Legislation was introduced in February that would increase California’s oversight of chemicals that are deemed “harmful” for use in cosmetics. As amended by the California Assembly in March, Assembly Bill 495 (AB 495) proposes to ban 20 chemicals from being intentionally added in cosmetics from being sold in California. The state has identified these chemicals as substances known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.
The chemicals listed in AB 495 include mercury, lead, phthalates, formaldehyde, triclosan, asbestos, lead, and compounds known as PFAS. According to the state, cosmetic products containing these chemicals as intentionally added ingredients would be deemed “adulterated” within the meaning of the Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law, which prohibits the manufacture and sale of adulterated cosmetics. In addition to a ban on these and other chemicals under the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, the legislation would also expand the enforcement powers of the Department of Public Health’s California Safe Cosmetics Program. Under the legislation, the Program would be responsible for reporting the sale of cosmetics containing any of the banned ingredients to the Attorney General. The Attomey General could impose monetary and criminal penalties for violations
While supporters of the legislation, including the Environmental Working Group, acknowledge that many companies have already voluntarily removed these chemicals from their products, they emphasize the need for legislation to establish a baseline for safe cosmetic products in the state. Advocates of AB 495 also believe that such legislation could be instrumental in phasing out the use of these chemicals in cosmetics sold throughout the country given the size and influence of the California market. This could be especially significant given perceived weaknesses of federal oversight of cosmetics under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Under federal law, cosmetic ingredients (except for color additives) do not require pre-approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Although some ingredients are prohibited via specific regulation, the primary federal requirement is for cosmetic manufacturers to substantiate the safety of their products before proceeding to market.
California established the California Safe Cosmetics Program in 2005 to make information on hazardous ingredients sold in cosmetics publicly available in the state and require major manufacturers to issue notifications to consumers when a cosmetics product contains a chemical known to the state as a carcinogen or reproductive toxicant. The Program has already identified 88 carcinogenic chemicals that have been intentionally added to cosmetic products sold in the state.
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