Feb. 6, 2016
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The cosmetics industry has been fighting a bill introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky that would regulate ingredients in products.

Lawmakers Want FDA to Regulate Cosmetics

There’s formaldehyde in your Brazilian Blowout, lead in your Grecian Formula hair dye and who knows what in your perfume. Certainly not the government.

For the first time in more than 30 years, lawmakers are preparing to extend the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate cosmetics, setting off a battle between large makeup manufacturers and consumer safety advocates over how far the government should go.

For months, the cosmetics industry has been fighting a bill introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) that would ban the use of ingredients linked to cancer and reproductive disorders and require companies to include complete ingredient labels on fragrances and salon products.

The FDA is all but powerless when it comes to policing hair care products, makeup and facial treatments — an industry that brings in about $60 billion every year. The agency has no authority to regulate ingredients or recall products, and while it can ban substances deemed dangerous, it rarely does. The European Union, by contrast, has a list of about 1,200 ingredients that cannot be used in cosmetics.

If a company wanted to put arsenic in body lotion, for example, it would not be required to report that to the government, nor would the government have the authority to pull the product from shelves, said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the issue Tuesday.

The industry acknowledges that the cosmetics regulatory regime needs a makeover. Recent news stories about illnesses related to mercury found in skin creams have further tarnished its image.

“There is no statutory path for the people expressing safety concerns to get those concerns resolved,” said John Hurson, the executive vice president for government affairs at the Personal Care Products Council, the industry’s trade association. “FDA doesn’t have to do it. We want to make them. … We need maximum public credibility.”

The industry would benefit from putting its seal of approval on tougher standards, but in the council’s eyes, not all approaches are created equal.

The council is fighting to make sure new government requirements don’t hamstring innovation, compromise trade secrets or unnecessarily restrict key chemicals.

This spring, the group wrote a bill of its own and began circulating it on Capitol Hill.

The proposal was the result of a three-year, $3.5 million lobbying effort by the council’s in-house lobbyists and those at Policy Directions Inc. and the Duberstein Group.

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