(July 21) -- Most Americans use about 10 personal care products each day. The toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, baby powder and other things that we routinely douse or slather on our bodies expose us to at least 100 different chemicals. Many of these, public health experts say, have been linked to adverse health effects like cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities.
There is nothing that the Food and Drug Administration can legally do about it.
But that may begin to change as two Democratic lawmakers -- Reps. Jan Schakowsky from Illinois and Edward Markey from Massachusetts -- introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 today. If passed, it will be the first meaningful effort to give the FDA the teeth, tools and mandate to protect consumers from harmful products that are used by almost everyone.
Under the current absence of oversight, it's legal for cosmetics companies to use virtually any ingredient with no pre-market safety assessment.
This has bothered many of FDA's risk experts and toxicologists, who say they're eager to have the authority to delve into the litany of potentially hazardous chemicals in these products.
"This law is absolutely needed and the authority it will give FDA is even more crucial now as many manufacturers are using nano-sized chemicals such as titanium dioxide in their cosmetic and health products," an FDA risk assessor told AOL News at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting in Chicago this week.
Some of what the legislation calls for includes:
Few other details were available Tuesday night, when legislative staffers were still hammering out the final language .
- Ingredients linked to cancer and birth defects being phased out of personal care products.
- Health-based safety standards for all ingredients in cosmetics that includes protections for children and other vulnerable populations.
- Required listing on product labels of all chemical ingredients in personal care products, including fragrances and contaminants.
- Worker access to information about hazardous chemicals they may encounter in the manufacturing of personal care products.
- Adequate funding and support of the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors to pay for this oversight of the cosmetics industry.
Many in the public health community hope that the legislation will prevent the cosmetic industry from hiding behind the overused and lobbyists-protected "confidential business information" exclusion, which has for decades allowed companies to refuse giving regulators information.
"The industry insists it has to have the confidential business information rule, otherwise they [competitors] will know what is in our products," explained Stephenie Hendrick, environmental health media coordinator working with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and other groups.
"The scientists at the companies already know what are in each others' products. It's only the public that's kept in the dark."
The FDA is already conducting studies on some components of sunscreen.
Paul Howard, director of the FDA's office of Scientific Coordination, told a room filled with attendees in a daylong conference on nanotechnology that the FDA is completing studies on the use of nano-sized titanium dioxide in sunscreens. For four weeks, pigs were slathered with sunscreen with differing sizes of nanoparticles.
This is important because of controversy over the safety of titanium dioxide in many sunscreen and personal care products. He told the scientists that the preliminary studies showed the nanoparticles did not penetrate the skin deep enough to be harmful, but quickly added that more studies were being conducted.
A Long Time Coming
In 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Its provisions required new products to be shown safe before marketing. That pretty much never happened with cosmetics.
"This legislation would create a system that people think already exists -- one that requires companies to assess chemicals for safety and disclose all the ingredients in their products," Stacy Malkan, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told AOL News.
"We all put these products on our bodies, and all of us are exposed to the toxic chemicals that are commonly found in cosmetics," she added, and cited the carcinogens formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane, which are found in bath products and shampoos; phthalates in fragrances and the antibacterial agent triclosan.
Triclosan, which has become ubiquitous in scores of health care products, has a link to dioxin derivatives. That has raised concerns in several peer-reviewed animal studies that showed it can be highly carcinogenic and can weaken the immune system, decrease fertility, damage sex hormones and cause miscarriage and birth defects.
However, while the FDA says that triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, it nevertheless is doing studies on the health effects of the chemical. Its findings should be made public next spring.
Consumers Believe FDA Is Their Protector
Under the present law, FDA can't even begin to regulate cosmetics until they are already on store shelves, which means they can be sold to the pubic without safety testing of the product or its ingredients.
"Most people assume the FDA regulates cosmetics the same way it does food and drugs to ensure they are safe. In reality, cosmetics are one of the least-regulated consumer products on the market today," said Janet Nudelman, program director of the Breast Cancer Fund.
"When there are cancer-causing chemicals in baby shampoo and mercury in skin cream, you know the regulatory system is broken," she added
The Environmental Working Group has been studying cosmetics for years, and everywhere it has looked it has found hazardous or untested cosmetics ingredients.
Jane Houlihan, the group's vice president for research, said its testing has found that blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls from across the country were tainted with an average of 13 potential hormone-disrupting preservatives, plasticizers and other cosmetic chemicals.
Also, in umbilical cord blood from 10 newborn babies, synthetic musk fragrances were found to have crossed the mother's placenta to pollute the baby's body before birth, she added.
Houlihan called the proposed federal legislation "long overdue," saying it would finally close major gaps in the law, giving FDA real authority to ensure that personal care products sold in the U.S. meet a basic standard of safety.
The feelings on Capitol Hill are that this legislation will pass without much opposition. That's mainly because the trade association, in a letter to lawmakers last week, said it "plans to support legislation that would strengthen and modernize regulatory oversight of the industry and create a greater role for the FDA in assessing ingredient safety for personal care products."
That was seen as a smart move by the industry's Personal Care Products Council because the public is demanding more information on the safety of the products it uses.
Congress is already up to its neck in reforming EPA's dangerously antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act. Food safety legislation is moving through both the House and Senate and parties on all sides of the cosmetic safety battle knew that FDA's responsibility for personal safety products would be under the congressional microscope next.