How to find clean beauty products despite U.S. industry standards

A History of Our Personal Product Regulation

The year is 1938 - The Dust Bowl is sweeping the Southern Plains, Seabiscuit is voted American Horse of the Year and FDR writes a letter to Hitler asking him to cool down or there may be an impending World War II. Oh, those don’t sound like relatable events that apply to the current state of the US in 2019, you say? Well it’s the last year that America’s regulations on cosmetics and personal care products were changed, so are you SURE you don’t find that list of American affairs relatable to your life?

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed over eighty years ago, and since then, there have been major improvements by the FDA to regulate consumer items that contribute to our health like cigarettes and microwaves. Cosmetics and personal care items on the other hand, have had little additional regulation. The 1938 Act prohibits “adulterated or misbranded” products from being sold on the market, but that’s about it. And when we’re talking about cosmetic and personal care products, it goes beyond beauty - they include toothpaste, shampoo and other everyday items used by all ages, races and genders. This isn’t just a woman’s problem, this is an entire country’s problem.

The Environmental Working Group’s findings suggest that women use, on average, 12 personal care products a day, while men use six. This leaves the average American exposed to about 125 chemicals per day!

The Good News

An amendment (known as The Personal Care Product Safety Act) to the 1938 law was introduced to Congress last year by Senators Feinstein, Collins and others. In short, this bi-partisan bill would give the FDA a lot more power to regulate the cosmetic and personal care industry in the same way it does for food and drugs (which is still not as much regulation as Europe), by:

  • Enforcing recalls of unsafe products (did you know that recalls of personal care products are currently voluntary? YIKES!).

  • Requiring companies to notify the FDA of any adverse side effects of their products within 15 days of the incident.

  • Requiring companies to share ALL ingredients in their personal products to be disclosed to the FDA.

Speaking of Europe, I think it’s a pretty big red flag when they’ve decided to ban 1,328 ingredients from their cosmetics and the US has only banned 30. You can read the list of the EU’s banned ingredients here by searching for ‘List of Substances Prohibited in Cosmetic Products.’

Check out The Environmental Working Group’s summary of The Personal Care Product Safety Act, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can read the whole dang thing on Congress.gov.

What can you do?

  • Call your senators to side with S.1014 - Personal Care Products Safety Act. There are less than six cosponsors, but a ton of bigger beauty brands supporting it…so the pressure is starting.

  • Start small: It can be really expensive to replace all of your products at once, plain and simple. I take the one by one approach: once I run out of a certain product (soap, shampoo, nail polish, even household cleaner), I then research what chemicals are typically found in them and which I should avoid before going out to buy my next one. It’s unrealistic to replace everything at once, so check out EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database of graded products when you’re ready to shop.

  • Support with your wallet: Shop at companies like BeautyCounter, Follain, 100PercentPure and Credo Beauty for your next beauty buy. They each have a comprehensive list of the ingredients they do not allow in their products and WHY.

  • If you’re a New Yorker and want to support local small biz too: shop at Green in BKLYN in Clinton Hill, CAP Beauty in the West Village and Violets are Blue which brings natural products to patients at Mt. Sinai Dubin Breast Center.

    I’m always on the lookout for more companies like this to support - have any suggestions?

how to find clean beauty products