5 Ways The “Safe Cosmetics Act” Will Harm Consumers

First, let me explain what the “Safe Cosmetics Act” is. It’s a bill that has been introduced into the house by representatives Schakowsky (D-IL), Markey (D-MA) and Baldwin (D-WI). This bill’s stated purpose is to make the cosmetic industry safer through further regulation. While it sounds great on the surface, the group that is really behind this bill is the Compact For Safe Cosmetics, which is funded by the Environmental Working Group. Both have reputations for scaremongering and using arguments which are scientifically unsound. This bill has absolutely nothing to do with cosmetic product safety, but it will have drastic consequences to all cosmetic manufacturers, small and large. This will ultimately impact you the consumer.

If you are someone that keeps up with the skin care industry—especially with small independent cosmetic manufacturers—you’ve probably noticed twitter is abuzz with all kinds of information on this, and several industry leaders have already written about this (Kayla Fioravanti, Donna Maria Coles Johnson, Cindy Jones, Leigh O’DonnellAnne-Marie Faiola, Kristin Fraser Cotte, and  many others).

How does this affect you as a consumer of cosmetic products, though? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Less Natural Ingredients
  2. There are two reasons why this bill would result in less natural ingredients on the market. The first is that the testing required for natural ingredients is necessarily more expensive than for synthetic ones (I’ll explain why in a minute), and the second is that MANY natural ingredients would be downright banned.

    First, the testing: This bill requires cosmetic manufacturers to list every detectable element in each ingredient. While this may sound  like a good idea at first to some, upon closer inspection you can see this is actually not just a bad idea, it’s totally absurd! You see, the technology we have to detect trace elements these days are amazing. We can detect trace amounts of certain substances at parts per billion! This is really mind-blowing, but what it means is that many natural ingredients are going to be very expensive to test, because natural ingredients are much more complex than synthetically created ones. Synthetic ingredients usually only have a handful of compounds in them, because they can be created that way (in a sterile lab environment). Natural ingredients are derived from living organisms (like plants and flowers) and are inherently complex. In fact, parsley is made up of at least 204 different compounds, and many essential oils are composed of hundreds of compounds. The result of all this is that natural ingredients will be much more expensive to include in cosmetics because the testing to figure out what they are made of is much more expensive. This will lead to many companies choosing the more cheaply testable synthetic alternatives just to stay profitable.

    The second reason—and this is the more important one—is that many wonderful natural ingredients would be downright banned. The bill bans many substances which are supposed carcinogens. The problem is that almost every living thing has trace amounts of all kinds of different chemicals that are suspected carcinogens. For example, we now know that apples naturally contain minute amounts of formaldehyde and a bunch of other “nasty” chemicals. This is really the topic for another blog post, but let’s just summarize with: It’s the the dose that makes the poison. Many compounds which are required by our bodies to function become toxic or carcinogenic in large quantities (even water will kill you if you drink too much!). Other chemicals are totally tolerable by our bodies in small doses (we’ve been eating formaldehyde for as long as apples have been around), but are highly toxic in large doses. The bottom line here is that this bill would mean manufacturers can not put extracts from apples, pears, bananas, basil, almonds, and thousands of other natural ingredients in their products, yet you can go to the supermarket and take them home and eat them.

    Compounding this issue is that many things which are listed as carcinogens are based on ridiculous science. I won’t go into detail here, because this post is already going to be pretty lengthy, but Cindy Jones, Ph.D. of Sagescript has written a great post explaining this.

  3. Less Product Choice
  4. You probably don’t need me to tell you this now, but because of all the testing and regulations in this bill about ingredients, you will have less products to choose from for your skin. This bill will put out of business THOUSANDS of small, local, independent cosmetic manufacturers because they just can’t afford to spend the enormous amounts of money to test their products. The result is that the only products for sale will be the ones from the larger companies that have been able to afford the added expense.

  5. Less Clear Ingredient Listings
  6. Given that this bill requires manufacturers to list every constituent of each ingredient, the ingredient listings for cosmetic products (called the “ingredient deck” in the industry), would balloon to an absurd and unusable level. I love Kayla Fioravanti’s example of this in the possible listing of water. If a company puts water in one of their cosmetics, it’s entirely possible that it could come out looking like this after testing:

    Aqua (lead, acrylamine, alachlor, alpha/photon emitters, antimony, asbestos, arsenic, atrazine, barium, benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, beta photon emitters, beryllium, bromated, cadmium, carbofuran, carbon tetrachloride, chloramines, chlordane, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, chlorite, chlorobenzene, chromium, copper, cyanide, 2,4-D, dalapon, o-Dichlorobenzene, p-Dichlorobenzene, 1,1-Dichloroethylene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene, trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene, Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate, dinoseb, diquat, endothall, endrin, ethylbenzene, fluoride, glyphosate, hexachlorocyclopentadiene, mercury, radium, uranium, vinyl chloride, xylenes)

    That’s just water! Now imagine trying to list that out for mango extract or basil essential oil. Not only is this scary to consumers, it’s less useful. Many cosmetics already have a large number of ingredients. Imagine a typical natural lotion that has 35 ingredients, each with 100-200 constituents and trace elements. You’re looking at an ingredient deck of at least 3500 individually listed ingredients. This is madness.

