FDA Testing Falls Short
It's true: manufacturers of personal care products - like shampoo and cosmetics - are not required by the FDA to test the safety of their ingredients before their products are made available to consumers. Aside from banning a few toxic chemicals and dyes, the FDA leaves it up to the personal care companies to test their ingredients and products for safety. As long as the product does not cause a skin irritation it can be introduced to the market. This inadequate system leaves many consumers wondering if they should be concerned about long-term chemical exposure.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a joint project of environmental and health organizations, has been working toward banning the use of several high-risk chemicals from personal care products. The chemicals of concern have been linked to increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Over 900 US companies have voluntarily signed the Campaign's pledge to replace toxic ingredients with safe alternatives.
Most US cosmetic companies are resisting the growing interest in banning toxic substances. Although cosmetic companies argue that their products contain a tiny amount of these ingredients the cumulative effect of using these products over time has not been tested.
In September 2004 the EU implemented legislation that banned the use of over 1,000 chemicals of concern in personal care products. The prohibited chemicals were those known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation, or birth defects. The EU ban has served as a wake-up call for many US companies who market their products overseas. In response some companies have replaced toxins in their products, such as phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde with non-toxic alternatives.
Most of the EU-banned substances remain to be commonly-used ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics in the US. The FDA does not require cosmetic companies to disclose ingredients on product labels. Furthermore, companies have the right to use ambiguous ingredient labels - like "fragrance" - to protect trade secrets.