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Will California’s Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act Alter National Regulation?

Toxic Free Cosmetics Act

On Tuesday, March 21, 2019 California lawmakers introduced a groundbreaking new bill that has the potential to completely shift cosmetic product regulation in the United States. The proposed Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act would ban the use in cosmetics sold in California of 20 chemicals, including lead, mercury, and asbestos.

The full list of proposed banned “Toxic Twenty” chemicals includes:

  • Asbestos
  • Butylparaben
  • Carbon black
  • Diethylhexyl phthalate
  • Fluorinated PFAS compounds
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde releasers
  • Isobutylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Lead
  • Mercury, related compounds
  • Propylparaben
  • Toluene
  • Triclosan

Under the proposed legislation, cosmetic products containing these chemicals would be labeled “adulterated cosmetics,” and would not be allowed to be sold in California.

Assembly Bill 495 was introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (Democrat-Torrance) and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (Democrat-Oakland).

“Most of us, including me, use cosmetics on a daily basis,” said Assemblymember Wicks in the official press release. “Some still contain chemicals that are harmful to our bodies. AB 495 will protect consumers so that we can continue to use our favorite products without worrying about what’s in our mascara.”

Concerns about the use of chemicals

Assemblymember Muratsuchi echoed concerns about the use of chemicals in cosmetic products:

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“Californians deserve to know whether the cosmetic products they purchase in the state are not harmful to their health,” said Assemblymember Muratsuchi. “While cosmetic products sold in the U.S. are largely unregulated, other nations — and even retailers — have proactively banned or restricted the use of hundreds or thousands of cosmetic ingredients. AB 495 will protect consumers by banning the sale in California of cosmetics containing known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and endocrine disruptors that are harmful to human health.”

The legislation is also sponsored by Environmental Working Group and CALPIRG.

Retailers rush to ban toxic ingredients

Currently, several large retailers, including Target, Rite Aid, CVS Health, and Walgreens have made a public commitment to restricting or ending the use of the proposed banned 20 ingredients in their own store brands.

The introduction of the legislation follows the voluntary recall of cosmetic products by kid/tween retailer Claire’s, after the Food and Drug Administration’s tests indicated asbestos was present in cosmetic products sold by the stores.

Additionally, AB-45  would also expand authority granted to the Department of Public Health’s California Safe Cosmetics Program. The CSCP be required to report cosmetic products containing any of the 20 proposed banned chemicals to the state attorney general. Following the report, the attorney general would then be required to investigate the claims and possibly pursue financial and criminal penalties via the courts. Currently, there are 951 reportable ingredients, according to Cosmetics Business.

Widespread implications

If California passes the proposed Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, the legislation may generate widespread and far-flung regulatory implications for the entire industry.

The Claire’s recall has driven a discussion of what kind of regulation the industry may face in the future. The FDA’s lack of regulatory oversight over the cosmetic industry means it couldn’t force Claire’s to do a recall; under current law, the FDA is limited to reacting to consumer complaints, or doing safety testing only after the fact.  essentially left with reacting to consumer complaints or after-the-fact safety testing.

In that vacuum, it’s not surprising that a state like California – where regulatory controls are omnipresent in nearly every industry – would try to launch its own legislation. Another point? New regulations in California might not just affect one of the world’s biggest consumer markets, but it’s also often a regulatory bellwether for other states, who may follow its lead.

At the very least, cosmetics companies and their formulators using these banned ingredients will have to come up with new solutions if they’re going to stay on the shelves inside the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

To read the full bill, click here.

If the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act is passed, there may be widespread and far-flung regulatory implications