Approximate number of chemicals banned from or restricted for use in beauty and personal care products in the European Union: 1,500. Approximate number of chemicals banned from or restricted for use in beauty and personal care products in Canada: 800. Total number of chemicals banned from or restricted for use in beauty and personal care products in the United States: 11. Something about those numbers seems off…
U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act this past May in a direct effort to change that. (You can read it in its entirety here.) The bill’s mission is to promote transparency in the industry at large, and to give the FDA more authority over applying safety rules, a cause that some of the biggest, most powerful companies in the space (Revlon, Unilever, L’Oréal, and Estée Lauder among them) put their weight behind.
Today, Beautycounter (and its parent company, Counter Brands, LLC) becomes the latest heavyweight to formally endorse the PCPSA — and it’s bringing friends. Following the company’s guidance, a handful of other brands promoting safer beauty also signed a letter supporting the bill, including côte and tenoverten nail-polish brands, Vapour Beauty, OSEA, S.W. Basics, and more.
Since launching in 2013, Beautycounter has been defined by its active dedication to advocacy, including lobbying efforts to change the way harmful chemicals are used in the cosmetics industry. Founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew calls the legislation a big step in the right direction. “For us, it’s not enough to just make safer beauty products,” Renfrew tells us exclusively. “At Beautycounter, we want to advocate for a future where all personal care products are free of harmful ingredients.”
As it stands, the FDA has little influence on the machinations of the cosmetics and personal care industries; the current law does not require any products or ingredients (with the exception of color additives) to be assessed by the FDA before they can go to market. Senator Feinstein explains that many companies currently rely on their own determinations about the safety of the ingredients, or that of a funded panel. “The most important change we need is for the FDA to conduct independent evaluations of the safety of ingredients,” she says.
The current regulatory structure hasn’t been updated since the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938 (the same year German troops first invaded Austria), which essentially gives beauty and personal-care product companies the power to “self-regulate” without federal oversight. Under the existing laws, as published on the FDA’s website, even recalls of hazardous products or ingredients are “voluntary actions taken by manufacturers or distributors.” This also means that if a company receives complaints about serious hazards linked to its products, they’re under no obligation to report them to the FDA.
The PCPSA wants to fix that by giving the FDA the ability to recall dangerous products, and require companies to disclose which ingredients they’re using before they can be sold to consumers.
Most people would assume there are commonsense rules in place by the federal government to ensure the safety of the products we put on our skin each and every day, but that’s just not the case.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
“Most people would assume there are commonsense rules in place by the federal government to ensure the safety of the products we put on our skin each and every day, but that’s just not the case,” says Senator Feinstein. “Personal care products are used by everyone, and so many chemicals absorb through the skin. Our skin is an organ, and we can’t lose sight of that.” The long-standing Democrat has been working specifically on the issue of personal care products safety for almost a decade — so what took so long? One word: politics. “It took years of talking with consumers’ advocates, health experts, companies, and the FDA to be able to draft a bill that both sides of the issue could support,” she says.
The challenge was to find a middle ground that would protect the safety of the consumer without compromising the ability of the companies to sell to the consumer, and this is what Senators Feinstein and Collins believe they’ve accomplished with the PCPSA. Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter's Director of Policy & Partnerships, agrees. “We feel this bill most adequately protects public health while still taking into account business needs. We have long said that new oversight on the cosmetics industry can be both good for consumers and our rapidly growing safer beauty industry,” Dahl says. “We are a brand that is proving that regulation won’t squash innovation. We’re both pro-commerce and pro-regulation.”
As the bill continues to gain momentum on Capitol Hill, it’s crucial to remember that the work is far from over. “Educating consumers — and members of Congress — about why reform is needed is so important to getting our legislation done,” Senator Feinstein says. As if you needed yet another reason to get your senator on the phone.