In December 2019, Representative Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the Cosmetic Safety and Enhancement Act. The Act would empower the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct safety reviews of cosmetic ingredients and mandate recalls of products that have been associated with serious health events. In March 2020, the Act was forwarded to the House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. That spring, COVID-19 and the overwhelming uncertainty of the pandemic took priority, however, and no further action was taken on the Act. Now that the 117th Congress has been sworn in, we must ensure that the Act is reintroduced and acted upon, to advance meaningful legislation that protects against harms caused by personal products, including cosmetics.
Most people assume that cosmetics and other personal care products that are marketed and sold in the U.S. are safe and are regulated by the FDA. In fact, the federal Cosmetics Act—last updated in 1938—does not prohibit manufacturers from using dangerous ingredients in their products. Manufacturers are allowed to not provide full disclosure about the chemicals in their products and to sell those products to the American public without FDA oversight.
Cosmetics and personal care products include makeup (foundation, concealer, lipstick, etc.), moisturizer, soap, perfume, fingernail polish, hair products, and deodorant. These products comprise a disproportionately large source of chemical exposure for women and girls. On average, women in the U.S. use 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every day, while men use an average of 6 products daily, with 85 unique ingredients.
Ingredients and contaminants found in these products have been linked to an increased risk of negative health outcomes for women, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, early onset of puberty, fibroids, endometriosis, miscarriage, infertility, pregnancy complications, endocrine disruption, hormone level changes, diabetes, obesity, and more. Practicing good hygiene and self-care should not increase a person’s risk of experiencing health problems like these!
Because the FDA does not require manufacturers to disclose cosmetic ingredients, dangerous chemicals (such as formaldehyde) can be masked by nonspecific descriptors like “fragrance.” This term can be used to describe any one (or more) of about 3,000 chemicals, leaving consumers in the dark about the actual contents of the products they use. As noted above, the harmful ingredients often used in cosmetics, including those used to formulate “fragrance,” have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental health effects, birth defects, and other problems.
To safeguard women’s health and enable people to make informed decisions about the products they use, we need federal legislation that ensures meaningful protection and information for consumers. The NWHN endorses federal proposals that mandate that manufacturers and disclose complete information about their ingredients (including those provided by manufacturers’ suppliers) to the FDA and consumers. We support legislation that requires manufacturers to disclose any ingredients that have been linked to cancer and other reproductive harms — so consumers can avoid these substances if they want to.
The NWHN will continue our work with the House Energy and Commerce Committee to shape Committee-led legislation to address cosmetic safety and empower the FDA to review cosmetic ingredients and recall products that pose a health risk. For the first time in decades, Congress is working on a bipartisan effort to update the Cosmetic Act and expand consumer protections. Please join us in urging them to continue these efforts by calling your Member of Congress and urging them to support (and pass) safe cosmetics regulation. Find out what the NWHN is doing on this and other federal efforts by signing up for our e-alerts on our website at: www.nwhn.org. You can also join the fight by contacting your Members of Congress and urging them to pass the Act.
M. Isabelle Chaudry, J.D., is the Senior Policy Manager for the NWHN and an advocate for marginalized communities of women. Isabelle actively lobbies and provides expert testimony before Congress and the FDA for women’s health and cosmetic policies. She is an LL.M candidate in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and a Board Member for Women’s Voices for the Earth.
 H.R.5279 - Cosmetic Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5279.
 Environment Working Group (EWG), Personal Care Products Safety Act Would Improve Cosmetics Safety: https://www.ewg.org/Personal-Care-Products-Safety-Act-Would-Improve-Cosmetics-Safety.
 Environmental Working Group (EWG), Personal Care Products Safety Act Would Improve Cosmetics Safety: https://www.ewg.org/Personal-Care-Products-Safety-Act-Would-Improve-Cosmetics-Safety.
 Chaudry M. I., Harmful Chemicals in Personal Care and Cosmetic Products Lead to Negative Health Outcomes for Women, August 19, 2019, NWHN, Retrieved from https://www.nwhn.org/harmful-chemicals-in-personal-care-and-cosmetic-products-lead-to-negative-health-outcomes-for-women/.
 Johnson PI, Le AM, Materna B, Cosmetics Containing Ingredients Linked to Cancer or Reproductive Harm: Data Reported to the California Safe Cosmetics Program 2009-2015, Richmond (CA): California Department of Public Health, Occupational Health Branch, 2016. Online: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DEODC/OHB/CSCP/CDPH%20Document%20Library/DataReport.pdf.