The $71 billion personal care product industry in the United States is largely unregulated, and retailers are stepping up to fill the void.
When retailers adopt policies on the safety of the products they sell, it’s called retail regulation.
There is a rich history of retailers using their purchasing power to effect positive market change.
In 2008, when Walmart—the world’s largest retailer—agreed to stop selling baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles made with BPA, it forced manufacturers to reformulate in order to keep selling to this retail giant.
More and more retailers are adopting store wide policies governing the safety of their beauty products, with Whole Foods leading the way by implementing a basic chemical safety screening for all its personal care products and adopting a restricted-substances list made up of more than 400 chemicals prohibited from products bearing its premium standards labels.
In 2008 CVS stepped up to the plate by adopting a store-wide policy prohibiting the use of certain
toxic chemicals in their store-brand baby products. Walgreen’s and Target followed suit in 2013 by
announcing they would develop and adopt comprehensive cosmetic safety policies to govern the
safety of the private-label and national brands they carry.
The following goals should guide retailers’ policies and practices to improve the safety of personal
care products sold in their stores:
Expand the sale of safer cosmetics and personal care products (products free of chemicals
linked to cancer, birth defects, developmental harm and other health concerns).
Adopt a list of chemicals that are banned from use in private-label and national brands sold
in their stores, and ensure that toxic chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives.
Reformulate private-label products to eliminate chemicals of concern.
Practice the highest level of transparency by sharing the company’s safe-cosmetics policy,
practices and progress on websites and in corporate responsibility reports.
Strive for continuous improvements in policies and practices by monitoring scientific
research regarding emerging chemicals of concern.
Major loopholes in federal law allow the cosmetics industry to put virtually any chemical into a
cosmetic or personal care product with no pre-market FDA safety testing or review, no monitoring
of health effects, and inadequate labeling requirements. Most of us assume the FDA regulates
these products just as it does food and drugs to assure safety. In fact, cosmetics are one of the least
regulated consumer products available to the public. To make matters worse, contaminants in a
finished cosmetic product that occur as by-products of the manufacturing process, by law, don’t
have to be listed on the product label. That means chemicals like PFOA can hide in a cosmetic or
personal care product without consumers knowing.
The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) includes 112 pages of standards for food and
drugs, but just a single page for cosmetics. The cosmetics title of the FFDCA, which has not been
amended significantly since it was enacted more than 77 years ago, provides virtually no power to
perform even the most rudimentary functions to ensure product safety in an estimated $71 billion
Fortunately, for the first time in 77 years, Congress could close the gaping holes in our outdated
federal law and give the FDA the statutory authority and resources it needs to effectively regulate
the safety of cosmetics and personal care products. Currently, Congress is considering two bills to
regulate cosmetics ingredients.
On April 20, 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the
Personal Care Products Safety Act of 2015, an important bill with the potential to give the cosmetics
industry a desperately needed makeover. Many strong provisions in the bill would advance the
FDA’s ability to protect consumers from unsafe chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products:
Requiring companies to register their facilities, products and ingredients with the FDA;
Closing labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure for professional salon
products and web-based sales of cosmetic products; and
Directing the FDA to assess the safety of a minimum of five cosmetics chemicals a year.
However, the bill falls short of what is needed. Ideally, federal regulation would put in place a robust
safety standard and elevate the rigor of ingredient safety reviews by the FDA and manufacturers to
ensure that cosmetics and personal care products are as safe as possible