How Safe Is The Proposed Safe Cosmetics Act?

Some of the chemicals used in everyday cosmetics today are scientifically linked to cancer, birth defects, skin allergies or other illnesses. The proposed Safe Cosmetics Act aims to review the legal environment that essentially allows, or approves use of these chemicals in cosmetics manufactured today. The outcome of the proposed amendments and the impact upon the FDA may not provide a very practical solution.

Independent consumer groups, such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), have done a magnificent job over the last few years in creating a deeper awareness amongst the general public about the potential dangers of many of these chemicals.

Through EWG’s exposure plus other independent organizations, the public, including myself, have become increasingly aware of the fact that we have been incredibly trusting of the contents in cosmetic products. Trusting the manufacturers actually, in that they would never want to knowingly produce something that was harmful to their customers. Unfortunately it seems that predominantly, the bottom line rules, not the customers.

Manufacturers have understandably not wanted to disclose their ingredients for competitive purposes. For the same reason they would claim that their product contained some new ingredient that made it a whole lot more beneficial and therefore more appealing to buy. Competition, especially in the fast and furious megacity retail world, where stores typically offer hundreds of different products all claiming to do the same thing, is fierce!

Essentially, this is where organizations like the FDA come in – a regulation body to control all these unscrupulous manufacturers in the best interests of us unsuspecting consumers! The nanny organization that is there to take care of us while we go about our daily lives not having to worry about the integrity of the manufacturing world. However, knowing there are organizations like the FDA in place tends to make us complacent. As soon as we become complacent, we tend to leave the gap wide open for the unscrupulous. We all know too well how much persuasion the bottom line has, so we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that manufacturers make products that they know will sell, even if they don’t deliver on their promise, or worse still, deliver carcinogenic, estrogenic or allergic qualities.

Being required by law to disclose ingredients on cosmetic products will help somewhat towards protecting us consumers from unknowingly using harmful products. However, in reality, enforcing manufacturers to disclose the full list of ingredients is one thing, but policing the integrity of it will become a mammoth task. Eg. How easy would it be to conveniently leave out that one ingredient on your list, that is a known carcinogen?

Encouraging consumers to become more aware of what ingredients are good and what are not would be a very positive spin-off and perhaps a necessary part of the effectiveness of this law.

The proposed ingredients database to be created by the FDA will contain details of the ingredients, safety data assessments and full company and product details associated with these ingredients. In addition, there will be 3 categories created:

1. Prohibited
2. Restricted (specified limits)
3. Safe (no limitations)

In order for this proposed database to become not only trustworthy, but worthy of enforcing, the contents of this database would need to be based upon accepted scientific principles. A lack of this scientific data will nullify the effectiveness and surely challenge the enforcement of the law?

We struggle today with an FDA organization that cannot deliver on the regulations it already has in place, which are mostly hugely outdated. Time moves too fast and seems to be moving increasingly faster. How can we expect the FDA to be even more effective if we increase their role and the complexities required? Surely the answer lies more in simplifying their role?

Keeping the Cosmetics Ingredients Review (CIR) Expert Panel in place, but more importantly, keeping them independent in my opinion, is crucial to assisting the FDA to simplify their role. The proposal to change this process of ingredient safety profile review to include the FDA just adds another unnecessary layer. Who then, one may ask, will review the FDA? As long as the CIR are open, transparent and approachable, surely they can be trusted? Especially if they willingly accept submissions of scientific findings from other organizations for review? They don’t try and do everything alone and are open to scrutiny.

To be successful in the implementation of the proposed Safe Cosmetic Act, the FDA will have a huge burden placed upon it to be 100% perfect to all parties, while balancing the co-operation of the manufacturers and the needs of the consumers. The vision this creates is another monolithic state organization that works itself into being hopelessly ineffective due to the complexity of the tasks required, as well as the huge number of resources. Ultimately the desired effect of creating a safer world for consumers will be lost.

If we are trying to protect ourselves from toxic chemicals in the cosmetic manufacturing process, I do not believe creating an even larger nanny organization, such as the FDA, will help. Nanny organizations discourage empowerment of individuals or companies alike and certainly do not engender a relationship of trust. Without this, will we really have created a safer environment?