The recent buzz around Wen Hair Care — and the Food and Drug Administration’s warning that its cleansing conditioners have generated thousands of consumer complaints about rashes and bald spots — has refocused attention on the potential dangers of beauty products. It’s also reignited debate around proposed legislation that could tighten up FDA oversight of such products and their ingredients.
Chief among those to be scrutinized are five suspect chemicals, including formaldehyde and lead, commonly found in cosmetics — from CoverGirl, Neutrogena, Vaseline, Almay, Coppertone, Aveeno, and many more major brands, available at pretty much any major retailer across the country.
The proposed bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and currently awaiting committee hearings, would amend the FDA’s Cosmetic Act — last updated, unbelievably, in 1938, and basically leaving the entire makeup and skin-products industry unregulated.
Feinstein got behind the bill after learning about the EU’s banning of more than 1,300 chemicals from personal care products — and how the United States, by comparison, has banned only 11 ingredients, including mercury and chloroform. The new law would give the FDA the authority to test cosmetics’ ingredients and issue mandatory recalls for products found to have toxins. It would also require a company to report any known serious adverse health effects to the FDA within 15 days.
Smaller companies, including Wen and Mary Kay, are fighting the measure, noted a recent New York Times article, while bigger players, such as Johnson & Johnson and Revlon, support the bill. And while that might seem ironic, considering the ingredients used by major brands, they are the companies that can afford to pay the reported $20 million in proposed annual fees that would help cover the cost of testing five different ingredients each year.
The first five, as decided upon through a group effort between Feinstein’s office and a range of companies, consumer groups, and the FDA, would be as follows:
- A form of formaldehyde called methylene glycol — recognized as a known human carcinogen and used by salons in hair smoothing treatments, including the popular Brazilian Blowout. On the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which details the risks of beauty products and their ingredients, it rates a 10 — the most dangerous — on a scale of 1 to 10. Studies have found it lurking even in smoothing treatments labeled “formaldehyde-free,” including the Brazilian Blowout.
- Propyl paraben, a preservative linked to hormone disruption. It rates a 7 on the EWG scale, which notes it can be found in more than 3,000 products including foundations (more than 15 from CoverGirl alone); moisturizers by CeraVe, Curel, Neutrogena, Vaseline, and Kiss My Face; lipsticks from Black Radiance, CoverGirl, L.A. Girl, and Wet n Wild; Almay, e.l.f., and CoverGirl mascaras; and sunscreens made by Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic.
- Lead acetate, a potent neurotoxin linked to developmental, reproductive, and organ system toxicity, as well as cancer, used in men’s hair dyes and rating a 10 on the EWG scale. A handful of products still contain it, according to EWG, including Grecian Formula 16 Liquid with Conditioner, Youthair Hair Color & Conditioner for Men, Grecian Plus Gradual Hair Color Foam, and Youthair Crème.
- Diazolidinyl urea, a preservative that releases formaldehyde and is linked to allergic reactions and organ toxicity, rated a 6 on EWG’s scale. More than 650 sunscreens, moisturizers, eye makeups, and cleansers use it as an additive, including Kinerase Gentle Daily Cleanser, Almay Gentle Eye Makeup Remover Pads, Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Lotion SPF 50, Neutrogena Oil Free Moisture, Aveeno Creamy Moisturizing Oil, John Frieda Full Body Repair Conditioner, and Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer.
- Quaternium-15, another formaldehyde-releasing preservative linked to irritation and organ toxicity, rating an 8 on EWG’s scale. It can be found in a range of more than 150 products including Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash, Almay One Coat Thickening Mascara, Aveeno Baby Calming Comfort Bath, CoverGirl Eye Enhancers 4 Kit Shadow, CVS Gentle Cleansing Wash, Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, and Maybelline Great Lash Washable Mascara.
“There are no other products so widely used that have such few safeguards,” Feinstein noted earlier this year in a press conference about the legislation. And whether that changes or whether the muscle of companies like Wen keeps things as is remains to be seen.