The Safe Cosmetics Act needs to be more in tune with science

By Lela Barker

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cosmetics

The founder of independent cosmetic player Bella Luccè argues her point that the Safe Cosmetics Act 2010 needs to have more of a scientific basis if it is going to represent the interest of everyone in the industry.

Thanks to e.coli on your lettuce, salmonella contamination in your peanuts and a flood of fraudulent drug imports, the FDA has held a prime spot of scrutiny on the nightly news this past year. New calls for tighter controls have been launched and cosmetic manufacturers have unfortunately been snared in the nets of special interest groups lobbying in DC. The result? The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, also known as H.R. 5786, was presented to the House of Representatives on July 20th.

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Lela Barker, founder of Bella Luccé

Championed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CFSC) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), H.R. 5786 would radically transform the personal care industry by passing massive fees onto manufacturers, restricting ingredient availability, necessitating a taxing amount of burdensome paperwork and requiring expensive pre-market testing of every finished product before it hits the shelves.

Unfortunately, none those new responsibilities nor the billions spent on them would make cosmetics any “safer” for public consumption.

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC three times over the past two years as part of a coalition representing the interests of small beauty manufacturers. The release of H.R. 5786 found us back in the hallowed halls of the US House of Representatives this month. Also in attendance were legislative aides from the offices of several of the bill’s co-sponsors, including: Jan Schakowsky, (D-IL), Ed Markey, (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI), and Barney Frank (D-MA).

During our meeting, it became obvious that the staffers in the very offices of the original bill sponsors don’t understand the science behind the legislation itself. We know that CFSC has had their ears for a few years now, saturating legislators with misinformation promulgated by fear mongering. CFSC has proven that the only thing more dangerous than faulty science is faulty science in the hands of a special interest group with an agenda and a serious lack of perspective.

It’s abundantly clear that the bulk of the “junk science” behind H.R. 5786 is coming directly from CFSC. A prime example: one staffer asked me why cosmetic manufacturers wouldn’t voluntarily agree to stop adding lead to lipstick. That’s a line straight out of CFSC’s playbook, based on their 2007 study that found detectable levels of lead in 61 percent of lipsticks tested.

In fact, no one is adding lead to lipstick. I explained that manufacturers don’t maniacally toss in a 55-gallon barrel of lead into each batch of lipstick just to see what will happen. Lead is found in the mineral pigments used to make red lipstick. The pigments are mined from the earth, which contains lead as a natural mineral. Unfortunately, Mother Nature left us precious few options for creating that brilliant red lip that so many American women have taken a shining to. The only other viable option is crushed beetles.

The staffers, looking a bit shocked at the revelation, were also informed that the amount of lead detected in lipstick in that same study was less than the amount of lead permitted in American drinking water by the EPA. Yes, the same variety we’re advised by medical professionals to consume eight glasses of per day. To add insult to injury, the FDA already regulates the amount of lead inherent in personal care products, so today’s cosmetic landscape isn’t the “Wild, Wild West” that special interest groups have made it out to be.

EWG, as CFSC’s parent organization, has funneled tens of millions of dollars in grants to the campaign over the past ten years. These funds have been used to both wage a shockingly vicious PR battle against the American cosmetics industry (case in point: Annie Leonard’s video The Story of Cosmetics​) and to compile a publicly-accessible database of scientific data regarding cosmetic ingredients. Never mind that most of the studies are based on high-dose, repeated ingestion methodology, whose results don’t bear any meaningful similarity to topical application via personal care products. By all means, let’s not allow actual science to stand in the way of your PR campaign.

If passed, H.R. 5786 would make the regulations outlined in the EU’s Cosmetics Directive look like a virtual cakewalk. It would devastate small business and deal a potentially fatal blow to the natural product industry, as the “trace contaminants” clause in the legislation would eliminate the cosmetic use of many safe, natural raw materials. It would mean the elimination of thousands of manufacturing jobs and higher prices for consumers at a time when this economy is struggling to find its legs and sprint towards a recovery.

The entire personal care industry - from raw material suppliers to trade organizations and manufacturing companies to the consumers that purchase their products - must take a public stand against this ill-advised, poorly constructed legislation. I urge you to sign the petition currently circulating in opposition (​), contact your representatives in Washington to urge them to vote against the bill, vote to personally oppose the bill at Open Congress (​), with industry trade organizations the urgency and importance of opposition and educate your consumer base.

I strongly believe that we’re in an uphill battle to preserve the American cosmetics industry as we know it. Unfortunately, H.R. 5786 won’t be the final word. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has publicly supported the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 and her DC office has confirmed that Feinstein is currently working on a Senate version of the bill, to be released in the coming weeks.

Lela Barker is the founder and creative director of Bella Luccè, an independent manufacturer of globally inspired spa products headquartered in South Carolina. Founded in 2003, Bella Luccè has found a home in more than 700 spas in the US, with additional distribution throughout the EU, Middle East and Oceania.

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