I know it must seem like I just wrote about safety in products, and that’s because I did. A few months ago I wrote about a new law being proposed in Colorado to make personal products “safe” in that state. That bill was voted down because there was insufficient science to support it, but this week a new bill was introduced at the federal level. So here we go again.
This new law is The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 (H.R. 5786). If you are so inclined, you can read the entire bill. When I tell you that I oppose the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, you may think that I oppose safe cosmetics. My blog subscribers and customers will know that over the years I have reformulated my products to make them less likely to cause allergic reactions or irritations. I’ve initiated these changes after my own research, not because I was forced to, and I believe these actions demonstrate my personal commitment to creating ever-safer products for my customers.
In reading through and thinking about this new proposed law, I decided that regardless of my personal opinion, I would stay committed to what is best for my customers. I figured that if I read the Act and believed it was in each customer’s best interest, I would support the law, even if that choice forced me out of business. A close reading of this bill with my customers’ needs and wants in mind, however, convinces me that The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 is as bad for my customers as it is for my company. Here’s why.
Especially in this economy, one of the things that is important to my customers is price. The vast majority of my sales are for customized products, and I’ve been committed to offering very low minimum orders and per item costs; my customers can order a set of personalized favors for as little as $30. While this new law assesses a registration fee for companies grossing over $1 million (micro-businesses such as my own would be exempt), all of us smaller companies buy ingredients from larger companies that will have to pay the fee. Their additional costs will be passed on to us, and then to our customers. The result to my customers is higher prices and higher minimum orders to cover the increase. This would not be good for my customers.
My flexibility in customizing products at a moment’s notice is another thing that’s important to my customers. For example, one customer ordered lip balm favors for a bridal shower and requested her friend’s favorite drink flavor. My lip balm line did not include that flavor, but after a quick check of my inventory I was able to formulate the flavor just for her. This type of custom work is a special service I offer, and one that many customers have requested.
The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 would require every product to be safety tested before it goes to market. Even products like my lip balm, which contains vegetable oils, beeswax, vitamin E, and mostly natural and organic, food-grade flavor oils (items that many could find in their kitchen cabinets) would need to be tested after formulation. If this law passes, you can say bye-bye to customization and filling of special flavor requests, because even if we could afford to test each product in the manner requested (which most small businesses won’t be able to do) we certainly could not accomplish this within a quick turnaround time. This would not be good for my customers.
One more thing that my customers often comment on is how quickly I respond to their emails or calls. Being available personally to answer questions about products or order details is challenging, given that I am also filling and packing the orders, doing the accounting and paperwork, and being chief “bottle washer,” but I have always considered it important to be available to my customers this way.
This new law will require not only registration with the FDA (which I respect and comply with voluntarily), but also the submission of detailed information about every product, its ingredients (including minute quantities of incidental contaminants, determined after expensive testing), uses, directions, warnings, and contact information. Whenever a formula changes (imagine: every time I introduce a new lip balm flavor), I must update this database in a timely fashion. I must also monitor the lists of ingredients which are allowed for use in cosmetics, lists that could change at any time on the whim of any “authoritative…entities” the Secretary deems appropriate, requiring reformulations, redesigns, and additional database updating.
The more time I spend on paperwork to comply with regulations, the less time I have to answer my customers’ questions or work with them on the details of their events. Just last week a customer told me, “You deliver awesome service.” If this law passes, I’m afraid my time constraints will limit the “awesome” customer service I’ve been able to provide. This would not be good for my customers.
All of the above would just be necessary “inconveniences” if this new law meant I’d be producing safer products for my customers, but I honestly don’t see where safety will be improved. How does it make my products safer to submit to the FDA (annually) my name and address, number of employees, and a list of every one of my vendors and every single product they supply to my company? How about submitting my gross receipts? How in the world does THAT make my products safer? Does it make my products safer to be asked to list, in declining order, the quantity of every constituent of, say, lavender essential oil? According to Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical database (by way of Cindy Jones), there are 76 chemicals in lavender. Are you safer seeing them on my label? It’s still lavender. Nothing has changed except the expense of the new label, the time (and therefore expense) to report it to the FDA, and how much more you will pay for the product once those new expenses are factored in. It’s a lot of busywork, lots of database information, and no clear idea of what will be done with this information to keep us all “safer”.
When I recently asked my customers what “safe” products meant to them, I got a variety of answers. Natural, environmentally friendly, and nontoxic were some of the words that came up. One said the following: “A clear understanding of where my product comes from, who makes it and how.” Simple registration with the FDA provides this for customers, as does a product label and a statement on a website. These are all things I do already. What I also do is provide a high quality, custom (and yes, “safe”) product that isn’t available anywhere else, at a reasonable price, with “awesome” attention to my customers. I want to keep things that way, and that’s why I am opposed to the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 as it’s currently written.
Emily Caswell combined a science background with years of design experience to create a line of customizable bath and body products through her company, GCDSpa. She specializes in designing tiny thank-yous in personalized packages.
This post originally appeared on the GCDSpa Stuff blog.