Advocates for consumer safety are pushing to reform the Cosmetic Act, used to regulate products in the United States after a hair care item caused a balding side effect. Chaz Dean, a well-known Los Angeles stylist, manufactured and marketed the unsafe formulas under the name Wen Hair Care products.

Dean sold an almond, mint-infused conditioner that led to hair loss, skin irritation, and itchy rashes in children and adults. Dean, who built partnerships with big-time celebrities like Brooke Shields and Alyssa Milano, faces more than 21,000 complaints directed at the Guthy-Renker marketing firm.

Under the Cosmetic Act, products remain largely unchecked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dean’s conditioner is the newest subject in a longstanding debate over the agency’s regulatory limitations.

Outdated Cosmetic Act

In 1938, the FDA passed the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The law, which pertains to personal care products, generally counts on manufactures to self-regulate. Despite the fact that thousands of new, potentially untested ingredients have entered the cosmetic sphere, the FDA has little power because the act hasn’t been updated.

Makers of cosmetics aren’t required to report side effects linked to their products or send safety information to the FDA, which is a major reason why the scope of the Wen scandal went unnoticed.

“It’s been over 70 years since there’s been significant reform in the area of cosmetics regulation and frankly we haven’t kept pace with other jurisdictions overseas [that] have started to regulate cosmetics in a more robust fashion, so it’s time and the industry agrees with that,” John Hurson, executive vice president of government affairs at the Personal Care Products Council, told Women’s Wear Daily (WWD).

The European Union has banned 1,500 cosmetic substances and Canada has prohibited 800 ingredients, whereas the U.S. restricts 11 ingredients. Comparatively, U.S. agency regulation barely scratches the surface.

Proposing New Laws

For the past decade, a number of laws have been proposed to expand the cosmetics act, though none have passed. Now, lawmakers and industry professionals are working together to come to an agreement.

Multiple bills have been introduced by the Senate and House. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) have suggested a bill that’s gained support from personal care companies. Known as the Personal Care Products Safety Act, Feinstein-Collins proposal suggests the FDA should have the power to:

  • Review at least five ingredients per year
  • Issue mandatory recalls
  • Require companies to report serious adverse events within 15 days
  • Require the FDA to test cosmetic ingredients
  • Require companies to register and list product ingredients with the FDA
  • Collect a manufacturer fee to raise money for ingredient reviews

A House bill, backed by Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Tex.) and known as the Cosmetic Modernization Amendments Act, was proposed in November. If it passes, the bill would allow the FDA to:

  • Establish new registration and requirement procedures for manufacturing and distribution
  • Establish new ingredient statements
  • Require manufacturers to report serious adverse events
  • Establish a program to evaluate the safety of cosmetic ingredients

A major difference between the two bills is that the latter act doesn’t force manufacturers to pay overhaul fees or give the FDA the ability to recall products. The second act is favored by small businesses that would have difficulties paying fees.

Moving Forward

Tina Sigurdson, assistant general counsel for the Environmental Working Group, told WWD that women use about 12 cosmetic products each day, whereas men use six and teenage girls use 15. Cosmetics are a daily part of our routine, and it’s time for them to be regulated.

The involved parties will soon come to an agreement on legislation to pass a  long-awaited regulatory update. Hurson told WWD that the legislation is nearly 90 percent complete.

“That being the fact, it is really just a matter of getting Congress the momentum to pick up the pen,” Hurson said. “You get to a point where all of the interest groups know where they are and it is time for Congress to say they’ve got option A, option B, and option C. At some point Congress is going to have to make a decision and we’re very close to that point.”