Earlier this summer, a new study found that more than half of 231 cosmetics tested in the United States and Canada contained PFAS, a group of fluorinated chemicals that can weaken immunity, disrupt the development of child, affect the reproductive system and increase the risk of certain cancers. . While Europe has kept tighter control over chemicals that can and cannot be included in everyday products, US standards are now over 80 years old.

Now, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) have reintroduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act, a law that would require companies to disclose all ingredients used in their products, to be able to demonstrate their security and register their entities with the FDA.

The bill was first introduced in 2015, but was not passed. This year, with renewed interest in consumer safety and greater awareness of PFAS, Feinstein and Collins are demonstrating once again with the support of industry giants like Unilever, Procter and Gamble, the Estée Lauder Group, Revlon, Beautycounter and Johnson and Johnson supporting the legislation.

“I first decided to introduce this legislation several years ago after learning that people in cramped beauty salons were receiving Brazilian hair treatments without knowing that formaldehyde was used in many hair products,” he said. Feinstein told the Guardian. Formaldehyde, which is a colorless and flammable gas, is often found in glues, adhesives, building materials and insulation materials. It can cause shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and has been linked to cancer.

Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, led the study that prompted lawmakers to act again on this issue. After years of working through funding shortages and unable to find labs that would be willing to test products like mascara (which can damage expensive and sensitive lab equipment), Peaslee and his colleagues were able to perform tests on over 200 products readily available in North America. They found that three categories of cosmetics had the highest concentration of fluorochemicals: foundations, mascaras, and lip products.

“PFASs are intentionally used in cosmetics, and some are unintentionally leaking out, most likely also in North America,” Peaslee said. “Even more alarming, their use is not recorded at all on many product labels. This means that the consumer, or consumer watch groups such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), cannot tell whether a particular product was made with PFAS or not. It’s not good.

The EWG launched an online database, Skin Deep, in 2004 so consumers can identify personal care products that contain fewer problematic chemicals. initially, the database consisted of approximately 7,500 products and 7,000 ingredients. Now it tracks about 74,000 products and just under 9,000 ingredients. But Carla Burns, senior director of cosmetic science at EWG, says gathering information has been difficult. “Finding complete ingredient lists for certain products is not easy. And for some of the newer ingredients, very little data is readily available, ”she said.

The political slowdown has also been an obstacle.

“In general, Republicans in Congress find it difficult to tackle the kind of toxic chemicals in household items,” said Scott Faber, who heads government affairs at EWG. “Congress often focuses on the threat that will kill you tomorrow, rather than the threat that will kill you 20 years from now.”

PFAS are ubiquitous in beauty products, including sunscreens, shampoos, nail polishes, styling products, and shaving creams. And women tend to be at greater risk. EWG research indicates that, on average, women use 12 personal care products each day, exposing themselves to 168 chemical ingredients. Men use about half as many products as women, but are still exposed to 85 different chemicals daily.

One of the biggest issues the Feinstein-Collins Bill seeks to address is the FDA’s ability to take products off the market. Currently, if a product contains dangerous ingredients, such as a high concentration of PFAS, the FDA cannot tell the company to stop selling it. This bill would give the FDA more power to decide what can and cannot be sold, and how ingredients should be disclosed to the public.

While Peaslee supports the bill, he believes the personal care and beauty industries could fix this problem on their own.

“They could simply state that they care about the health of consumers, as well as the environment, by selecting a phase-out date for the intentional use of PFAS in their products, and demand that their supply chains now produce ingredients free of intentional PFAS. He said. “It doesn’t cost a thing to do, but their suppliers should use greener alternatives. It could be done within a year or two.”

So far, however, Peaslee notes that only a few companies have come to ask him and his colleagues for suggestions on how to improve their supply chains and information on commercial labs that can provide the necessary tests. .

Some brands, such as RMS Beauty and Ilia Beauty, founded ten years ago, advocate greater transparency and safer ingredients. Legislation, the two companies say, is the real solution.

Elaine Sack, CEO of RMS Beauty, is part of the lobbying coalition for this bill: “The point here is not to say that only own brands should exist; rather it is an effort to demand oversight, which is happening in so many other countries in an industry that has essentially worked on the honor system for far too long and still has no definition in it. regarding ingredient labeling and terms such as ‘Natural.’ “

Sasha Plasvic, founder and CEO of Ilia Beauty, agrees. “We have so far to go, especially in the United States, where we want to believe that the beauty industry is properly regulated, but in truth it is not. Getting the bill to a federal level is where it ultimately needs to go. “

Even if PFAS were removed from all cosmetics and personal care products, American consumers would likely still be exposed to these “permanent chemicals,” which do not break down easily. Experts estimate that more than two-thirds of Americans, or 200 million, could drink water contaminated with PFAS.


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