California Implements First-in-the-Nation Ban on Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

24 January 2024

New California law leads the way in banning over two dozen potentially harmful ingredients found in fragrances and cosmetics, following the European Union’s regulatory standards.

California has once again taken the lead in consumer safety by signing a groundbreaking law that bans 26 potentially toxic ingredients from cosmetics and personal care products. This move comes as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to align its regulations with those of the European Union, which has already banned over 1,600 such ingredients. By implementing this law, California aims to protect consumers from the health risks associated with these chemicals, including burns, cancer, birth defects, and reproductive problems. The new legislation is expected to set a precedent for the rest of the nation.

Protecting Consumers: A Closer Look at the Banned Ingredients

Vinyl acetate, anthraquinone, and lilial are among the 26 ingredients banned under the new law. Vinyl acetate, found in certain nail polishes, helps bind them to nails but is believed to increase the risk of cancer. Anthraquinone, present in some hair-coloring products, has also been linked to an elevated cancer risk. Lilial, commonly used to give a lily scent to various products, including perfumes and shampoos, may reduce fertility. These ingredients have already been flagged by the European Chemicals Agency for their potential health hazards. Notably, five of the banned ingredients are also recognized as carcinogens or reproductive toxins by California’s existing chemical regulations.

A Step Towards Safer Products

The new law, authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Democrat from Burbank, will take effect on January 1, 2027. This timeline allows companies ample time to reformulate their products and remove the banned ingredients. Given California’s influence, it is highly likely that these changes will extend to products sold nationwide. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that sponsored the bill, emphasizes that companies rarely reformulate products exclusively for California, as most align their formulations with national or international standards.

California’s Pioneering Role in Regulation

California has a history of leading the way in regulating business and industry. In recent years, the state banned single-use plastic bags and set a deadline for the phasing out of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. The new law on toxic chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products follows California’s 2020 legislation that banned 24 other harmful ingredients, including mercury and formaldehyde. Maryland also followed suit by implementing a similar ban. Furthermore, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed another groundbreaking law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of four food additives found in processed foods, aligning with the EU’s regulations.

Industry Response and Consumer Impact

The Personal Care Products Council, the trade association representing cosmetics and personal care product companies, worked with Assemblymember Friedman on the bill but declined to comment on the costs and time associated with reformulating products. Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group, asserts that the cost of ingredients is a minimal portion of the overall manufacturing cost for personal care products. However, the Fragrance Creators Association expressed concerns about the limitations the new law imposes on ingredient options, potentially leading to increased costs for consumers.

Bridging the Gap in Cosmetics Safety Regulations

The United States lags behind more than 80 other nations in terms of cosmetics safety regulations, according to a 2021 analysis by the Environmental Working Group. However, President Joe Biden signed the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act last year, granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to access safety records and mandate recalls of cosmetics posing serious health risks. Despite this progress, the FDA still lacks the power to systematically review chemicals of concern, a gap that Congress has yet to address.

Conclusion:

California’s latest ban on toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products is a significant step towards ensuring consumer safety. By aligning with the European Union’s regulations, the state is taking the lead in protecting its residents from potential health risks. The new law will prompt companies to reformulate their products, likely leading to safer options being available nationwide. However, the broader issue of cosmetics safety regulations in the United States remains a concern, as the FDA still lacks comprehensive authority to review potentially harmful chemicals. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the products they use, it is imperative for lawmakers and regulatory bodies to prioritize the safety and well-being of the public.

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