Chemicals in Personal Care Products may Soon Start to be Regulated

As we have been beating the drum about for the past decade, scientific research has revealed there are numerous chemicals of concern in U.S. personal care products and no one in a position of authority has been doing anything to stop it.  (The European Union and Canada have banned upward of 1,300 chemical ingredients in personal care products due to evidence of health hazards, but with its limited powers the FDA has banned only 11 to date.)  Finally, there may be a solution on the horizon…a new proposed law, the ‘Personal Care Products Safety Act’ is a start.  The law, though seriously limited, aims if passed to regulate chemicals of concern and give the FDA increased power to ban dangerous chemicals from personal care products.

The U.S. barely regulates personal care products, despite the many chemicals they contain

A new proposed law is long overdue.

Each day, the typical American woman slathers on a dozen lotions, creams, gels and cosmetics – exposing her body to an estimated 168 unique chemical ingredients, according to the Environmental Working Group. Men tend to use about half as many products with roughly half as many ingredients.

People assume these products are subject to governmental scrutiny, but what we routinely pour into our pores undergoes no systematic safety assessment. The personal care product industry is allowed to “self-regulate,” even though scientific research confirms that many of its product ingredients pose health risks.


The Problem

-Manufacturers are legally permitted to keep fragrance ingredients a trade secret, and a single product’s fragrance may contain dozens of chemicals – including those known to harm human health.

-Congress has not updated its cosmetics law since 1938.

-Consumers cannot make informed choices when labels don’t reflect all product ingredients. As the law stands now, companies need not reveal what lurks beneath the umbrella term fragrance (or parfum) even if those chemicals are life-threatening.


Adverse Health Effects

Those who suffer from chemical sensitivities, asthma and allergies may be at highest risk, along with children, but the fragrances used in personal care products should concern everyone. These volatile or semi-volatile organic compounds vaporize readily and can persist in the air, provoking wheezing, migraines, seizures and longer-term concerns like cancer, reproductive disorders and learning disabilities.


The Solution

Senators Susan Collins and Dianne Feinstein are working to tame the Wild West of unregulated cosmetics with the bipartisan Personal Care Products Safety Act, which would finally give the FDA power to complete thorough safety reviews and ban chemicals that fail to meet a strict standard for human health. Both senators deserve credit for leading this effort, which could be passed into law later this year.

Under the proposed act, the FDA would require manufacturers to register their facilities and products and to maintain safety records. Companies would need to report problematic health effects to the FDA, and the agency could “recall a cosmetic that is likely to cause serious adverse health consequences,” according to the bill summary.


Shortcomings of the New Proposed Law

The bill as written does not require full disclosure of chemicals on product labels – including all those masquerading as ‘fragrance’.

And the proposed act calls for the FDA to review “at least five cosmetic ingredients” each year. At that pace, the agency might compile a list as protective as the ones the European Union and Canada have right now – in 250 years!


A Better Solution

Why not rely on their scientific research and start by restricting the 1,300-plus chemicals already known to be hazardous? Presumably, having consistent standards across international borders would be helpful for manufacturers as well as safer for consumers.


How consumers can make a difference

Now is a good time for concerned citizens to “raise their hands” and speak out for the safety they deserve in personal care products. This can be as easy as sending an email or placing a telephone call to your state representative.


There Could Finally Be a Bill Regulating the Safety of Beauty Products

New York Magazine

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins are proposing a bill (Personal Care Products Safety Act) that will give the FDA the additional authority to regulate the safety of beauty products. If you thought that the FDA was already doing that, you were mistaken: No beauty products (except for color additives) require FDA approval before going to market…


Here are some chemicals to watch out for



Found in lip balm, nail polish, foundations, baby suncreens, fragrance, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray and moisturizers, these chemicals have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation and environmental problems. Look for benzophenone, ingredients containing the word benzophenone (for example benzophenone-2), BP# (for example BP2), oxybenzone, sulisobenzone and sulisobenzone sodium.



Found in eyeliner, mascara, nail polish, eye shadow, brush-on-brow, lipstick, blushers, rouge, makeup, and foundation, carbon black is a potential cancer concern and has been linked to organ system toxicity. Scour the label for carbon black, D & C Black No. 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black.



A potent carcinogen and skin irritant found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap and body wash. Look for quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin and bronopol, among others.



A common ingredient that could include dozens or hundreds of different toxic chemicals that are routinely kept secret. Found in most personal care products, from sunscreen and shampoo to body lotions and deodorant. Words to look for: Fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend and aroma.



These are widely used hormone-disrupting preservatives found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers and scrubs. Examine the label for ethylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.



Often found in fragrance, and sometimes in nail polish, phthalates are associated with harm to brain development. There can also be reproductive health effects, with harm to both mother and child.

For more information on these chemicals visit: or

Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG

The Environmental Working Group’s searchable database of toxic ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products.

Also see:

Endocrine Society Applauds New Push to Regulate Chemicals in Personal Care Products