The Story of Cosmetics and the Dangers of “Scare” Legislation

If you read this blog, you’ll know that the beauty product industry and misleading claims of natural or earth-friendly really annoys me.

So, I was excited when I learned that The Story of Stuff Project, in conjunction with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, was releasing a new video – The Story of Cosmetics. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, 3 Green Angels has been hired by The Story of Stuff Project and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to host an #ecowed Twitter party to promote The Story of Cosmetics.)

The video is really great – informative, clear, concise. I was thrilled that the video targets some big name cosmetic companies. Absolutely thrilled it mentioned L’Oreal’s pinkwashing. Ecstatic that the video talks about misleading claims of natural. You really should watch the video:

But I do have an issue with the desired action urged – legislation to regulate the cosmetic industry based upon the precautionary principle. I do think that the current regulatory scheme leaves a lot to be desired. I do think that chemicals used as ingredients in beauty products should be more thoroughly assessed, particularly for endpoints such as reproductive harm. I don’t think that you should need a chemistry degree to buy products.

But I can’t advocate for legislation without knowing more. Without knowing exactly how the legislation is worded.

I am too familiar with bad legislation developed in response to scare tactics. Legislation that harms small businesses.  For example, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) seemed fantastic with its marketing spin – let’s get lead out of children’s toys. And with that I wholeheartedly agreed. But, of course, the legislation wasn’t just about getting rid of lead in children’s toys where there was a risk of exposure. No. The CPSIA went way too far. Even the lead regulations reach too far – beyond risk of actual exposure. Rick Woldenberg repeatedly blogs about it and the just plain stupid and unduly burdensome reach of the CPSIA. Like the impacts on the ATV industry. On bicycles for kids. Even the loss of bling (and while getting crystals out of children’s clothing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, without a risk of exposure, it is stupid). And the CPSIA imposes too many burdens on the smaller, often greener businesses that should be selling toys to our kids. The kinds of companies featured in the Handmade Toy Alliance’s blog week, which features some dynamite companies and products.

And all the money being spent on testing products for lead that pose no risk of exposure would be much better spent addressing lead based paint in residential housing. With a much more significant reduction in risk.

Now, I know that I often use my XRF analyzer to bring attention to products being sold that aren’t compliant with the CPSIA. That is because the CPSIA is the law we have, and companies need to comply with it. But I still can think the portions of the law are silly. Just like I frequently have to help companies comply with California’s Proposition 65 even if I think Proposition 65 is a bad law.

In any event, I bring the CPSIA up after watching The Story of Cosmetics because well intentioned legislation can go badly wrong.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t urge you to understand what it is you are buying. To adopt the precautionary principle in your purchasing decisions.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should advocate for sensible legislation and regulations.

But that’s it – the legislation and/or regulations must be sensible. And that is hard to do. The devil is in the details. Overbroad legislation has unintended consequences and collateral damage.

As said by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding

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Comments

  1. To keep up on what is going on with Prop. 65, you might want to check out http://www.Prop65clearinghouse.com. We our an independent, unbiased publishing company that reports the developments on Prop. 65.

  2. I agree that knee-jerk legislative action is unwise when not thoroughly thought out, sadly many legislations are just that, yet I have no desire to become a member of Parliament to remedy the issue!

    The Story of Cosmetics video does highlight the complex issue of daily washing and brushing, which is often with a synthetic chemical cocktail, if one is unconverted to the benefits of genuinely natural skin care. The video is short, sweet & powerful. I trust those watching will now stop, look and read labels when navigating the plethora of bottles on a supermarket shelf.

  3. I couldn’t agree with your assessment more, Jennifer. As a small manufacturer of natural & organic anti-aging skin care for women over 35, I found myself opposing a similar bill that was on the ballot here last Fall. I am a strong advocate of full-disclosure in food, cosmetics and personal care products, and run my business in accordance with this belief.

    However, full disclosure was clearly missing from the proposed safe cosmetics bill offered here in Colorado in 2009, and although I am a corporate supporter of the Breast Cancer Fund and registered my company with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics some time back I surprised myself by volunteering to testify in opposition to the bill at the State Capitol.

