Is there lead in your lipstick? Arsenic in your face powder? Proposal in Washington legislature would ban those chemicals in cosmetics.
Wed., March 29, 2023
OLYMPIA – Varying levels of formaldehyde, lead and arsenic are often unlabeled ingredients in a number of cosmetic and personal care products, a state Department of Ecology study found earlier this year.
The result of the study, which focused on products marketed toward people of color, spurred a bill from the state House of Representatives to ban cosmetics and personal care products containing toxic chemicals. The bill was voted out of committee last week.
With some exceptions, the FDA doesn’t regulate ingredients in cosmetics, though some manufacturers voluntarily regulate chemicals in their products. Certain ingredients are exempt from public disclosure laws for ingredient lists on packaging, an area that the FDA does regulate.
The study found formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in 26 of 30 tested body lotions and hair products. The products contained a chemical ingredient that emits formaldehyde as it breaks down over time. Shine ’n Jam Extra Hold Conditioning Styling Gel had the highest level of formaldehyde, according to the study.
The study also detected lead in some Black Radiance Pressed Powder Foundation and CoverGirl Continuous Color Lipstick, while a CoverGirl Clean Fresh Pressed Powder Foundation tested contained lead and arsenic.
Exposure to these chemicals carries risks like brain damage, cancer and reproductive harms. Often, the study found, the chemicals are not included on the ingredients list.
“We don’t buy our cosmetics at random, we buy the same products again and again,” said Marissa Smith, a toxicologist with Ecology. “For people using the same products every day, this is an important source of exposure.”
For their study, Ecology chose products commonly used by Washington residents and sold at popular retailers such as Walmart. Some retailers, like Target and Sephora, have recently taken steps to remove some hazardous chemicals from products they carry.
Many of the products containing these toxic chemicals are marketed specifically toward women of color, like hair relaxers and certain foundation shades.
“Women of color are more vulnerable and have more exposure to these persistent, toxic chemicals,” said Yuwa Vosper, policy and regulatory manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “In underserved communities, women of color often lack the resources to purchase quality personal care products and live in areas where the top drawer products aren’t available.”
Opponents expressed concerns that regulation of formaldehyde releasing agents is too hasty and called for more thorough study before Washington bans this class of chemical. Small businesses and independent cosmetologists would need to find alternatives to products they use regularly.
“We fear our industry may be collateral damage in an attempt to target manufacturers,” said D’Arcy Harrison from Cosmetologists of Washington United.
If the bill passes, Washington would be the first state to put these restrictions on formaldehyde releasing agents in cosmetics.
Formaldehyde releasing agents are commonly used as a preservative, keeping products from growing bacteria, fungi and other contaminants, said Kelsey Johnson, vice president of state government affairs with the Personal Care Products Council.
“If products are not preserved, they could become moldy, discolored or develop an unpleasant smell,” she said. “Microbial growth in products used around the eyes and skin can cause serious health problems like infection or irritation.”
Manufacturers have found effective alternatives to formaldehyde releasing agents as preservatives, Smith said. Ecology has been studying the safety and effectiveness of these alternatives.
In part to address these concerns, the bill also directs the department to help small businesses and independent cosmetologists transition to using safer products, instructing the agency to work with stakeholders in evaluating alternative products.
The bill moved out of the House of Representatives with a vote of 55-41, with two excused, earlier this session. Representatives largely voted along party lines, a trend continuing as the bill moves through Senate committees.
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