A program of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

Campaign gets companies to make safer cosmetics

by Linda A. Johnson, The Associated Press

November 30th, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — More than 400 companies selling cosmetic and other personal care products have removed potentially hazardous chemicals from them, after a seven-year campaign by a large coalition of consumer, health and environmental groups.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said Wednesday that those companies — all fairly small and in the industry’s “natural products” niche — have met all or nearly all of its goals to make items from soaps and shampoos to cosmetics and aromatherapy safer for U.S. consumers.

The coalition of about 150 groups worked with the companies to get them to remove substances banned by health authorities in other countries, particularly chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects and preservatives that release formaldehyde, which can cause cancer as well as burn the eyes, nose and throat. The coalition also pushed for companies to list all ingredients in their products, which many companies don’t do.

“We asked the big companies repeatedly, but none of them signed on,” Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the campaign, told The Associated Press.

The campaign has been pushing Johnson & Johnson for 2 1/2 years to remove harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals from all its personal care products. The health giant is now steadily removing those chemicals from its baby products worldwide but has not committed to do so for products for adults.

More than 1,500 companies initially pledged to meet the campaign’s goals for personal care products, but most didn’t follow through for various reasons. Malkan said the campaign has checked product ingredients and otherwise verified that 321 companies have met all its goals and another 111 have met many of them.

In the latter group, some were unable to fully list ingredients in a product’s fragrance because the fragrance was made by a third party that would not disclose components, she noted. The fragrance industry traditionally is very secretive.

The coalition, which includes organizations from the Environmental Working Group to the Breast Cancer Fund, on Wednesday issued a detailed report on its seven-year project, which wrapped up recently, and posted a list of companies that have complied with its goals, with links to their own websites. Participants include shampoo and lotion maker Avalon Organics, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Glimpse skin care products and California Baby products.

According to the coalition, natural and safe cosmetics have become the fastest-growing part of the $50 billion cosmetics industry, accounting for roughly 10 percent of sales.

With the project now concluded, the campaign is pushing for the Safe Cosmetics Act, federal legislation introduced in July to update cosmetics regulations dating to 1938 that it says fail to protect health.

“It would ban chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. That’s basically what Europe has done,” Malkan said.

The legislation also would set up a system for the Food and Drug Administration to do product safety assessments. So far, it has not had a hearing.

The FDA has far less authority over cosmetics than medicines. It does not review and approve personal care products before they go on sale and cannot order recalls of ones considered hazardous.

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