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CHEMICAL GOOD LOOKSEach day American women reach for shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer, and dusting powder. We apply blusher, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick, then maybe dab on a nail polish and perfume. We look good, we smell good, and we have just exposed ourselves to 200 different chemicals. As American consumers we have every confidence that someone in a lab coat in a big government building has checked out these substances. Right? Not exactly. "You know more about the ingredients in your dog’s collar than you know about the toxicity of whatever you’re putting on your skin.", argues David Wallinga, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. It turns out that cosmetics—a group of products that includes makeup, skin creams, hair-care products and dyes, baby lotions, and deodorants, on which Americans spend about $22 billion a year—comes to us almost un-examined by the Federal Government. And, as recent events on Capitol Hill indicate, the situation is not about to change.
BY Emily Yoffe, November 10, 2012,
To get a prescription or even an over-the-counter drug on the market, a manufacturer must first prove the drug’s safety and effectiveness to the Food and Drug Administration. The burden of proof rests on industry. That’s not the case for cosmetics, although the FDA regulates them, as well. Except for a handful of banned chemicals, manufacturers can add almost any ingredients to those revitalizing eye creams, vitamin-stuffed conditioners, and kiss-resistant lipsticks, and if questions about the safety of products arise, the burden is on the government to prove the product is unsafe. With a budget of about $5.5 million—less than one per cent of the FDA total—and around 30 employees, the cosmetics division is rarely up to that challenge, say critics.
The law governing cosmetics says that they may not contain "harmful substances". But how the tests for harmful or unsafe substances will be conducted is left up to the companies themselves. The FDA doesn’t accept standards for proper safety testing—and doesn’t require companies to do any testing at all. If the company does tests, the FDA has no authority to review the records. Companies test cosmetics for their tendency to cause allergic reactions and irritate skin (protests over using animals for these tests have led many companies to do them in test tubes and on human subjects). But as for possible long-term effects of exposure to cosmetic ingredients, says John Bailey, Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, "those kind of issues are not addressed very well".
State muscle. This summer, the cosmetics industry almost won an even laxer regulatory set-up from Congress. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg introduced an amendment to the FDA reform bill that would have prohibited states from requiring warning labels on products containing suspect chemicals, or otherwise filling the vacuum in the federal rules. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, with the support of the Clinton administration, managed to defeat the proposal. "The reason preserving the states’ ability to act is so important is that FDA’s regulation has been so weak.". Kennedy says.
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