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L'Oreal, Revlon bow to Bay Area pressure

Chemicals suspected of causing cancer won't be in products

by Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment WriterSan Francisco Chronicle
January 15th, 2005

Two major cosmetics companies have agreed to eliminate chemicals suspected of causing cancer, birth defects and infertility from their products, including a common plasticizer in nail polish.

Under pressure from San Francisco's Breast Cancer Fund and other groups, Revlon Inc. and L'Oreal USA promised to abide by a new European Union anti-toxics rule when the companies formulate their products for sale in the United States.

Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, called it a victory for women's health and consumers.

"We commend Revlon and L'Oreal, two of the most recognized cosmetics brands in the country, for announcing their compliance with the European Union standard in the United States," said Rizzo. "They stepped away from the industry's party line that insists that all the chemicals are safe and Europe is unnecessarily overregulating them. Now, Revlon and L'Oreal are saying they will voluntarily meet the highest established standards of safety in the world."

The European Parliament and the European Council jointly passed the rule in September, banning hundreds of known or probable carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxicants from perfume, makeup, hair dye and other cosmetics. Scientists are assessing additional chemicals for possible inclusion on the list, such as formaldehyde and aromatic amines from coal tar, which are used in some brown and black hair dyes.

At L'Oreal USA, Alan Meyers, a senior vice president, said that over the last few years, as the EU was developing its list, the company had been reformulating its products to remain in compliance. The company stopped using dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, about four years ago, he said. The plasticizer has been the main ingredient in nearly all nail polishes.

"It's the new reality," Meyers said. "It's something that we monitor. Our goal is to be compliant around the world."

Catherine Fisher, a Revlon senior vice president, said agreeing to comply with the EU directive in the United States wasn't a problem for the corporation.

"No reformulations were necessary," Fisher said, "because all of the ingredients have been in compliance with the recently enacted EU regulations as well as all applicable FDA requirements."

Gerald McKewen, spokesman for the industry trade group Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, said DPB was the primary chemical that the cosmetics makers would lose. McKewen said DBP hadn't been shown to cause health problems.

Phthalates make plastic pliable. The European Union banned a second phthalate, diethylhexylphthalate, or DEP, which is used in medical devices and blood bags, on the grounds that it causes ill health effects in lab animals.

The Breast Cancer Fund, part of a broader coalition called Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, is also talking to major multinational companies, including Procter & Gamble, Schering Plough, Aveda, Avon and Este Lauder about complying with the EU standards in the United States. The group has already won agreement from 50 natural-products companies, including Avalon Organics and Aubrey.

An industry-financed nongovernmental Cosmetics Ingredients Review Board is responsible for approving ingredients used in cosmetics. The FDA -- which sets safety standards for drugs and can require that contaminants be eliminated from food or cosmetics -- has prohibited the use of only nine dangerous chemicals, including mercury and vinyl chloride, in cosmetics.

The California Legislature tried and failed last session to eliminate the two phthalates. Environmental groups say the companies' agreements will have an even greater significance because of the wide reach of the EU standards -- and begins to bring the cosmetics sector under a stronger regulatory framework than it faces in the United States.

By complying with the EU directive, the companies will focus on keeping out such cancer-causing impurities as acrylamides, nitrosamines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, said Jane Houlihan, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D. C.

In June, the Environmental Working Group released a major database of 7,500 products revealing the presence in personal-care products of hundreds of harmful chemicals. The group is urging the FDA to require safety studies on chemicals before they can be used as ingredients in cosmetics.