CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER
Looms on Federal Regulation of Cosmetics
22 Corporate Crime Reporter 34, September 5, 2008
The two sides are lining up their troops.
On one side, the $50 billion a year cosmetics industry.
Led by companies like Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Unilever, Estee Lauder, and L’Oreal.
And their trade association – formerly known as The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
But last year, the group changed its name.
Now it’s know as the Personal Care Products Council.
On the other side is the lead consumer coalition in the United States – the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
The issue – federal regulation of the cosmetics industry.
Right now, the status quo is – self-regulation.
The campaigners want Congress to pass landmark legislation that will impose strict federal regulation on the industry.
Stacy Malkan is a spokeswoman for the campaign.
She is currently touring the country, promoting her new book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.
Malkan argues that personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, aftershave, lotion and makeup are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration FDA or any other government agency.
It is perfectly legal and very common for companies to use ingredients that are known or suspected to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins in the their products, she says.
She says that legislation will be introduced soon by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) that will, for the first time, impose federal regulation.
“The details of the bill are being worked out,” Malkan told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview earlier this week. “But the basics are – mandatory safety testing, full disclosure of ingredients, banning the worst chemicals, substituting safer alternatives, and giving the FDA real power and authority over the industry. We would like to see a safety panel with toxicologists and scientists who are accountable.”
Malkan says that currently there is a regulatory body called the Cosmetics Ingredients Review Panel.
“They claim to be independent of the trade association,” Malkan said. “But they are funded by them and they do share office space. And their recommendations are voluntary. They screen ingredients for safety. They make recommendations to the industry. But often, their recommendations are just ignored. It’s not much of a safety system. And they have looked only at about eleven percent of the chemicals used in cosmetics.”
The FDA admits it has little power over the industry.
“The regulatory requirements governing the sale of cosmetics are not as stringent as those that apply to other FDA-regulated products,” the FDA says on its web site. “Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without a government review or approval.”
The European Union (EU) is far ahead of the United States when it comes to regulation of cosmetics, Malkan said.
It is also asking cosmetics companies to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to not use toxic chemicals and to make safer, reformulated products readily available in the U.S. and in every market they serve.
Malkan says that more than 1,000 companies have signed on so far, but these are mostly small natural product companies. And together they have a very small share of the market.
None of the big companies have signed on to the compact, she said.
Speaking with industry representatives, you quickly get the sense that the industry will not accept federal regulation lightly.
Kathleen Dezio is a spokesperson for the Personal Care Products Council.
She disparagingly calls Malkan “an anti-chemical activist.”
Dezio says the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has ties to the natural care products industry.
“She’s cherry picking of the science to support a political agenda,” Dezio says.
Wait a second, isn’t the cosmetic industry pushing a political agenda – no new regulation of the industry?
“The anti-chemical movement has a political agenda, as opposed to a purely scientific perspective,” Dezio says.
So, the Personal Care Products Council has no political agenda. It’s just “a purely scientific perspective.”
Dezio sets me up with John Bailey, the chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council.
We asked Bailey whether he has read Malkan’s book.
“It’s typical of some of the other material we have seen from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,” Bailey says. “They are cherry picking the parts they want to highlight and presenting an argument of lack of safety based only on the data they want to use. They seem to be manipulating the data in a way to try and scare consumers.”
ran the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors from 1991 to 2000. He joined
the industry trade group in 2002.
He disputes Malkan’s claim that there is no regulation of cosmetics.
After all, he says, that was his job when he was at FDA.
“There is a requirement to substantiate the safety,” Bailey says. “When I was at FDA, we had a robust program, we used all of the tools that I had to take action against companies that were marketing unsafe products.”
Bailey says that regulation is perfectly fine the way it is. There is no need to adopt the European system.
Malkan adds that her group has had recent successes, even without regulation.
Take nail polish for example. “Almost every company that I can think of has removed from nail polish what we call the toxic trio of chemicals – dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene.”
Bailey counters that this was not done for safety reasons – it was done for marketing reasons.
Generally, Bailey argues that the health risk levels for these chemicals are so small that they pose “no significant problem.”
Malkan says that while the health risks may be small, we’re bombarded with hundreds of these chemicals every day. And we don’t know what the cumulative effect might be. Better safe than sorry, she says.
But she says the industry doesn’t want any regulatory legislation.
“They are lobbying at the state level and gearing up for a fight at the federal level to try to stop whatever regulations we put forth,” Malkan said. “That has been the focus of the trade association – to make sure they have their machine up and running for when the federal legislation hits.”
[For complete transcript of the Interview with Stacy Malkan, see 22 Corporate Crime Reporter 34(10), September 8, 2008, print edition only.]
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