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Toxic Baby Shampoo and Other Horrors

Story of Cosmetics

It's a well-documented fact by now that the soaps and shampoos we clean up with are, more often than not, filled with toxic chemicals. As are most perfumes, makeup, and even more basic items like contact solution. The Environmental Working Group has been working tirelessly over the last several years to educate the public about not only the fact that these chemicals are out there, but that they are not regulated in personal care products (thanks, FDA). The personal care industry has responded fiercely, knocking back bill after bill proposed to regulate the ingredients of such products, claiming that any such regulation would cause undue economic strain.

Now Annie Leonard and her Story of Stuff team are banking on the fact that a public uproar about toxics in everything from lipstick to toothpaste might cause its own form of economic strain, which might convince companies to get the toxics out for good. The Story of Cosmetics launched this morning on YouTube and within its first 30 minutes had already received over 300 views. The teaser for the video was posted July 9 and has been viewed over 20,000 times. If it gets anywhere near the viral popularity of The Story of Stuff, the Internet will soon be ablaze with people wondering why these things aren't regulated, why women have to bear the brunt of yet another corporate gamble with public health, and why the HELL anyone ever thought it was okay to put toxic chemicals in baby shampoo.

Check out the video here:


Fortunately, there's something people can do about it, other than switching to safer versions of their personal care products. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced this morning the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, along with Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.). It's the first attempt in 70 years to regulate the personal care industry, and it's legislation most believe is long overdue.

The  bill would phase out the more dangerous chemicals used in cosmetics, and would require companies to be more transparent about the ingredients they use. It sounds pretty basic, but don't expect companies like L'Oreal and Estee Lauder to go down without a fight.

This is an industry that has been largely self-regulated since the late 1930s. The existing law governing personal care products (the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938) cedes decisions about ingredient safety to the industry. Under the current law, the FDA can't require cosmetics companies to conduct safety assessments. Even more frightening, it can’t even require product recalls. In a recent example, the FDA could not recall skin whitening creams that were found to contain illegal levels of toxic mercury.

In addition to protecting consumers, because the new legislation would disallow some of the most toxic chemicals...which also happen to be among the cheapest ingredients in personal care would level the playing field for those companies that are already making safe products. In fact, those companies would have a slight advantage in the near term.

You can read more about the new law and how you can help support its passage here. And those concerned about the contents of their products can check ingredients and their potential health risks in the Skin Deep database, created by the Environmental Working Group.


Amy Westervelt, Journalist
The former Managing Editor of the Journal, Amy is associate editor for The Faster Times and This Week in Earth, a columnist for Forbes, and contributes to an assortment of other magazines and websites. In 2007, Amy won the Folio Eddie for excellence in magazine editorial for her feature on algae as a feedstock for biofuel, which was published in Sustainable Industries magazine.

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