The Government Is Finally Investigating Whether Makeup Contains Dangerous Chemicals

Photo credit: Beate Sonnenberg
Photo credit: Beate Sonnenberg

From Good Housekeeping

  • Recent FDA testing found asbestos in makeup sold at Claire's and Justice.

  • Right now the cosmetics industry isn't required to test ingredients like talc, commonly found in face powders, for safety.

  • Congress could potentially pass legislation that would help regulate beauty products and protect consumers.

Just days after federal testing found asbestos in Claire's and Justice cosmetics products, Congress is now weighing in on the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in makeup.

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held a hearing today about the health risks of these products and how they're regulated - or as of right now, unregulated. Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found carcinogens in this makeup marketed at children, the FDA also announced it "does not have authority to mandate a recall."

In fact, lawmakers haven't passed new regulations for cosmetics since 1938, and the industry goes largely unchecked compared to the restrictions on medicine and food. The agency has banned only 11 ingredients in the U.S., compared to more than 1,300 prohibited ingredients in Canada and Europe.

The use of the clay mineral talc is specifically in question, since it's mined from underground deposits that may also contain asbestos, a classified carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that about one in 12 of the beauty products it's tested contains talc.

"Cosmetics have largely fallen into a regulatory black hole," Scott Faber, the senior vice president of government affairs at the EWG, said in sworn testimony today. "Cosmetics manufacturers do not have to register with FDA, do not have to report ingredients, do not have to report adverse events."

A bipartisan-backed bill is trying to change this. The Personal Care Products Safety Act, supported by Good Housekeeping, the Environmental Working Group, and other industry leaders is currently stalled in the Senate, four years after it was proposed. The latest news, coupled with the ongoing investigation of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, may finally spur change.

"This hearing is a good sign that PCPSA bill will hopefully get the support from both chambers this year and will go into effect," says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., director of Good Housekeeping Institute’s Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab. "We need a national standard of what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to beauty products."

The Personal Care Product Safety Act would require the FDA to evaluate at least five ingredients each year to determine whether they are safe, and if so, in what amounts. The legislation would also allow for federal recalls and create a uniform safety standard. As part of its press release last week, the FDA also acknowledged the lapses in regulation right now.

"There are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety," the announcement said. "We'll soon be working with cosmetics manufacturers and requesting information about what procedures they use to ensure their cosmetics are safe and, in particular, about how they ensure that talc used in any cosmetic product is free from asbestos."

In the meantime, if you're concerned about the products you use on a regular basis, consult trusted resources like the Made Safe Hazard List and EWG Skin Deep database. The GH Beauty Lab also advises choosing fragrance and dye-free products. They use fewer ingredients and people can have sensitivities to both. Plus, brands aren't required to list the specific ingredients in fragrances, so you don't really know what you're getting.

You can also petition your local lawmakers to support legislation like the Personal Care Product Safety Act. Check here to get the contact information for your U.S. Representative and Senator.

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