A budding new piece of legislation aims to rid the market of cosmetics that contain highly toxic chemicals. The “landmark” bill – called the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act – was introduced to the California State Assembly this month by Assembly member Al Muratsuchi and fellow co-sponsors, who are calling on the state governmental body to “protect consumers in California by banning the sale of cosmetics containing known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and endocrine disruptors that are harmful to human health.” If enacted, the bill will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
In addition to expanding the authority of the Department of Public Health’s California Safe Cosmetics Program to actively oversee the market, the newly-proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 495, would amend the California state the Health and Safety Code to strictly prohibit the sale of products that contain any nearly 20 different chemicals on California’s list of Proposition 65 toxics. This includes everything from asbestos, mercury, lead, and formaldehyde to phthalates and fluorinated compounds known as PFAS.
While “many cosmetics companies are already opting to reformulate their products to exclude these dangerous chemicals,” Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, one of the bill’s co-sponsors says, “it is important to establish a [legal standard] that companies can’t drop below.” As noted by The Hill, “It is currently legal for companies to sell cosmetics containing [an array of] dangerous chemicals as long as they list them on the product’s label and report them to the state.”
On a federal level, the regulation of cosmetics of the nearly $100 billion U.S. industry is similarly sparse. As a whole, cosmetics – which fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) and the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – do not need to be approved by the FDA before hitting shelves, and save for federal labeling requirements, cosmetics fall within a largely self-regulated industry.
As of August 2018, the FDA – for the very first time – initiated a probe into the safety practices and manufacturing standards of cosmetics industry, “taking a detailed look at a sector that includes an estimated 900 companies,” per CNBC. The past several years have also seen federal-level bills proposed, including one called the Personal Care Products Safety Act put forth in May 2017, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Maine Senator Susan Collins, and another from Utah Senator Orrin, entitled, the FDA Cosmetic Safety and Modernization Act. Neither of those bills has been enacted to date.
Assembly member Muratsuchi has been particularly vocal about the large-scale failure of the U.S. government to actively protect consumers by way of cosmetic regulations. Speaking last week, Los Angeles-based Muratsuchi aptly noted that “cosmetic products in the U.S. are largely unregulated, [particularly] compared to other nations,” pointing to the 1,300 personal care product chemicals that are banned in the European Union, compared to the 11 toxins outlawed in the U.S.
The California bill could change that. Mr. Cook correctly noted that if passed, AB 495, would have a sweeping effect on the nation, as “no cosmetics CEO would make a product with [any of these] cancer-causing chemical ingredients that could not be sold in California, the fifth-largest economy in the world.” From a bottom-line perspective, it simply would not make sense for a company to create a product that could not be sold in the state.
Scott Faber, the Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the Environmental Watch Group, put the state of things into perspective. “It’s hard to think of a category that is less regulated than cosmetics,” he said. “Even pesticides have more.”
UPDATED (April 10, 2019): The California Assembly’s Environment, Safety and Toxic Materials Committee has taken a scheduled vote on the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act off the calendar, “as it became clear to supporters that they didn’t have enough votes to move the bill to the Assembly Health Committee, which was to take up the legislation on April 23,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Deep-pocketed opponents of the bill included industry groups and the California Chamber of Commerce, alike, which argued that “there isn’t enough scientific evidence to merit banning certain chemicals, including asbestos and lead, from personal-care products,” and that the bill is little more than “another example of regulatory overreach.”
Jay Ansell, vice president of the Personal Care Products Council, a trade group, said the bill “grossly oversimplifies the complex science behind the ingredients in cosmetics and personal-care products,” asserting that “existing federal and international laws are put in place to keep our consumers safe” and “laws like AB 495 would just contribute to the patchwork of state and local regulations that do not represent the best relevant and available science.”