Article Review: The Missing Link: U.S. Regulation of Consumer Cosmetic Products to Protect Human Health and the Environment

Pace Environmental Law Review published an article in its 2013 Online Companion Volume 3 Issue 3 titled The Missing Link: U.S. Regulation of Consumer Cosmetic Products to Protect Human Health and the Environment by Valerie J. Watnick.  This article gave light to the inadequate federal regulations regulating the toxic and potentially carcinogenic substances found in cosmetic products we use everyday.   This article made me double check my lotions and shampoos to make sure my products did not contain any of the chemical substances mentioned in the article.  One of the article’s observations was the public’s false sense of safety from buying a product that is federally regulated.  After finding one of the toxic substances in my lotion, that false sense of safety has definitely been recognized.

The main issues found within this article were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) strong anti-precautionary approach policy and their lack of recall authority.  There are gaping loopholes under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to allow industries to hide toxic substances under proprietary interests. Currently, companies can hide certain ingredients under general terms of fragrances to protect trade secrets. Under U.S. regulations, products are assumed safe until data provides otherwise.  Other major concerns raised in this article were the lack of regulations of endocrine disrupting chemicals found in 80,000 chemicals used in cosmetic products and the lack of regulations of nanomaterials.  Nanomaterials have been found potentially hazardous to health because of the size of the particles, which brings the risk of inhalation or movement through the skin.  Furthermore, there is a need for different regulations for products used on children because children are more susceptible to environmental harms and toxins.  The article continued to compare the United States’ regulations of cosmetics with Europe, Canada, and California.

Europe, Canada, and California take the precautionary approach dealing with toxic substances in cosmetics.  European regulations require an assessment of the safety of the product prepared through a product safety report before marketing. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and nanomaterials can be added to a list of prohibited ingredients for products as they are identified. Furthermore, regulators can recall products that do not comply with safety regulations.  Canadian regulations allow regulators to request evidence of the product’s safety. Regulators can stop the sales of the product until the information is provided.  California requires products to have warnings on them if they contain an ingredient that is on the hazardous chemical list.  A list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm are available on a public database.

The article concludes with a discussion on the new legislation pending in the House of Representatives that will have stricter regulations for cosmetic products. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013 would abolish the loophole to hide toxic ingredients under trade secrets.  Higher safety standards would be implemented and the FDA would have authority to recall products.  However, there has been no progress or movement of the bill as of today.

This article was enlightening and informative of the lack of regulations in the U.S. for cosmetic and personal care products. Moving forward, I hope our Congress can move along the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act to ensure the safety of the American people and to shift the paradigm to a precautionary approach when it comes to products that families and individuals use everyday.

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