On 30th September, the state of California passed a momentous piece of legislation into law. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, making California the first state in America to ban the use of 24 toxic chemicals, including mercury and formaldehyde, in beauty and personal-care products.
“Every day, Californians use soaps, shampoos, makeup, and other personal-care products without realising that those products could contain chemicals that present serious health risks,” said Emily Rusch, executive director of the independent lobbying group Calpirg. “By banning some of the most toxic ingredients found in modern personal-care products, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act will finally start to give consumers the protections they deserve.” The act, which was introduced by Assembly members Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), stands to have one of the biggest influences on the cosmetics industry in close to a century. Celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Hailey Bieber were quick to share the news on social media. “Wow this is so MAJOR and finally some progress,” Kardashian wrote.
As you might know, the beauty industry in the United States is notoriously under-regulated. Ingredients continue to be used by major brands even well after research has shown them to be potentially unsafe. Companies have little to no obligation to provide consumers with any information about the impacts certain ingredients or additives could have on their health.
Some of the now-banned ingredients include known carcinogens, like certain types of formaldehyde, mercury, and parabens, and a litany of other potential nervous-system and reproductive-system disruptors. With the exception of California, there are currently no state or federal laws requiring cosmetics manufacturers to test their beauty products for safety before shipping them out to stores across the country. Furthermore, there are more than 10,000 chemicals used to formulate cosmetics in the United States — and only 11 have ever been banned or restricted by the Food and Drug Administration.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, banning the use of these toxic ingredients in beauty products isn’t a novel concept; in fact, 40 other nations already have similar laws in place. Though the European Union’s list of more than 1,400 prohibited or restricted ingredients is often cited as the gold standard, critics point out that the parabens banned by the EU are not the same ones most commonly used in cosmetics. That lack of distinction has led to fear-mongering and green-washing in the category.
Compared to other states, California has long been considered a thought leader, especially in the areas of health and safety. If it were its own country (which, by the way, could go to a vote in 2021), California would represent the sixth-largest economy in the world. For companies producing consumer products, that’s a big deal — so when important legislation, like the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, passes in California, it often sets a precedent for the rest of the country. Companies manufacturing products to satisfy the new California standards may be more likely to adhere to these standards across the board.
The possibility of national regulations is already underway. Currently, several proposals are pending in Congress that would improve the safety of cosmetics for the entire United States. Considering the last time America put any sort of restrictions on the cosmetics industry was in 1938 — just a few years after people were eating arsenic wafers to clear up their acne — we’d say it’s about damn time.