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The Cosmetics Safety Bill: Everything You Need to Know

You might have heard rumblings about a cosmetics safety bill that would potentially make your personal-care products safer. And if you’re like us, your first thought was, Wait, how are they not safe right now? That’s why we decided to take a deep dive into the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which was cosponsored in 2015 by California senator Dianne Feinstein and Maine senator Susan Collins and is currently up for a vote in the Senate. If enacted, the bill would make some major amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—essentially the bible for consumer-product regulations—which hasn’t been substantially updated since 1938, when cake mascara was revolutionary and contouring wasn’t even a glimmer on Kim Kardashian’s brow bone. In short, it needs an update. Big time.

According to official testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, our almost 80-year-old rules are pretty useless when it comes to the modern beauty industry. The Food and Drug Administration currently prohibits or restricts just 11 substances (including mercury and chloroform) in our beauty and skin-care products. To give you an idea of what that number should look like in 2016, the European Union has banned more than 1,300 chemicals and restricted 256 more. Yikes.

“Our skin is our largest organ, and many ingredients contained in these products—whether it be lotion, shampoo, or deodorant—are quickly absorbed by the skin,” Feinstein said in her testimony last month. “There is increasing evidence that certain ingredients in personal-care products are linked to a range of health concerns, ranging from reproductive issues, such as fertility problems and miscarriage, to cancer.”

As we see it, the three most salient propositions of the Personal Care Products Safety Act are as follows.

1. The FDA would have the authority to recall unsafe products.Right now, unbelievably, this is an action they can only suggest. “Cosmetic recalls are voluntary actions taken by manufacturers or distributors,” Theresa Eisenman, a press officer at the FDA, tells Allure. “The FDA can ask a company to recall a product. However, it’s ultimately their decision.” Crazy, right?

2. Companies would have to tell the FDA how the sausage is made, so to speak.The bill would require cosmetics companies to register their manufacturing processes with the FDA. As it stands, the government organization can currently only provide “nonbinding recommendations” in this area, says Eisenman. “Under the current [regulations], manufacturers are not required to submit safety information to the FDA,” she says. If something goes wrong once a product hits shelves, the FDA can get involved, but the process is totally reactionary. And who wants to wait until they start using a product to see if it’s going to burn their scalp? If the new legislation is enacted, the FDA would have a much more proactive role in determining which ingredients are allowed on shelves.

3. Potentially nasty chemicals would get checked out.If the cosmetics safety bill passes, each year the FDA would be required to independently review the safety of at least five different chemicals. The bill outlines the first five up for review—diazolidinyl urea (preservative), lead acetate (color additive), methylene glycol/methanediol/formaldehyde (hair straighteners and preservatives), propylparaben (preservative), and quaternium-15 (formaldehyde-releasing preservative and surfactant).

But before we start going all Erin Brockovich, it’s important to understand that the aim of the cosmetic safety bill is to implement stricter scrutiny and safety standards, not turn the beauty industry totally organic. “‘Chemical’ is a misnomer,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “Everything is chemical—even water is chemical. So chemicals aren’t necessarily bad. What it actually boils down to is toxicity—is it corrosive or carcinogenic?” Of course, if you’re not a chemist, figuring out which chemicals to try and avoid is tough. King suggests avoiding parabens or polyethylene glycol (PEG) if you have skin sensitivity.

The very good news is that several large personal-care companies are backing the bill, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and Unilever, along with the Personal Care Products Council, an industry trade organization that represents the global cosmetics and personal-care products industry. Emoji hand clap to the big dogs for supporting what’s right for their customers.

You can track the bill’s progress as it makes its way through the legislature, Schoolhouse Rock style, here.

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