FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 4.24.2018 – An exclusive report by national women’s health non-profit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), exposes the dangers both the public and manufacturers face in relying on the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel to provide adequate safety assessments of ingredients used in cosmetics*.
The CIR is a program of the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), a trade organization representing manufacturers of the $62 billion cosmetics industry. The CIR’s stated purpose is to assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics. But as the report points out, the CIR is green-lighting chemicals as “safe for use in cosmetics” that are linked to adverse health effects including allergies, hormone disruption and cancer.
“It surprises many people to know that the US Food and Drug Administration does not approve cosmetics before they are sold, instead relying on manufacturers to assure their safety. In turn, many cosmetics manufacturers turn to the CIR as their safety net, and are strongly encouraged to comply with CIR determinations,” said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at WVE and lead author of the report. “But when those determinations are funded by the industry itself, the conflict of interest is not just glaring, it’s dangerous. Take, for example, talc.”
Talc exposure, from products like baby powder and feminine powder, has been linked in numerous studies to increased risk of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, and is also associated with breathing problems and respiratory disease. Despite public controversy on the safety of talc beginning in the 1970’s, the CIR did not choose to formally review talc until 2012. When it finally did, the arguments made by the CIR safeguarding talc echoed those made by the cosmetic manufacturers, like Johnson & Johnson, that had been defending its use for decades. When coupled with business decisions, such as Johnson & Johnson marketing its powders more aggressively to Black women and Latinas, the impacts of industry-friendly ingredient safety assessments are that much more detrimental.
“Johnson & Johnson is now facing – and losing – lawsuits linking ovarian cancer and pulmonary disease to use of their talc-containing powder products. The CIR’s conclusion about talc’s safety in cosmetics is putting the public’s health at risk, and is setting up manufacturers for serious financial blows, not to mention reputation damage,” said Scranton.
“The irony is the CIR was created by the industry to help protect their interests, when in fact, by green-lighting chemicals like talc, the CIR may actually be achieving the opposite,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director of WVE.
The report, Cosmetic Ingredient Review: Failing the Public. Failing Manufacturers., also calls attention to problems with the CIR’s overly broad conclusions on inhalation standards, and issues with addressing data gaps.
“The CIR has a history of erroneously assuming that data gaps are equivalent to a lack of health effects,” said Scranton. “In other words, if no cancer studies have even been conducted on a chemical, one cannot assume that the chemical is not carcinogenic. Yet these are unfounded conclusions the CIR seems to make time and again.”
In addition, the CIR dismisses the environmental impacts that chemicals might have on the earth, water or air, and they do not address occupational hazards, such as any hazard that salon workers may experience while on the job, where exposures are significantly higher.
“The reality is the CIR has a very specific and limited scope in its charge,” said Scranton. “Environmental and occupational hazards are frequently ignored by the CIR, and are instead considered irrelevant to whether they declare a chemical is safe for use in cosmetics.”
Codifying CIR Safety Standards into Law?
While the decisions of the CIR currently have no regulatory power, federal legislation is now being discussed that may codify the CIR’s authority into law.
For example, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Personal Care Product Safety Act. The bill allows manufacturers to substantiate the safety of ingredients based on “adequate evidence.” Adequate evidence can include an official statement of safety by an official medical or scientific body.
“The problem is there are very few “expert medical or scientific bodies” that produce such official statements on cosmetic ingredients,” said Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “The few that do exist, like the CIR, are paid for and operated by the cosmetic industry itself.”
In addition, Senator Hatch (R-UT) has also introduced a bill called the FDA Cosmetic Safety and Modernization Act. Currently, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) committee is evaluating the two bills and working to develop draft legislation addressing cosmetics regulation and safety.
“Addressing the problem of cosmetic safety is decades overdue and we are glad to see it getting attention at the national level,” said Jamie McConnell. “There is an undeniable need for an enforceable process by which cosmetic manufacturers can demonstrate the safety of their ingredients. But the CIR is not it.”
“People need to know that the safety of their shampoo, or deodorant, or their feminine wash is often in the hands of a body that is defending ingredients like talc, or known allergens like methylisothiazolinone, an ingredient restricted from use in Europe. Or Cocamide DEA, a chemical listed as a carcinogen on California’s Proposition 65 list,” said Scranton. “I could go on and on with more examples of concerning chemicals passing the CIR’s safety standards … And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.”
*The term cosmetics includes personal care products, such as, shampoo, lotion, soap, deodorant, makeup, and feminine wipes, washes, and sprays.
About Women’s Voices for the Earth Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth amplifies women’s voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. www.womensvoices.org.
Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth
Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy at Women’s Voices for the Earth
Beth Conway, Communications Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth