Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 was introduced June 24th. I’ve reviewed the bill and have been following all the discussions. Unfortunately, it seems to have somewhat polarized the handcrafted soap community – surprising since we all want essentially the same things … to be able to run our businesses, make safe soaps and cosmetics and not be overly regulated out of business.

Personally, my political philosophy tends toward opposing ANY additional regulation of any kind in any industry or field. However, I am also pragmatic, and realize that stopping the government from issuing new regulations is, at this point, a relatively futile endeavor.

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that sooner or later, there will be legislation that affects cosmetic regulation. It’s too much of an issue to be bypassed for very much longer, as evidenced by the attempts over the last several years. We’ve seen that each attempt builds on past tries, gradually changing the proposed legislation. Likely that process will continue until something passes.

That being the case, the best I can hope for is that that whatever regulation comes down that would/could/should affect me and my business is the least restrictive and most sensible as possible.

What does that mean to me, as relates to the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011?

Do I support safe cosmetics? Yes – that’s why I started making handcrafted soap and cosmetics in the first place!

Do I want harmful ingredients or byproducts (trace or otherwise) in the cosmetics I make? Definitely no.

Do I think there ARE harmful ingredients or byproducts in some cosmetics on the market? Well, possibly. I see reports about phalates and formaldehyde and other potentially harmful ingredients. I’m not enough of a chemist or medial researcher to have a definite opinion about how harmful they may be, but I don’t want them in MY products and I would like to know if they are in cosmetics I purchase, so I can make an informed decision about purchasing them or not.

Of course, when speaking about something being “harmful,” it’s relative.  Everything can be harmful in high enough quantities and conversely, everything has a level below which it is not harmful at all.  Certain things, like salt and water, for example, are “harmful” (even deadly) and too high quantities; but on the other hand, you can’t live without them. So determining if something is “harmful” requires realistic evaluation of what the safe limits are and working from that.

Would I like a publicly accessible source of information about potentially harmful ingredients? Yes – that would be helpful to me, both as a manufacturer and as a consumer.

Who do I think should determine the safety of cosmetic ingredients? I think the manufacturer of the ingredient should test for and know the safety of the ingredient they produce and when they sell those ingredients to suppliers they should provide that information so it can be passed on to me, so I can make an informed decision on using the ingredient or not.  That safety information should also be available to the public so a consumer can make an informed decision as to what cosmetic(s) she purchases.

However, reliance on a manufacturers evaluation of the safety of a product they sell has been abused in the past in other industries (drugs, pesticides, food, etc).  Relying on the FDA to make the final determination hasn’t always worked, but on the other hand it’s the only alternative available.  I don’t have a better idea.

Should I have to test the products I manufacture for ingredient safety? No, provided I have the ingredient information from the supplier and am using ingredients that have been determined to be safe.

Should cosmetic companies have to register with the FDA? It goes against my “less restrictive regulations” political stance, but I can see how turning the voluntary registration program into mandatory registration is likely to be the way the wind is blowing.  It would provide funds to the FDA.

Should small (micro) businesses be exempt from registration? Definitely, yes.  Micro-businesses have a minuscule impact on the on the total quantity of cosmetic products on the market and generally use existing ingredients (they rarely, if ever, “invent” ingredients).

Should cosmetic manufacturers have to register their products and their ingredients with the FDA? Again, it goes against my “less restrictive regulations” political stance, however, I can see that it might be a way for the FDA to get the information about what ingredients are actually in use so they can realistically set priorities for determining what’s “safe”.

Should small (micro) businesses be exempt from reporting every product and ingredient? Definitely, yes.  Again, micro-businesses generally use existing ingredients and therefore wouldn’t be a source of any additional information on ingredients in use.

Should the use of “flavor” and “fragrance” as ingredients be eliminated (with all components needing to be listed)? The jury is still out for me on this one.  I have no real information, but I expect there may be many, many ingredients in one fragrance, and I do feel that a company that develops a product (fragrance or otherwise) should be able to protect the formulation. However, if there IS something in a fragrance that is potentially harmful, in general I think consumers have a right to know.  I’d also like to know so I can make informed decisions about what I put in my products.  On the other hand, I like being able to say “fragrance” – it is SO much easier than listing all the components.

Maybe there’s a middle ground that can be reached that will still inform and protect cosmetic consumers, inform cosmetic manufacturers, but still allow fragrance manufacturers to keep their proprietary information.

Do I support existing cosmetic labeling regulations? Yes, I do.  I think it’s important that consumers are able to see what’s in a cosmetic so they can make an informed decision about whether to buy or use it.

What about identifying “contaminants”? Unfortunately, the word has several definitions depending on how it’s used.  There’s a big difference between an innocuous “contaminant” (like minerals in water), a harmful “contaminant” that is in or created within a cosmetic or a naturally occurring component in a botanical.

As far as I’m concerned, innocuous contaminants shouldn’t need to be addressed through legislation.  Naturally occurring components in a botanical are what they are, and also shouldn’t be addressed through legislation.  However, I know the EU does have restrictions on some naturally occurring botanical components and it’s not unlikely that similar restrictions will occur in the US.

