February 20, 2007
State mulls cosmetic safety law; Bill based on
By Lisa Stiffler
Shimmery lips, odorless
armpits and minty-fresh breath are all possible thanks
to countless personal-care products.
But what's in that stuff
and is it safe for consumers, children and the
The federal government
doesn't know. Scientists have linked some of the
ingredients to developmental defects and cancer. Even if
shoppers want to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals,
manufacturers don't have to list all of them on the
label, instead using vague terminology such as
So state lawmakers are
following California's lead and taking the matter into
their own hands with the Washington Safe Cosmetics Act
"We need to know what's in
there, and we should regulate it," said Rep. Maralyn
Chase is the lead sponsor
of the proposed law, HB2166, which will have its first
But before the bill is
aired publicly, the cosmetics industry has come forward
offering to share more information with the public and
the government and is suggesting ways to make the
legislation work better.
"We had to, as an industry,
catch up to the idea that transparency is the most
important thing for consumers," said John Hurson,
executive vice president for government affairs with the
Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a national
trade group based in Washington, D.C. "They have to know
what's in their products. They have to themselves be
able to get the information they need."
The changes arose, he said,
because of California's 2005 cosmetics safety act, which
went into effect in January. The Washington act is based
on those rules and other states are considering similar
If passed, the act would go
into effect Jan. 1, 2009, and would:
manufacturers with annual sales of more than $1
million to disclose to the state Department of
Health all ingredients known or suspected to
cause cancer or reproductive damage, including
the ambiguous "fragrance" or "other ingredients"
found on product labels.
Allow the health
department to investigate products containing
the potentially dangerous chemicals.
department to require manufacturers to provide
relevant data on the health effects of the
If toxic chemicals
are discovered in products, allow the department
to contact other state or federal agencies to
take steps to protect consumers and workers --
including women working with artificial nail
chemicals, many of whom are immigrants and may
have difficulty understanding the risks because
of language barriers.
Hurson's group has
suggested that Washington use California's list of
chemicals deemed carcinogenic or harmful to
reproduction. Another option would be relying on an
industry-funded, independent review panel.
The Food and Drug
Administration, the agency responsible for cosmetic
safety, has little regulatory authority over makeup,
soap, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash, shaving cream, hair
dyes and other items "for cleansing, beautifying,
promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance."
The FDA does not do safety
checks before items are stocked on drugstore shelves.
If problems arise, the
agency can ask to see safety research -- but
manufacturers do not have to comply. An agreement
created by the cosmetics association that went into
effect this year requires members to share that
The group is also creating
a public Web site with health information for 3,000 of
the 14,000 ingredients used in cosmetics. The site will
be up by this summer and focuses on common, non-natural
Of particular concern has
been dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer added to nail
polish. It has been linked to development problems in
men's genitals and made California's list of dangerous
chemicals. As a result, most nail polish makers have
stopped using the ingredient, Hurson said.
The association has
stressed that the beauty products are safe when used as
directed and that the chemicals of concern are present
in amounts too small to cause harm.
But people don't use just
one product, argue environmental and health advocates.
That increases the number and amounts of ingredients to
which consumers are exposed.
"Those small exposures over
time do add up," said Gretchen Lee, senior policy
coordinator with the Breast Cancer Fund, a non-profit
group based in San Francisco.
Advocate groups also worry
about what happens to the chemicals once they've washed
down the shower drain and into the environment.
"I'm being careful to
choose safer products," said Margaret Shield of the
Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, an alliance of
mostly-Northwest advocacy groups. "But I know I'm being
exposed to these chemicals through the environment."