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Toxic Chemicals and Cosmetics

Personal care is big business in the US. The $50 billion beauty industry produces such products as shampoo, deodorant, makeup, moisturizer, diaper cream, perfume, and toothpaste, and these products literally touch almost every American every day. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the average American uses about 10 personal care products each day, and is exposed to more than 100 unique chemicals from those products.

Some of the toxic or potentially toxic chemicals that have been found in cosmetics include formaldehyde (in nail polish, hair straightening formulations, and other products), lead and other heavy metals (in lipstick, eyeliner, and other products), hydroquinone (in skin lighteners), and 1,4-dioxane (as a contaminant in shampoo and other sudsing products).

These products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under a 70-year-old statute that does not assess ingredients for safety before allowing them on the market. It is legal to formulate cosmetics with chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and other adverse health effects. An industry-funded panel, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, issues non-binding recommendations on the safety of cosmetic ingredients, and assesses the safety of only a fraction of the ingredients used in beauty products.

An overhaul of cosmetics regulation is long overdue.

The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 would effectively address the shortcomings of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938, and protect Americans from toxic chemicals in beauty products. Provisions of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 include:

  • Phase-out of ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm;
  • Creation of a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers and other vulnerable populations;
  • Elimination of labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure on product labels and company websites, including salon products and the constituent ingredients of fragrance;
  • Worker access to information about unsafe chemicals in personal care products;
  • Required data-sharing to avoid duplicative testing and encourage the development of alternatives to animal testing; and
  • Adequate funding to the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors so it has the resources it needs to provide effective oversight of the cosmetics industry.

Let your Representative know how you feel about this legislation.


The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

The Story of Cosmetics

EWG’s Skin Deep Database

Page Updated July 13, 2011