The Case For Modernizing Personal Care Product Regulations

Personal care products include an extensive range of goods from shampoo to lotion, make-up to antiperspirants, which are widely used by American consumers of all ages every day. Under current law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has surprisingly very little authority to act and protect consumer safety when it comes to personal care products. In fact, the FDA does not even have mandatory recall authority for products that may cause serious harm. The federal law that ensure the ingredients in these products are safe has not been updated in more than 75 years.

Understandably, there is significant concern from consumer groups, manufacturers, and health professionals alike that the current system fails to protect consumer safety. Individual consumers and salon professionals should have the ability to evaluate whether the products they are applying to skin or using to wash hair are safe, just as they have the right to know that the foods they are consuming are safe.

For instance, propyl paraben, which is used as a preservative in a wide range of products, mimics the female hormone estrogen, and concerns have been raised that it may be appropriate only in certain concentrations. According to scientific studies, chemicals that mimic estrogen can disrupt the endocrine system and have been linked to a wide range of health effects, including reproductive system disorders.

Similarly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, short-term exposure to formaldehyde, which is used in certain hair treatments, has been reported to cause a range of negative health effects. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires salon owners to provide their workers with protective equipment, including masks and goggles, when applying this chemical. Exposure may initially include headaches and shortness of breath in consumers and the professionals who apply the chemicals, and long-term exposure has been associated with increased risk of cancer.

The United States has fallen behind in establishing a modern regulatory process for personal care products. Europe, on the other hand, has a robust system, which includes consumer protections like product registration and ingredient review.

This April, I joined Senator Dianne Feinstein in introducing bipartisan legislation that would give the FDA broader oversight on personal care products by setting up a basic regulatory structure, with registration of manufacturers and products, and a uniform national standard.

Under our bill, companies would report adverse health events, follow good manufacturing practices, and keep safety records. The FDA would be required to review at least five ingredients used in personal care products each year to ensure their safety and appropriate use, including what concentration levels are appropriate and whether consumer warnings are needed. For example, a chemical may be deemed inappropriate for use in children’s products, but appropriate for professional application. Using the model that is currently in place for medical devices and pharmaceuticals, the legislation would be fully paid for by user fees from the companies that register.

This bill has broad support from personal care product manufacturers, such as Proctor & Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Unilever, and L’Oreal. Similarly, a wide range of consumer groups have expressed support for the bill, including the Environmental Working Group, Society for Women’s Helath Research, National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and HealthyWoman.

By modernizing the oversight of personal care products, consumers will be better protected and companies will have better regulatory certainty. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Senator Feinstein to get this important and common-sense legislation passed.