Update 9.30.20: VICTORY!!!! Gov. Newsom just signed historic SB312 into law – making California first in the world to require disclosure of secret toxic fragrance and flavor chemicals in cosmetics! Learn more.
Women’s Voices for the Earth, along with our partners at Black Women for Wellness and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, have co-sponsored a bill in California that will require the disclosure of hazardous fragrance and flavor ingredients in personal care (like cosmetics and vaginal washes, douches, etc.) and professional salon products. If passed, SB 312, the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020, will be the first bill in the nation to require disclosure of fragrance ingredients for personal care and professional salon products.
California has been a leader in ingredient disclosure. In 2017 SB 258 passed, and as a result all cleaning products in the state are required to list ingredients on the label and online, including harmful ingredients used in fragrance. Last year, AB 2775 passed, becoming the first law in the nation to require disclosure, on the label, of ingredients in professional salon products (except fragrance).
Right to know is an aspect of chemical safety that Women’s Voices has been fighting for, for well over a decade. We believe people have a fundamental right to know what ingredients they are being exposed to whether it is in the home, in the workplace, or public spaces. Knowing what ingredients are used in products is the first necessary step on the path to eliminating the use of harmful ingredients. After all, if we don’t know what we are being exposed to, how can we effectively advocate for safer chemicals?
While the term fragrance may conjure up the smell of your favorite perfume or lotion, the fact is what exactly is being used in any given cosmetic or personal care or salon product is a bit of a black box. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) publishes a master list of nearly 4,000 ingredients that are used in fragrance. Yet, companies still hide behind the need for “trade secrets” as a reason not to disclose ingredients on a product-specific level. Meaning, if you pick up a lipstick, or body lotion, or professional salon product, you’ll see the word “fragrance” on the label, but not all the ingredients that make up the fragrance.
Similarly, flavors are also a black box we don’t know much about. And yes, flavors are used in cosmetics—like personal lubricants (which are regulated as cosmetics), lip balms, etc. You may pick up a product and see “natural and artificial flavors” but that doesn’t tell you anything about what chemicals are used to create the flavor. We know that the International Organization of the Flavor Industry (IOFI) lists around 3,000 ingredients that may be used in flavors, but that’s not much help when you want to know what’s specifically in the product you are using.
SB 312 will give us more product-specific ingredient information. The bill requires the disclosure of fragrance and flavor ingredients that are designated on certain authoritative lists as hazardous chemicals. According to our analysis, over a hundred fragrance and flavor ingredients that appear on the IFRA and IOFI master lists would have to be made public on a product specific basis through California’s Safe Cosmetics Program.
And remember, Californians won’t be the only ones to benefit. Legislation that passes in California tends to have a national impact because the state’s economy is the largest in the US. That means if salon and personal care products are labeled in California, it will likely push for disclosure in other states, too.
Of course, disclosure isn’t the end goal. More transparency on a product-specific basis will not only give the public the ability to avoid ingredients that may harm their health, it’s one of the first steps that’s needed as we advocate for safer ingredients in products. Once we know what’s actually being used in products, it better equips us to advocate for the chemicals removal. And, companies often will reformulate products rather to take out a harmful ingredient rather than have to disclose it. Ultimately what’s needed is for companies to have a strong and robust chemical screening system so harmful chemicals don’t end up in the products in the first place.