The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) slow and retroactive response to toxic chemicals found in cosmetics is being called into question. In the past year, there have been more protests urging the FDA to ban lead acetate, a compound found in hair dyes. It was banned in Canada and Europe nearly a decade ago for causing toxic levels of lead to build up in the blood, so what is taking the U.S. so long? Part of the reason why harmful chemicals aren’t banned from cosmetic products faster is that the FDA can only regulate products if it receives “reliable information,” as stated in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. Public protests, such as the petitions against lead acetate, are the beginning of the process that incites the FDA to begin research of the chemical, but this research can take years to complete. It is the responsibility of the FDA to find evidence that a certain product is harmful when used as intended because the manufacturer of the product is not required to submit their data. The research necessary to find such evidence takes time to complete. In the meantime, these dangerous chemicals will already have continued to harm many people.

Cosmetic Industry Also at Fault

The FDA’s response to toxic chemicals in cosmetics is not the only issue; there is no regulation of chemicals before the cosmetic products go to market. A company does not have to perform particular tests on products containing new chemicals, nor is it mandatory for the companies to publicize safety data they collect. Lack of accountability has allowed cosmetic manufacturers to use chemicals in everyday items, such as shampoo and toothpaste. Some cosmetics can contain formaldehyde, a byproduct of some preservatives put into cosmetics. The chemical is commonly used as a preservative for dead animal parts, such as the frog you may have dissected in science class. Formaldehyde was declared a human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program at the Department of Human Health and Services in 2011 because it can cause cancers of the nasal cavity, myeloid leukemia, and rare cancers. About one fifth of cosmetics contain formaldehyde, a scarily high percentage.

Preventative Measures Are Ready For Congressional Passage

toxic chemicals cosmetics

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Woman at her toilette”

Consumers should not have to worry about using cosmetics which may have toxic effects on their bodies. One preventive measure the U.S. could enact is to ban chemicals based on preliminary toxicity data rather than the exhaustive data and research that is required. The Personal Care Products Safety Act is a piece of legislation recently introduced in Congress by Senator Dianne Feinstein which may help solve the problem. If passed, the bill will give the FDA the authority to take products off of store shelves immediately after receiving any reports of customers experiencing bad reactions. This will help close the gap between initial complaints and the years it takes the FDA to gather information before banning the chemical. Furthermore, the bill includes the mandate that manufacturers register their facilities and pay a fee to the FDA. The money will be used to determine the safety of at least five cosmetic ingredients a year. This preventative measure will help eliminate the inefficient process of removing harmful products from store shelves after they have gone to market.

While passage of this bill would be an excellent start to solving the problem, the FDA must enforce more thorough regulation of cosmetic products all around. Unfortunately, the laws on regulation of cosmetics do not require FDA approval before being put on the market, apart from color additives. The administration advises the manufacturers to consult available toxicological test data and perform any additional tests necessary to ensure the safety of the product. However the FDA has no legal jurisdiction to ban a product unless a law has been broken, such as the misbranding of a product. Implementing stricter regulations on companies will bring more peace of mind to consumers who should not have to worry about the toxicity of their cosmetics in the first place.