to consumers. The FDA does not require specific tests for the safety of the products, nor are manufacturers required to share information about the safety of their products with the FDA.
Product recalls are “voluntary actions taken by manufacturers or distributors,” meaning the FDA can only request the items be taken off the shelves.
That’s not to say the FDA doesn’t try to keep consumers safe. There are cosmetic chemical experts which review the safety of ingredients, and the FDA has recommended that manufacturers discontinue the use of several hundred chemical ingredients. However, as of yet, the FDA doesn’t have the legal ability to demand accountability from personal care brands — but a bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) aims to strengthen its authority.
The “Personal Care and Product Safety Act” (PCPSA) would make the first substantive changes to cosmetic product regulation since 1938 (back when the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act was passed). Yeah, that’s 80 years ago — it’s been a while.
Here are just a few notes worth highlighting:
- the FDA will be required to review at least 5 ingredient categories per year
- companies will be required to register their facilities, ingredients, and safety records with the FDA, which the FDA could inspect and verify for safety
- the FDA will institute “good manufacturing practice” laws — legal guidelines for the safe production of personal care products
- full labeling information, all ingredients and warnings, will be available on websites selling personal care products
- the FDA will have the authority to order recalls of harmful product
While this is definitely an improvement, there may still be a few bumps along the road to passage.
The PCPSA has some competition. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the “FDA Cosmetic Safety and Modernization Act” in October 2017. The bill makes similar improvements to the PCPSA but is more conservative. (The PCPSA could also stand to push the personal care product industry a bit more. In its current form, the bill does not ban animal testing, but only requires that the FDA encourage alternative methods.) Additionally, the bill also has to make its way though the Committee, Senate, House, and then reach the president’s desk to be signed. And boy, is that a toss-up!
I reached out to côte, a non-toxic nail care brand (and friend of The Fullest) which has endorsed the PCPSA, to ask why côte stands behind this bill. Mary Lennon, the co-founder of côte, said she and her business partner, Leah Yari, became interested in providing toxin-free nail polishes when their young daughters began to express an interest in getting their nails done. The mothers wanted to create a salon experience and product that they could feel good about providing to their children and adult clients.
“The more research we did, the more we learned about the horrible ingredients that snuck onto the hands and feet of unsuspecting beauty-lovers,” she said. “With the lack of stringent regulations and monitoring regarding what is allowed and not allowed into cosmetics, it is very easy to market a product that may contain less-than-safe ingredients.”
In March of this year, côte joined BeautyCounter and other clean beauty brands to lobby on behalf of the PCPSA in Washington, D.C, advocating for the bill not just as consumers, but as business people.
“Part of our reason for being there was to dispel feedback that more restrictions and regulations would hurt small businesses like côte by burdening us with more costs,” Lennon said. “The reality is that small businesses who care and invest in cleaner, safer beauty, are already incurring higher costs due to the need for independent testing and strict standards. Implementing regulations at the federal level could, in fact, lessen the expense for businesses like ours.”
Brands like côte and BeautyCounter are doing invaluable work in advocating for the consumers right to confidence in the safety of their products, but it’s time for the federal government to commit to keeping users safe… and we can help!
If you want to make this bill become a law, get in touch with your local representatives and explain why you support the PSCPSA. If their stance doesn’t align with yours, keep an eye on the House and Senate during the midterm elections coming up in November of this year. You just may be able to vote them out!
In the meantime, you can stay vigilant about the ingredients going into the products you choose and support clean beauty brands like côte which are bringing awareness to — and improving — personal care product safety.
Clara Malley is an Editorial and Community Intern for The Fullest based in NYC. Find her at @claramalley on Instagram or say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org.