As for actually harmful components (either added as ingredients or as a by-product of the reaction between ingredients) that end up “contaminating” a product – yes, I do think those should be identified, although the level at which they are considered “harmful” should be clearly identified.  As noted above, everything is harmful at some level or another and nearly everything has “tolerable limits”.

The Future

I don’t know if the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 is going to pass.  In this legislative environment, with all the other things going on in Congress, it’s anyone’s guess.  It’s a long road from where it is now to getting passed and implements and the regulations amended.

So far, as mentioned above, this bill is better than the last one.  If it moves forward, I hope to see it made even better through the legislative process.  If it dies at some point, then I hope all the progress will be moved into whatever comes next.

I want to be (and plan to be) involved in the legislative process.

Marie

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on this Marie. We’re definitely a little “stricter” here in Canada but in the grand scheme of things it’s probably still quite moderate and fair. I do wonder though how much is actually enforced given all the sloppiness and what-not I still see on the shelves. i.e. There’s not much point creating onerous legislation if no one follows it. In the end let’s hope there’s a reasonable compromise that encourages good, responsible practices at all levels while also encouraging innovation.
    Karri

    1. Enforcement is definitely an issue for the FDA here in the US (not sure about Canada). They just don’t have enough staff or funding to check everything. On the one hand I’m somewhat happy about that … my personal philosophy does NOT agree with government regulations in general. On the other hand, I also see many misbranded products on the shelves and it makes me a little crazy.

      If everyone understood and followed the rules, it would make life easier for all – consumers, manufacturers and even the FDA. (And there would be less push for more regulation by those whose political philosophy includes using governmental regulations to keep people in line.)

      Marie

  2. It seems regulation would help your business as it would likely prompt consumers to seek out products that are safe (such as yours).

    In reponse to your statement, “As noted above, everything is harmful at some level or another and nearly everything has “tolerable limits”, I must question tolerable limits for whom? Would a mass study be performed to determine tolerable limits for infants, cancer patients, asthmatics, allergy sufferers, autistic individuals and would testing be done in each specific geographic location to determine the toxic load in relation to the toxic load already prevalent due to other sources?

    Unless you experience symptoms to what others consider tolerable limits, you naturally have no reason to try to comprehend how awfully ill fragrance chemicals can make a person (I can completely understand how this can happen, but I beg that you please try to imagine and empathize).

    There is much evidence that autistics as well as MCS sufferers have impaired methylation/glutathione pathways due to genetic defects. Glutathione is the main detoxifying enzyme in the human body. If it is not available because the body is not adequately producing it (due to genetic defects), the chemicals that are tolerable to most people is literally a poison to the person lacking an adequate detoxification pathway. Metabolism is an extremely complicated bodily system with several pathways and every single element is dependent upon another, so unfortunately there is no quick fix – pop this pill- solution for these individuals. Avoidance of too much chemicals is the only way to limit the ill effects.

    Unfortunately, accumulating too much chemicals is all to easy…there are chemicals in the medication most take for granted; in the food we eat (naturally and man-applied); in the water we drink; in the outdoor air – from transportation exhaust, pesticides & fertilizers sprayed, manufacturing processes; in indoor air – cleaners & sanitizers, paint, treated wood, carpet glue & stain protectors, plastic electronic & furniture, plastic everything and the list goes on…

    You would have to agree the list above is a huge amount of chemical sources. I, as a person with MCS, would say I’m accepting of all the above mentioned chemical sources because they have contributed to the greater good of society, thus far.

    However, I beg you to please consider supporting the greater good of society by reducing the toxic load we put on ourselves and others for no good reason. Chemically fragranced air fresheners, deodorants, hairsprays, shampoos, detergents, fabric softeners and perfume/cologne are not necessity and do not contribute to the greater good of society, but contribute to the toxic burden on every single body already so prevalent. Please choose healthier options and support legislation such as the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011.

    1. I agree that there are WAY too many pollutants and toxic chemicals unnecessarily out in the environment. It is one of the reasons I live out on a ranch, keep my personal environmental footprint low and make my own natural cosmetics. It’s what got me started in the business in the first place … I actually started out making only unscented products (until I realized that I couldn’t make a viable business that way).

      I do, in fact, support many aspects of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 – and I most certainly support safe cosmetics overall. The difficulty comes in determining “safe” levels for substances used in cosmetics (and elsewhere). As you clearly stated, what’s “safe” for one person is not necessarily safe for all people. Personally, I lean toward fewer regulations, and for any necessary regulations to be a least restrictive as possible. That would mean, for me, “safe” would be what is safe for the “general public”. That being said, if the safe for the general population is what is used as the standard, there is an absolute need for full disclosure so that people with specific allergies or physical conditions to be able to identify the products that they can or shouldn’t use.

      The difficulty, and where the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 needs work, is in how “safe” is determined and what, exactly, needs to be disclosed – and how it can all be done and monitored in a way that small cosmetics companies don’t end up with regulations that are so burdensome that it puts them out of business.

      It is my hope that the sponsors of the bill will continue to consult the small cosmetics manufacturers in order to come up with revisions that will ensure safe cosmetics and also allow small businesses to stay in business. So far, I think we’re going in that direction.

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