    I do believe in advocating for sensible legislation and regulations, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater – no matter how well intentioned – is, in my humble opinion, not the right way to do it. Me thinks there is a bigger political agenda here…and this should be about safety, not politics.

  4. Just read your post, Jennifer – and I see like in so many other things, we agree here as well. Apparently we are the only two of the Green Moms Carnival Members who came out with questions about the Safe Cosmetics Act legislation – and for the same reasons! Just adding your post in now and if you could update this with a link to the carnival, I’d appreciate it.

    See you later this week at BlogHer!

  5. Frankly, I’m more fearful of bad legislation than I am of potentially hazardous substances in my personal care products! Thank you for articulating how good intentions can run amok when fear is is the driving force behind laws rather than science or reason.

    Under the Safe Cosmetics Act, companies would have to provide “safety substantiation of product ingredients”. Sounds good, but what does it mean? My interpretation is that it would require each manufacturer to prove the safety of their products. As a small manufacturer who uses only food grade ingredients, do you think it would make sense for me to test every ingredient (like organic coconut oil or rosewater) in my product for safety? Wouldn’t it be a bit redundant and costly? Who do you think will foot the bill for this largely unnecessary testing or obtaining material data sheets?

    Then there is the registering of each formula. What if I wanted to create a line of custom blended moisturizers (similar to ordering from a juice bar)? Fuggetaboutit.

    Or how about this . . . “the Secretary may allow that the declaration of an ingredient present as a contaminant is not required if the contaminant is present at levels below technically feasible detection limits”. That could include contaminants that occur in the water we drink. Leaving the detection limit of a contaminant (which could be in the part per billion) up to the Secretary is a scary thought.

    Finally, “the name and address of any company that supplies the establishment, if the establishment manufactures cosmetics, with any ingredient and the name of the ingredient supplied to such establishment by such supplier”. What if my supplier is out of stock on organic avocado oil and I have to buy some ASAP from another whom I have not registered? What a nightmare and I would end up in violation of the law.

    These are just a couple of examples that would end up costly without resulting in safer products. Cosmetics companies would have to pay a bunch of fees in order to accomplish more or less what is being done today for free, i.e. the listing of ingredients.

  6. Dani Abrahams says:

    I agree with you. There is much unknown about the legislation that they want to implement. Also, who created this bill and why isn’t there a complete list of chemicals they want banned? What about patent laws? Do they honestly think companies will declare patented formulas on cosmetic labels?

    Have you seen the appeal on the video? There were some valid points addressed. I think the person who responded is focusing too much on the capability of the FDA. The fact of the matter is the FDA does not posses the power to regulate or recall personal care products. It’s written in their bylaws.

    Here in Colorado the EWG is proposing House Bill-1248 and wants 26 chemicals banned. One of the chemicals on that list is Progesterone. This “chemical” perplexes me considering there are 7 products in the database that are sold containing progesterone. (4 of which are manufactured and sold as nutritional supplements) I emailed them for an entire list and I’m still waiting for a response. Still I have to wonder…who are the people creating these lists of chemicals to be banned??

  7. Dani Abrahams says:

    I agree with you. There is much unknown about the legislation that they want to implement. Also, who created this bill and why isnu2019t there a complete list of chemicals they want banned? What about patent laws? Do they honestly think companies will declare patented formulas on cosmetic labels?rnrnHave you seen the appeal on the video? There were some valid points addressed. I think the person who responded is focusing too much on the capability of the FDA. The fact of the matter is the FDA does not posses the power to regulate or recall personal care products. Itu2019s written in their bylaws. rnrnHere in Colorado the EWG is proposing House Bill-1248 and wants 26 chemicals banned. One of the chemicals on that list is Progesterone. This u201cchemicalu201d perplexes me considering there are 7 products in the database that are sold containing progesterone. (4 of which are manufactured and sold as nutritional supplements) I emailed them for an entire list and Iu2019m still waiting for a response. Still I have to wonderu2026who are the people creating these lists of chemicals to be banned??rn

  8. I really really liked that video! It was very informative.

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