Baby Steps Toward Beauty Product Safety Regulation

If an expensive perfume, hot new self-tanner, luxurious lavender body lotion, or fabulous new shade of fire truck red nail polish has made its way onto the drugstore shelf, it must be, like, totally safe to put on your body, right?  Especially if it’s in a trendy tube, or pretty pastel bottle with a label that evokes all the dainty innocence of the 1950’s.  Right?

Wrong.  More and more consumers are waking up to the fact that when it comes to personal care products and cosmetics, neither industry nor government has historically worked all that aggressively to ensure consumer safety.  In fact, many of the products we reach for at the drugstore contain chemicals and particles linked to cancer, reproductive damage, and birth defects.  Even today, the FDA does not conduct safety checks on personal care products before they hit the shelves.  As a result, ambiguous phrases like “fragrance” and “other ingredients” have become known loopholes in the cosmetics industry, and have been exploited on ingredient labels.

The good news is that in 2005, California responded by writing a Cosmetic Safe Cosmetics Act—which went into effect just this January, mandating greater ingredient transparency in the cosmetics industry—and that just this month, Washington took baby steps to follow suit.  Just two days ago, on February 20th, the freshly minted Washington Safe Cosmetics Act of 2007 had its first public hearing by the House Committee on the Select Committee on Environmental Health.  Rep. Maralyn Chase is lead sponsor of the proposed law, House Bill number 2166.

According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, HB2166 would require cosmetics manufacturers to disclose to the state Department of Health all ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer or reproductive damage.  It would also allow the health department to investigate products, and to require manufacturers to provide data on health effects of the chemicals they use.  Lastly, HB2166 would allow state or federal agencies to actively protect consumers and workers when toxic chemicals are found in products, or 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.”

If passed, HB 2166 won’t go into effect until January 1, 2009, so until then, do your homework.  Read ingredient labels, and visit sites like the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to learn more.

- Tobin Hack