Chronic under-regulation

Readable Research | By Abby Ferla |
Jan. 2009

Former House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), House Subcommittee on Health Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) introduce a bill to reform the FDA. Called the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009, the bill contains a provision intended “to improve the safety of cosmetic products by requiring registry of all cosmetic facilities serving the U.S. and requiring adverse event reporting,” according to CongressNow.9 The bill dies in committee.


California files a lawsuit against Brazilian Blowout, a company that markets hair-straightening products. California claims that the product contains formaldehyde.

Meanwhile Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns hairstylists that its researchers have found “significant formaldehyde levels” in Brazilian Blowout and other hair straighteners. On average, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, constitutes 8 percent of the contents of the Brazilian Blowout samples tested. Some of the samples containing formaldehyde were taken from bottles labeled “formaldehyde-free.”

As reported by the Oregonian, the company responds by criticizing the agency’s research methods and maintains that its product is safe. Consumers and hairdressers, however, tell the paper that they experienced negative health effects, such as nosebleeds and chest pain, while using Brazilian Blowout.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduce the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. If passed, the act will update the still-in-force cosmetics-related provisions of the 1938 Food and Drug Act so that the FDA will be given the authority and the funding to pre-approve cosmetic products before they are put on the shelf. The act dies in committee because of claims that it will hurt small business.

Specifically, independent and small cosmetic manufacturers, such as the Indie Beauty Network, assert that “this bill treats a company making 100 bottles of lotion each year the same way it treats a multi-billion dollar multi-national company making 100 bottles of lotion each year.” They say that labeling and testing requirements will place an undue burden on small companies.

Stephen Langel, “House Democrats Take Another Swing at FDA Reform; Republicans Skeptical,” CongressNow, January 8, 2009, accessed August 11, 2011,


The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, a revised version of the 2010 bill, is introduced by Schakowsky, Markey, and Baldwin. In a press release, Schakowsky says, “Currently, manufacturers are not required to disclose all their ingredients on labels and the FDA has no power to supervise the use of toxic chemicals in cosmetics. Americans are left in the dark about harmful mystery ingredients in personal care products; consumers deserve confidence that the products that they use will not hurt them.”

The Washington Times reports that business interest groups respond by saying that the bill would raise prices, hurt consumers, and hurt the industry. Industry maintains that voluntary regulation is efficient and that products are safe, saying that fears about formaldehyde are exaggerated because “the formaldehyde you get exposed to is more when you eat brussel sprouts than when you use cosmetics.” One industry member tells the Washington Times, “Unfortunately, there’s been some misinformation that’s going out there that these things are unsafe and that they aren’t tested when actually they are.”


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