BY AMY ZIFF
On February 9th, the New York Times published an article on cosmetics safety written by their Editorial Board – representing the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. The piece aptly noted that there is a problem in the U.S. with harmful ingredients in cosmetics products. For any of my followers, this news is certainly not new, but it’s nice to see mainstream attention to an issue I’m so passionate about. The board argued for strong legislation in response to the problem, and said it’s the only response.
But I say, not so fast…
Let’s consider how our government historically takes action when “Big Industry” has a financial stake in the outcome and corporate dollars are involved (can you say tobacco?). As a $70 billion annual business, the American cosmetics industry is a behemoth and carries a lot of swaying power.
GRADING THEIR OWN HOMEWORK Take the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC). It’s a century-old trade association, now made up of around 600 businesses such as: Bayer, Clorox, Dow Chemical, Estée Lauder, and Revlon. They claim to serve “as the voice on scientific, legal, regulatory, legislative and international issues for the $250 billion global industry.” The PCPC, along with lobbyists paid by individual cosmetics companies, spend upwards of $18 million a year lobbying against regulations.
While I am all for corporations coming together and addressing common pain points to find solutions, this is an example where major companies are being asked to essentially ‘grade their own homework,’ and influence the rules (or lack thereof) they should follow. Where is the independent, uninfluenced third party? Absent. The ramifications of this irresponsibility impacts our collective health.
Yet our government permits the cosmetics industry to self-regulate because the FDA doesn’t screen beauty products before they go to market, and doesn’t have the authority to enforce action, even where serious problems exist. The U.S. government waits for corporations to get “on board” before levying stringent legislation, so this outcry may be falling on deaf ears.
LEGISLATION ISN’T THE ONLY WAY So you ask, what actually has to happen, in order to prompt legislation that protects citizens? I believe the answer is citizen-focused action and pressure. When consumers speak up, when consumers sign petitions, when consumers join “stroller brigades,” when consumers “vote with their wallets” and affect companies’ bottom lines, companies begin cleaning up their acts. And it’s only at that point that we can anticipate legislation. It’s the reason why so many NGOs target action from individuals in order to get the industry to address safety concerns.
Of course we need legislation, but we will first need the momentum of social pressure. I believe we need a marketplace solution that will unify consumer demand and force corporate action.
I would add that the current administration clearly won’t prioritize protective legislation anyway. They’ve spent their entire office tenure dismantling such regulations for the environment, consumers, and health.
That FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors (the governmental arm that oversees personal care products and cosmetics) has a relatively small budget and staff, and it’s already hobbled by weak laws and inadequate authority; current cosmetics legislation dates back to 1930 and hasn’t been successfully updated in over 80 years! We know that at the same time, toxic chemicals and ingredients have been proliferating at an amazing pace and are making their way into products in nearly every bathroom in America.
This all boils down to the grim reality that there is virtually no oversight into ingredients in beauty products today – no matter where you’re shopping. And it’s unlikely to change in the near future. This “fox guarding the henhouse” system has left it up to the consumer to reject potentially harmful ingredients or products manufactured by multimillion-dollar corporations. It’s a modern-day personal care version of David & Goliath.
That makes this whole thing seem impossible. As if the system were rigged. As if the only answer was legislation.
Because with over 80,000 ingredients in use today, how can the consumer easily recognize which ingredients or products may cause harm…?
A UNIQUE AND SCIENTIFIC SOLUTION Sit with that for a minute. What you use on your body, your baby, and in your home hasn’t been inspected for the presence of powerful neurotoxins, chemicals associated with fertility, contamination by carcinogens, and much more. And it’s up to you to decode and decipher what is safe.
This brings me to what the authors didn’t talk about – or likely even know about – which is that Made Safe, a small nonprofit that specializes in what I call “ingredient intelligence,” is a unique starting solution to this problem. But likely because of our small staff and limited budget, the New York Times Editorial Board and many others simply don’t know about our revolutionary Ingredient Screening Process, our easily identifiable MADE SAFE® seal on more than 1,000 products, and our groundbreaking work to inform companies about ingredients of harm.
We’ve established a viable way to look at ingredients and determine if they are harmful for humans, the environment, animals and/or aquatic life. This is our 360-degree ecosystem Screening Process and companies can work with us to achieve answers on cosmetics ingredients from an independent, scientific third-party evaluation process.
While many people say there are too many gaps in the scientific research evaluating chemicals, I would say that there are too many people speaking on behalf of the chemicals. These people aren’t truly interested in a solution, as we have plenty of information and an excellent grasp on chemistry to make safety determinations about many chemicals. I’m not saying there aren’t data gaps – they certainly exist – but not for as many chemicals as some industry folks might like the public to believe.
NO COMPROMISE ON HEALTH Made Safe has already processed more than 15,000 commonly used personal care and cosmetics ingredients. We know a lot about chemicals in the marketplace, including the sourcing of chemicals, their manufacturing processes, and contamination risks. At Made Safe we exercise the precautionary principle and deem all ingredients guilty until or unless research shows they aren’t harmful.
Anything less is a compromise on your health.
Employed at scale, Made Safe’s relatively simple, scientific, independent, affordable and existing solution can begin to solve the current chemical conundrum.
Companies might balk at the independent review or the expense of additional testing — but it is informative. Imagine if consumers could walk into big-box stores, boutique beauty stores, or shop online and find products that carry a Made Safe data-card showing if their ingredients were NOT suspected of, or known to harm humans, animals, aquatic life or the environment… it would give consumers an opportunity to identify safe options at the point-of-purchase.
This simple reporting would give consumers a way to determine if a product was worth the risk. MADE SAFE can do this today. But the market has to ask for it. Consumers need to speak up and take action so more companies work with us.
THE PATH TO SAFER SOLUTIONS Part of Made Safe’s strategy is to put companies on the path to finding safer solutions using green chemistry, instead of swapping out ingredients for lesser-known chemical cousins carrying the same toxicity profiles (for example, BPA-free doesn’t mean BPS-free). Our strategy can usher in a world where we eliminate the use of harmful chemicals.
Legislation will follow.
Our purchases pack a lot of power. There are a lot of companies who are very uncomfortable with this idea.
This is why I dream of a #MadeSafe world.
> If you’re a consumer you can shop Made Safe solutions starting today: right here.
> If you work for a company and you want to learn about your ingredients or request an ingredient report or certification, click here.
> If you just want to learn more about ingredients, check out the Made Safe Hazard List.
> If you’d like to listen to Amy speaking about this issue, watch this Facebook live.
Amy Ziff is the Founder and Executive Director of Made Safe® (Nontoxic Certified), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) providing America’s first comprehensive human health-focused certification for nontoxic products across store aisles, from baby to personal care to household and beyond.