Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics: New Legislation to Prevent Exposure

Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics: New Legislation to Prevent Exposure


Shannon Coughlin, Breast Cancer Fund, 415-336-2246; [email protected]
Stacy Malkan, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 510 848-5701 [email protected]
Leeann Brown, Environmental Working Group, 202-939-9146, [email protected]
Ian Illuminato, Friends of the Earth, 250-478-7135, [email protected]

Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics: New Legislation to Prevent Exposure

New Bill in Congress Would Reform Law on Toxics in Personal Care Products

WASHINGTON, DC –For the first time in 70 years, Congress is poised to close the gaping holes in the outdated federal law that allows chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other illnesses in the products we use on our bodies every day.

Today, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 (H.R.5786), which gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to ensure that personal care products are free of harmful ingredients. Existing law, passed in 1938, granted decision-making about ingredient safety to the cosmetics industry.

“Harmful chemicals have no place in the products we put on our bodies and our families’ bodies,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “This legislation will protect consumers, workers and the environment from toxic chemicals, but it will also help the cosmetics industry by fostering the development of the safer products American consumers are demanding.”

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Americans use an average of 10 personal care products each day, resulting in exposure to more than 126 unique chemicals—not counting the many undisclosed chemicals in “fragrance.” Toxic exposures from personal care products add to our daily dose of hazardous chemicals from air, water, food and other consumer products.

“The cosmetics industry says the amounts of potentially toxic chemicals in their products are so small that they carry no risk, but we know that for some chemicals small doses can have big effects,” said Maryann Donovan, Ph.D., an expert on environmental exposures and biological effects from the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. “We need to better understand the short- and long-term health effects resulting from small doses of toxic chemicals, repeated daily exposures, exposures during fetal or infant development, and exposures to mixtures of chemicals in personal care products.”

Major provisions of the legislation would:

  • Phase out ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm
  • Create a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers and other vulnerable populations
  • Close labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure, including the constituent ingredients of fragrance and salon products, on product labels and company Web sites
  • Give workers access to information about unsafe chemicals in personal care products
  • Require data sharing to avoid duplicative testing and encourage the development of alternatives to animal testing
  • Provide adequate funding for the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors so it has the resources it needs to provide effective oversight of the cosmetics industry
  • Level the playing field so small businesses can compete fairly

Rep. Markey applauded the bill: “This legislation will affect every American—everyone who puts on moisturizer or uses shampoo or deodorant. More and more people are concerned about unsafe chemicals in our everyday lives. Getting these toxics out of the stuff we rub on our bodies every day is just common sense, and should happen quickly.”

Rep. Baldwin concurred: “Scientists are increasingly linking chemicals in personal care products to cancer, learning disabilities and other widespread health problems in our society. I am proud to contribute to common-sense legislation that says it’s time to ensure the products we use are safe.”

To help generate support for the legislation, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also launched The Story of Cosmetics (, a seven-minute video produced by Annie Leonard and Free Range Graphics, creators of the viral hit The Story of Stuff, which has been viewed more than 12 million times. In the new film, Leonard reveals the toxic side of the beauty industry and explains that it’s not the choices we make at the store, but the choices made behind the scenes – by industry and the government – that affect the health of our families. The film concludes with a call for viewers to support legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.

“When there are cancer-causing chemicals in baby shampoo and mercury in skin cream, you know the regulatory system is broken,” said Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Industry self-regulation just isn’t working. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 recognizes that consumers have a right to safe personal care products, that companies have a responsibility to understand the health effects of the chemicals in their products, and that we need government to helps us get there.”


The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition of more than 100 nonprofit organizations working to protect the health of consumers and workers by eliminating dangerous chemicals from cosmetics. Core members include: Clean Water Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Commonweal, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition and Women’s Voices for the Earth.

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