  7. Less Affordable Products
  8. The cost to test these ingredients is enormous, and the testing would have to happen multiple times. Take olive oil and shea butter as an example. This bill would require the company that refines the olive oil and shea butter to test for all of the constituent compounds in each, but also the manufacturer who combines them then has to test the finished product for all constituent compounds, to make sure nothing “unsafe” has developed as a result of the combination. The only way for companies to stay profitable is to raise their prices.

  9. Less Money For Your Local Community
  10. You might not be aware of it, but there are many thousands of small independent cosmetic manufacturers across the country. Chances are there are more than one in your local community, too! These people make a living (or some extra income) by making natural & safe cosmetics products and sell them on-line or in local shops. Putting these companies out of business with this draconian regulation just kills the American dream for thousands of people who have a passion for natural cosmetics and means those local communities which they operate in will take an economic hit.

Why This Bill is Unnecessary

  • The cosmetics industry is already safe. Our industry probably has the best safety record of any other industry. There have been virtually (or maybe absolutely) no reports of serious injuries, deaths, or diseases caused by cosmetics. No scientific studies have proven any links between cosmetics and cancer or other illness.
  • This industry already strives for safety. Nearly all cosmetic companies, especially independent ones, have the goal of providing safe products.
  • We’re already regulated by FDA. I can attest to this personally, as it’s been a struggle over the years to comply with the regulations put forth by the FDA. What we have is adequate, we don’t need more regulation.
  • It’s already illegal to sell an unsafe cosmetic. That’s right. If we sell an unsafe cosmetic we are liable, and the FDA will get involved.

A Call To Action

I know this legal mumbo-jumbo stuff is pretty boring, I’ve tried to keep this post as interesting as possible. I implore you to get involved in this, because this legislation will not only affect the independent cosmetic manufacturers you support, but it will affect you, too!

First, educate yourself about this bill. You can use the links in this post to read the bill itself, and read what others in our industry are saying. You can also do your own research. Then, if you decide that you’d like to support our cause, here are some things you can do to help out.

  1. Check out the website. Several people in our industry have started a website regarding our opposition to this legislation. You can find that site at http://www.opposeSCA.com/
  2. Sign the petition. The website also has a petition opposing this legislation. Please take a moment to sign it! You can find the petition right here.
  3. Call or write your representative. This bill is still in committee. That means it hasn’t been voted on yet. PLEASE call or write your representative to let them know where you stand on this. You can find your local representative right here.
  4. Chat about it on Twitter. There is already a hash tag started for this. It’s #OpposeSCA.
  5. Share it on Facebook. Just post a link to this or the oppose SCA website in your profile, maybe something like: “Do you use cosmetics, soap, body wash? There is a bill that has been introduced that could drastically affect the price you pay for these things and could put small manufacturers out of business. Read about it here http://opposeSCA.com and here http://thealabublog.com/?p=689
  6. E-mail this post to your friends. It will only take a minute. Let your friends know what’s going on in the skin care industry and that they can make a big difference.

Let me know what you think about the Safe Cosmetics Act in the comments section below.

Thanks for your support!

UPDATE: There is a video in support of this bill that the Compact For Safe Cosmetics had out for about a week. Lee Doren of How The World Works has recently published a great critique of  the video.


Hal Mayes is the COO of Alabu Skin Care, a company that provides all-natural soap and moisturizers. This guest post originally appeared on The Alabu Skin Care Blog.

  • Sagescript

    Very insightful post!

  • http://twitter.com/Botanicals4Hope Botanicals for Hope

    It is simply amazing that a group, using unsound science, has been able to present a bill that will clearly be detrimental to small business and have a huge impact on the consumer, not to mention the American dream. Thank you for a great post.

  • http://twitter.com/Noevirgal Marlee Huber

    A word to the wise: “safe” does not always mean “safe” or “desirable.” Let the legislator BEWARE! Let the American public BEWARE!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennifer-State/678740414 Jennifer State

    While we can argue the merits of the legislation, it's important to educate ourselves on avoiding reactions and bacteria from cosmetics and their applicators. Learning how to read labels for ourselves is the smartest way to avoid unsafe cosmetics immediately. Let's educate ourselves!

  • http://www.cactusandivy.com Lisa M. Rodgers

    Hey Jennifer –

    Thank you for your comments. I did not have a way to contact you to let you know your comment would be moderated. The link you provided in your comment was to a site that repeats the same mantra of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and we do not find them to be a reliable source for information on personal care products that is backed by scientific facts.

    While we encourage dialogue, we do not allow links to sites that support fear mongering and don't offer scientific facts to educate consumers. If you prefer, I'm happy to remove both of our comments.

  • http://twitter.com/ShavePlace Em’s Place, Inc.

    @prsnalcaretruth THANK you so much for what you are doing. This web page is very informative and talks about the issue in a simple and clear manner. I put out a call to action today in my own circle and glad to do what I can to help.

    I have also signed the petition and taken other action. YES, sometimes the word “safe” does not always mean it is… and I am glad you strive to keep the information here based on studies, science and facts and not fear mongering. Again, can’t thank you enough for what you are doing.

    • http://www.cactusandivy.com Lisa M. Rodgers

      Most welcome and THANK YOU for putting out a call to action, signing the petition and providing us with your comments. We appreciate all who take the time to let us know how we are doing. It’s so important to continue to educate consumers on the facts and we will continue to keep the information based on scientific facts.