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Safe Cosmetics




What's Wrong With Cosmetics Safety?


When it come to cosmetics - items we slather on our skin, soak in, and put on our most vulnerable babies - you probably think someone's looking out for you. This is one ares where it's easy to assume that there's government oversight about the safety of ingredients or the truthfulness of product labeling. Well, think again. Cosmetics are some of the lease regulated products you can buy.


The most important law regarding cosmetics is the Federal  Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938 (FD&C Act), which grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limited authority over cosmetics manufacturers. The problem is, FDA has no authority to regulate ingredients, require safety testing, or even oder a recall if harmful products are found on the shelves. Cosmetics manufacturers are not required to share the formulations of their products, to report any adverse health impacts from product use, or share studies that they may have conducted on chronic health effects.


To learn more about current Regulation of Cosmetics, check out the material in Green Rainbow Revolution's Explore section.  What's important to discuss here is why the status quo stinks!

Did you Know?

  • 89% of all ingredients in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution.[1] 
  • The FD&C Act is ridiculously outdated, and has not been updated since it was first enacted more than 70 years ago.[2]

  • Scientific research has made us aware that even low-dose exposures to hazardous chemicals, when repeated, can have negative, long-term health effects.[3]

  • More than 500 products sold in the U.S. contain ingredients that have been banned in Japan, Canada or the European Union, and nearly 100 that are considered unsafe in France.[4]

  • 22% of all personal care products may be contaminated with the cancer-causing impurity 1,4-dioxane, including many children’s products.[5]

  • 60% of sunscreens contain the potential hormone disruptor oxybenzone that readily penetrates the skin and contaminates the bodies of 97% of Americans.[6]

  • A wide range of nanomaterials whose safety is in question may be common in personal care products.[7]

  • 61% of tested lipstick brands contain residues of lead.[8]

  • When tested in 2009, many children's face paint tested positive for low levels of lead and other heavy metals, but NO level is safe.[9]


  • The Solution: Pass The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013


    In the United States, California is leading with regulatory reform, and passed the California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005. This law requires manufacturers to disclose any product ingredient that is on a state or federal list of chemical that can cause cancer or birth defects. The California Safe Cosmetics Program is compiling safety data and making it available to the public.

    Federal law is still slow to follow suit. But in March 2013, Rep. Schakowsky reintroduced H.R. 1385, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, this legislation would overhaul the outdated FD&C Act and:

    • Require a safety assessment of all cosmetic ingredients using a health-based standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers, and other vulnerable populations.

    • Phase out cosmetic ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, and reproductive or developmental harm.

    • Require registration of cosmetic manufacturing, packaging, and distributing facilities. Microbusinesses with annual revenue under $2 million are exempt from registration.

    • Close labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure on product labels and websites including salon products and the constituent ingredients in fragrances.

    • Give workers access to information about hazardous chemicals in personal care products used in professional salons.

    • Require data-sharing to avoid duplicative testing, encourage transparency and reduce the need for animal testing. Validated alternatives to animal testing will also be encouraged.

    • Give the FDA recall authority and require notification of adverse health effects to the FDA.

    • Provide adequate support to the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors so it can provide effective oversight to the cosmetics industry.

    • Establish a pro-rated registration fee to generate the resources needed to administer the Act, while exempting small businesses with annual revenue under $10 million.

    • Direct the FDA to provide technical support to small businesses to help them carry out the requirements of the Act.

    • Protect stronger state and local laws.[10] 


    What You Can Do


    Watch the Story of Cosmetics, an informative, animated video from The Story of Stuff Project.

    Check out current Take Action campaigns and support passage of the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Products Care Act.

    Check out these handy shopping apps to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your products: Goodguide or Think Dirty.

    Don't fall for "pinkwashing"! Most people now know someone who has had breast cancer or someone who has been affected by breast cancer in some way. Many major cosmetics companies capitalize on this by marketing to those of us who have a vested interest in helping find a cure for breast cancer, marketing their products as those whose sales will give back to the fight. Many of those same products, however, have chemicals in them that may be contributing to the very cancer they are claiming to be helping fight against. 

    Tips for Choosing Safe Cosmetics


    Read Labels Carefully

    Read the ingredients carefully when cosmetics are labelled as "safe," "natural," or "organic." There is NO legal standard or regulation governing use of these terms and cosmetics manufacturers are free to use them as they please.  (NOTE: When you see these terms used on Green Rainbow Revolution's website, we're using them with their common language meaning - something is natural if it contains no synthetic chemical ingredients, and organic only if specific ingredients are certified organic under food and agricultural regulations).

    Ingredients to Avoid

    These are some of the most common ingredients that you might want to avoid. Please check the expert resources below to learn more about the potential health risks posed by these, and other, toxic ingredients.
  • Coal Tar - found in dandruff shampoos, anti-itch creams and hair dye.

  • Formaldehyde - found in nail polish products.

  • Fragrance - found in many products, fragrances can contain a host of mystery ingredients, including synthetic musk and diethyl pthalate (DBP).

