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US Congress to take a look at toxic chemicals in cosmetics

By Andrew McDougall , 26-Mar-2012

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has called the first official Congressional hearing on cosmetics safety in more than 30 years following recent debates over the levels of certain ‘toxic’ chemicals present in cosmetic products.

The hearing will take place tomorrow, March 27, following recent uproar of mercury found in face cream, lead found in lipstick and formaldehyde in hair products.

Despite in many cases the levels of these chemicals being low and well below recommended safety limits; HECC has called the meeting to ‘examine the current state of cosmetics.’

Age-old standard

The cosmetics industry has been regulated by FDA since the enactment of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FFDCA). FFDCA prohibits the introduction of adulterated or misbranded cosmetics into interstate commerce and provides for seizure, criminal penalties and other enforcement authorities for violations of the FFDCA.

In recent years, some States have considered legislation that would affect the ingredients that can be used in cosmetic products, and some groups have called for national standards for ingredients of cosmetic products that are reviewed by the FDA.

Given the flow of cosmetic products between States, a uniform standard for cosmetic ingredients would serve to further public health by ensuring these decisions are made using sound science and ensure that the interstate flow of cosmetic products is not disrupted by differing State standards.

What’s Obama doing?

President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for an additional $19 million in funding through user fees to enable the FDA to more effectively regulate cosmetics.

“It’s time for Congress to overhaul the 1938 cosmetic regulations that are utterly failing to protect public health,” urged Janet Nudelman, policy director of the Breast Cancer Fund.

“The FDA doesn’t even have the authority to recall unsafe products such as face creams linked to mercury poisoning or hair products with high levels of formaldehyde.”

A case in point

Nudelman is referring to a recent example in which the California Attorney General forced the makers of Brazilian Blowout hair smoothing products to warn consumers about exposure to cancer-causing formaldehyde, however a recall did not occur.

“We’re pleased the Energy and Commerce Committee is seriously considering regulating the cosmetics industry, which is currently allowed to use chemicals that have hardly been studied at all in personal care products,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research of the Environmental Working Group.

In a February 17 letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee, 50 businesses and 50 environmental groups called for the hearing and urged the Committee to support meaningful regulations that phase out cosmetic ingredients linked to toxicity; creating a safety standard for cosmetics with full disclosure of ingredients appearing on products.

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