Your Beauty Products May Not Be Safe and Congress Is Finally Stepping In

Sara Bliss
·Senior Writer
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Congress may finally start regulating the beauty industry. (Photo: Getty Images)

Your lipstick, your moisturizer, your shampoo — products you use every day— could be dangerous and lead to a variety of health problems. What’s even scarier is no one is regulating the chemicals that go into your products, as the government hasn’t made industry regulations since 1938. This week Congress moved closer to reining in the largely unregulated beauty industry with a congressional briefing of beauty experts including Gregg Renfrew, the founder and CEO of Beautycounter, a company whose brand ethos is about safety.

Renfrew and other beauty insiders spoke to members of Congress to support a bill co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to give the Food and Drug Administration more power to force mandatory recalls and disclosures of products that pose a public health risk. “Most Americans are still in the dark when it comes to the topic of our exposure to toxic chemicals. They understand that our food system is broken, but when it comes to skin-care products, most people have no idea of the dangers,” Renfrew tells Yahoo Beauty.

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Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew wants reforms in the beauty industry. (Photo: Courtesy of Gregg Renfrew)

It’s a powerful point. Why wouldn’t you assume that if a product is on store shelves it must be safe? But the U.S. doesn’t regulate the beauty industry the way it does food, or in the way other countries do. For example, the European Union has banned nearly 1,400 chemicals for being unsafe, while by contrast the United States has banned only 11. Consider that there are 12,000 chemicals used in the cosmetics industry, and almost 90 percent of these have never been evaluated for their impact on long-term health.

Right now the FDA has pretty much no power when it comes to what’s in your products. But if the bill passes, the FDA could force recalls if it believed a product posed a health hazard. The bill would also mandate that the FDA review the levels of and the use of altogether controversial chemicals including formaldehyde, propylparaben, and lead acetate.

It’s not a complete overhaul, but it is a start. “Nearly every major consumer category has undergone radical change in recent years from food to entertainment to transportation. But not the beauty industry, where companies are legally allowed to use ingredients linked to breast cancer, infertility, early puberty, and other health issues. Consumers are demanding more transparency and regulation, and I hope to help lead this movement that gets toxic ingredients out of the products that people use on their skin every day,” said Renfrew, who launched Beautycounter in 2013 with a self-imposed ban on over 1,500 chemicals.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gregg Renfrew talk beauty industry reform. (Photo: Courtesy of Gregg Renfew)

Renfrew says she feels good about the progress made in Washington this week. “One of the things has been so encouraging is that other companies also agree, are supporting the regulations and lending their names to this bill,” says Renfrew. Renfrew also says her company proves that you can take out dangerous chemicals and still have a successful beauty brand. “We are living proof you can take out thousands of ingredients to create high performing products that sell in the marketplace. Our business grew 550 percent last year and 300 percent this year.”

Renfrew is passionate about cosmetics reform and hopes that not only will this bill pass, but that the United States will reevaluate the regulations in place. The bill is expected to reach a vote in early 2016. “I feel an enormous sense of responsibility,” she says. “I can’t wait for the day when my kids will say to me ‘Mom, we can’t believe they ever allowed toxic chemicals to be on our bodies and skin.’ It’s much like seat belts or smoking bans, there was someone there saying that the rules had to change.”

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