SAN FRANCISCO-In a telling example of how new European safety standards for cosmetics are affecting products sold on U.S. shelves, L'Oréal, Revlon and Unilever confirmed they have eliminated certain toxic chemicals from their products.
In response to an investigation by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of U.S. health and environmental groups, both L'Oréal and Revlon said they are now in compliance with the European Union 7th Amendment Cosmetic Directive; Unilever's policy on reformulation was less clear.
The EU law requires that cosmetics companies stop using chemicals that are known or highly suspected of causing cancer, impaired fertility or birth defects, such as the phthalates DBP and DEHP used in some fragrances, hair sprays and nail polishes. Companies were required to stop placing such products on store shelves by January 1.
The companies' responses followed repeated requests by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to clarify whether they would stop using chemicals known or highly suspected to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins everywhere their products are sold. In September, the Campaign named the three companies in a full-page advertisement in USA Today, which depicted a young girl applying lipstick with the headline, "Putting on makeup shouldn't be like playing with matches."
"We commend L'Oréal and Revlon for announcing they will globally reformulate their products to eliminate the use of dibutyl-phthalate and other toxic chemicals," said Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, a founding member of the coalition. "This is a victory for women's health and consumers. Regrettably, U.S. law still permits companies to put unlimited amounts of toxic chemicals into cosmetics sold in the United States."
The three companies may differ, however, in whether they are reformulating globally to meet the new European standards or are taking a market-by-market approach. For companies that do not reformulate globally, their products containing hazardous ingredients will continue to be available to U.S. and other non-European consumers.
In a letter dated December 21, L'Oréal Senior Vice President for Research and Development Alan J. Meyers wrote unequivocally that his company's products are in compliance with the EU cosmetics directive "no matter where they are sold around the world."
Revlon Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Catherine Fisher wrote on December 20 that "all products sold by Revlon are currently in full compliance with… EU Directives 76/768 EEC."
The response from Unilever on the company's reformulation policy was unclear. While Senior Vice President for Research and Development David Duncan wrote that Unilever "does not use [DBP and DEHP] as an ingredient in our products," the letter of December 15 did not state whether the company's products sold in the United States and other markets would comply with the EU directive, which also requires elimination of many more ingredients known or highly suspected to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins (CMRs).
Contrary to popular perception, the FDA does not evaluate cosmetics products for safety before they are sold. The FDA states on its Web site that "neither cosmetic products nor cosmetic ingredients are reviewed or approved by FDA before they are sold to the public." The statement continues, "FDA cannot require companies to do safety testing of their cosmetic products before marketing."
"We are pleased these leading companies are removing some of the worst toxic chemicals from their products," said Bryony Schwan, national campaigns director for Women's Voices for the Earth, a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "This is just a first step to making truly safe cosmetics, however."
The Campaign is asking all cosmetics companies to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to immediately remove all EU-banned chemicals, inventory all ingredients and develop a plan to replace chemicals of concern with safe alternatives within three years. For more information, visit http://www.safecosmetics.org/compact.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics will publish a "report card" in March grading major cosmetics companies on their reformulation policies and their responsiveness to consumer inquiries about safety. The full correspondence with the above three companies is available.