  • Lead Acetate - found in some hair dyes and cleansers.

  • Mercury - often listed as thimerosal on ingredient labels, it's found in some eye drops, ointments and deodorants, and illegally imported skin lighteners. Also look for calomel, mercurio, or mercurio chloride.

  • Parabens - found in acne products.

  • Petrochemicals - found in some hair relaxers, shampoos, mascaras, perfumes, foundations, lipsticks and lip balms.

  • Placenta - found in some hair relaxers, moisturizers and toners.

  • Phthalates - found in some nail polish, fragrances and hair spray. 

  • Toluene - found in some soaps and nail polish products.

  • Triclosan & Triclocarban - found in some toothpastes, shaving cream, and nail polish products.


  • Learn More

    Advocacy Organizations

    Breast Cancer Fund - The Breast Cancer Fund works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals, including those in cosmetics.  Its campaigns include safe cosmetics, green chemistry, and safe children's products.  Its website provides tips for cancer prevention, and an Action Center so you can participate in a wide range of advocacy initiatives.

    Center for Environmental Health (CEH) - The CEH runs a variety of campaigns aimed at reducing chemical exposure in consumer products.  In August 2013, it conducted an independent study that found cancer-causing chemicals in more than 98 shampoos, soaps and personal care products sold by major brands. It has filed a lawsuit against four companies for violating California cosmetics laws. It provides information on Chemicals of Concern, as well as tips and resources about how you can get involved.

    Cosmetics Info - This website for consumers is run by the industry-leading Personal Care Products Council. It presents the industries view on the current status of cosmetics regulation in the United States, Canada, the EU and Japan, as well as information product types and ingredients.

    The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics - The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a large coalition of organizations including, the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, the Breast Cancer Fund, Commonweal, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and Women's Voices for the Earth. It has more than 150 endorsing organizations, thousands of grassroots supporters, and over 1,300 companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, pledging to phase out use of harmful chemicals in their products. The website posts a large amount of information on Federal, State, and International cosmetics regulations, research and studies documenting the potential health impacts posed by dangerous cosmetics ingredients, and Action Center with tips for what you can do to get involved. It also has a detailed list explaining the potential health impacts of Chemicals of Concern.

    Environmental Working Group (EWG) - EWG is a national organization leading environmental health research and advocacy programs. One of its key program areas is advocating to remove toxics from all consumer products and promoting safe cosmetics. Its website has detailed Consumer Guides to help you select safer cosmetics, sunscreens, bug repellants, and other household products. For a list organized by product type, age of user, and ingredient, check out the Tops Tips for Safer Products. Its Skin Deep Database lets you search more than 78,000 products, and get in-depth information on products, ingredients, and risks to different age groups.

    David Suzuki Foundation - This Canadian organization works "to protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and in the future." It runs a variety of environmental campaigns, and its Health initiative lays out the Dirty Dozen Chemicals to Avoid.

    Goodguide - Goodguide is dedicated to providing consumer protection information to protect the environment, health and safety.  A staff of scientific and toxicology experts created Scorecard, a database where you can search and get detailed information on the safety of more than 145,000 food, toy, personal care, and household products.

    Safe Cosmetics Alliance (SCA) - SCA is a trade association for industry trade organizations representing manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retail owners, salon/spa owners, and licensed beauty professionals who support H.R. 4395, the Cosmetic Safety Amendments Act of 2012. They seek to strengthen regulations to provide more transparency to consumers, protections in the workplace, and to establish the FDA as a regulatory authority for the cosmetics industry.

    Women's Voices for the Earth -  Women's Voices for the Earth is a national organization dedicated to eliminating toxic chemicals that harm women's health. Its campaign includes safe cosmetics and fragrances, safe chemicals, and safe cleaning products.  The website provides many resources including a Non-Toxic Shipping Guide, chemical safety Fact Sheets, and an Action Center.

    Government Agencies & Regulatory Resouces

    U.S. Federal Drug Administration - The FDA website provides links to laws, regulations, and guidance materials explaining cosmetics regulation.

    Personal Care Product Council - This industry trade group provides voluntary oversight of cosmetics in the United States.

    California Department of Public Health - To see where the US should be headed, check out the California Safe Cosmetics Act and the California Safe Cosmetics Program.

    European Commission - For an eye-opening look at the protections available in the European Union, check out the website.  It posts laws, regulations, and access to a database of cosmetic ingredients, and list of banned ingredients that have been banned because they are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to reproduction.

    Health Canada - Like the European Union, Canada has taken a proactive stance and banned hundreds of chemicals from use in cosmetics. Canada requires stringent labeling of ingredients, and keeps a Hotlist of banned ingredients.


    1. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, FDA Regulations
    2. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, FDA Regulatory Shortcomings over Cosmetics
    3. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Low-Dose Exposures.
    4. Environmental Working Group, Myths on Cosmetic Safety.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Ibid.
    8. Ibid.
    9. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Pretty Scary: Heavy Metals in Face Paint.
    10. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, The Need for Federal Safe Cosmetics Legislation.
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