<--Return to Latest News Page

2007 Latest News

Press Coverage

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
February 20, 2007

State mulls cosmetic safety law; Bill based on California measure

By Lisa Stiffler

Shimmery lips, odorless armpits and minty-fresh breath are all possible thanks to countless personal-care products.

But what's in that stuff and is it safe for consumers, children and the environment?

The federal government doesn't know. Scientists have linked some of the ingredients to developmental defects and cancer. Even if shoppers want to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals, manufacturers don't have to list all of them on the label, instead using vague terminology such as "fragrance."

So state lawmakers are following California's lead and taking the matter into their own hands with the Washington Safe Cosmetics Act of 2007.

"We need to know what's in there, and we should regulate it," said Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds.

Chase is the lead sponsor of the proposed law, HB2166, which will have its first hearing today.

But before the bill is aired publicly, the cosmetics industry has come forward offering to share more information with the public and the government and is suggesting ways to make the legislation work better.

"We had to, as an industry, catch up to the idea that transparency is the most important thing for consumers," said John Hurson, executive vice president for government affairs with the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a national trade group based in Washington, D.C. "They have to know what's in their products. They have to themselves be able to get the information they need."

The changes arose, he said, because of California's 2005 cosmetics safety act, which went into effect in January. The Washington act is based on those rules and other states are considering similar regulations.

If passed, the act would go into effect Jan. 1, 2009, and would:

  • Require cosmetics manufacturers with annual sales of more than $1 million to disclose to the state Department of Health all ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer or reproductive damage, including the ambiguous "fragrance" or "other ingredients" found on product labels.

  • Allow the health department to investigate products containing the potentially dangerous chemicals.

  • Allow the department to require manufacturers to provide relevant data on the health effects of the chemicals.

  • If toxic chemicals are discovered in products, allow the department to contact other state or federal agencies to take steps to protect consumers and workers -- including women working with artificial nail chemicals, many of whom are immigrants and may have difficulty understanding the risks because of language barriers.

Hurson's group has suggested that Washington use California's list of chemicals deemed carcinogenic or harmful to reproduction. Another option would be relying on an industry-funded, independent review panel.

The Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for cosmetic safety, has little regulatory authority over makeup, soap, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash, shaving cream, hair dyes and other items "for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance."

The FDA does not do safety checks before items are stocked on drugstore shelves.

If problems arise, the agency can ask to see safety research -- but manufacturers do not have to comply. An agreement created by the cosmetics association that went into effect this year requires members to share that research.

The group is also creating a public Web site with health information for 3,000 of the 14,000 ingredients used in cosmetics. The site will be up by this summer and focuses on common, non-natural ingredients.

Of particular concern has been dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer added to nail polish. It has been linked to development problems in men's genitals and made California's list of dangerous chemicals. As a result, most nail polish makers have stopped using the ingredient, Hurson said.

The association has stressed that the beauty products are safe when used as directed and that the chemicals of concern are present in amounts too small to cause harm.

But people don't use just one product, argue environmental and health advocates. That increases the number and amounts of ingredients to which consumers are exposed.

"Those small exposures over time do add up," said Gretchen Lee, senior policy coordinator with the Breast Cancer Fund, a non-profit group based in San Francisco.

Advocate groups also worry about what happens to the chemicals once they've washed down the shower drain and into the environment.

"I'm being careful to choose safer products," said Margaret Shield of the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, an alliance of mostly-Northwest advocacy groups. "But I know I'm being exposed to these chemicals through the environment."

For safe products without harmful ingredients

top of page


Copyright Healthy-Communications.com. All rights reserved.

Telephone: 310-457-5176 or 888-377-8877 | Fax: 877-885-4657 | For General Information: mailto:helthcom@aol.com

Webmaster for Healthy-Communications.com: Shelley R. Kramer