Is Your Lipstick Safe?
By Anuja Mendiratta
Ms. Magazine and AlterNet
And that's why the California Safe Cosmetics Act is such a landmark achievement.
Signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last October and taking effect in 2007, it requires manufacturers to disclose product ingredients found on state or federal lists of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects. The law further authorizes the state to investigate the health impacts of chemicals in cosmetics, and requires manufacturers to supply health-related information about their ingredients. Finally, the act enables the state to regulate products in order to assure the safety of salon workers.
California is the first state in the nation to pass such legislation, thus serving as a model for the other 49. "This is an important disclosure bill, and an important victory for women's health," says Jeanne Rizzo of the Breast Cancer Fund. "California has set the stage for states to assert regulatory authority around toxic chemicals in cosmetics, which the federal government has thus far refused to lead on."
Adds California state Sen. Carole Migden, who championed the legislation, "It is beyond belief that consumers are not being told whether or not they are putting carcinogens on their skin, in their hair or on their face. [The law] represents a triumph of grassroots efforts over money and power. Even in the face of a multinationally funded lobbying machine, common sense and the public good prevailed."
While many known toxic components have been banned in Europe from use in personal care products, similar ingredients remain legal in products marketed to the American public. Currently, the FDA does not review the ingredients in cosmetic and beauty-care products, but instead relies on self-regulation by the cosmetic industry's own Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. According to the watchdog Environmental Working Group, only 11 percent of the 10,500-plus ingredients that the FDA has documented in personal-care products have been assessed for safety by the CIR panel.
In response to the lack of government oversight, an international Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was initiated in 2002 to pressure the personal-care industry to phase out known toxic ingredients and replace them with safer alternatives. Manufacturers have been encouraged to sign the "Compact for Safe Cosmetics," and to date more than 300 have done so, including The Body Shop, Burt's Bees and Aubrey Organics.
Migden authored the California Safe Cosmetics Act (S.B. 484) in 2004, with co-sponsorship by Breast Cancer Action, Breast Cancer Fund and the National Environmental Trust. They joined with other public-health, environmental, consumer, Asian Pacific Islander, teen and faith-based groups in a yearlong organizing and lobbying campaign -- which met aggressive opposition from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. The industry group spent more than $600,000 trying to defeat the bill, even going so far as to host a website to capture searchers looking for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. In contradiction to a growing body of science, the website claims that the personal-care products sold in California are the safest in the world.
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