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Lead in Lipstick? Coal Tar in Shampoo? As New Bill Calls for Stricter Rules on Beauty Products, a Debate Between Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Founder and Cosmetics Industry Spokesperson

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Do you know what’s in the personal care products that you use? Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced legislation Tuesday night that would toughen safety standards for beauty products and require regular government testing for hazardous ingredients. We host a debate between Stacy Malkan, founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, and John Bailey, chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council and a spokesperson for the cosmetics industry. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANJALI KAMAT: Lead in lipstick? Coal tar in shampoo? Do you know what’s in the personal care products that you use? For the first time in seventy years, lawmakers are looking to close the gaping holes in the outdated federal law that allows toxic chemicals, linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other illnesses, in the products we use on our bodies every day. These include lotions, lipstick, deodorants, colognes, hair products, and even baby shampoos.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky introduced legislation Tuesday night that would toughen safety standards for beauty products and require regular government testing for hazardous ingredients. The bill also mandates full ingredient disclosure and gives the FDA the ability to order recalls of dangerous products.

There are over 12,000 chemicals in personal care products, but the average consumer has no way of knowing which are safe. Currently, it’s only the $50 billion beauty industry that decides which ingredients are safe and can order recalls.

Well, today the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics launched a video called The Story of Cosmetics, produced by Annie Leonard, creator of the viral hit The Story of Stuff. Here’s an excerpt.

    ANNIE LEONARD: At the store, the choices seem endless. I can get lipstick in forty-nine shades or shampoo for hair that’s too dry, oily, fine, limp or frizzy. But what about the choices that really matter, like the choice to buy products that are safe? It turns out the important decisions don’t happen when I choose to take a product off the shelf; they happen when companies and governments decide what products should go on the shelves.

    So, who are these companies? This is Proctor and Gamble. They’re the ones offering me Herbal Essences, the number two shampoo in the country. It contains toxic petrochemicals made from oil. Since when is oil an herb? On cosmetic labels, words like “herbal,” “natural,” even “organic,” have no legal definition. That means that anybody can put anything in a bottle and call it “natural.” And they do. I mean, can you imagine a top seller called Petro Essences? Gross! What’s even nastier are hair relaxers marketed to five-year-olds and skin-whitening creams. These are super toxic, both in their ingredients and in the message they send about what beauty is.

    Ooh, here’s Estée Lauder offering me a chance to help find a cure for breast cancer! That’s nice. But wait. They’re also using chemical linked to cancer. Don’t you think the best way for Estée Lauder to fight cancer is to stop using those chemicals in the first place? So, really, I get to choose between meaningless claims on a bottle, but these guys get the real choice about what goes into those bottles.

    And that happens back here, at the factories where they’re formulated. Why do the makers of these products use all these toxics? Are they trying to poison us? No, they’re just working from a 1950s mindset when people were totally swept up in better living through chemistry. In all that excitement, they forgot to worry about human health impacts. That was years ago, and they’re still using these same old toxic chemicals.

    Today, big cosmetics companies say the doses of poison in their products are small enough to be harmless. Yeah, maybe if you use them once a year. I guess they never get out and see that their products are being used and combined with other products every day. A little toxic dose under your arms, a little more on your hair, on your lips. And workers in nail and hair salons get dosed all day long.

    So the industry is used to doing things this way. And they can, because even now that scientists have linked the chemicals they’re using to all sorts of problems, there are no laws to get rid of them. You’re thinking, “Really? Come on. Nobody’s making sure that the stuff we smear all over our bodies is safe?” Nope. The FDA doesn’t even assess the safety of personal care products or their ingredients. Since 1938, they’ve banned just eight out of over 12,000 ingredients used in cosmetics. They don’t even require that all of the ingredients be listed on the label.

AMY GOODMAN: That excerpt from Annie Leonard’s new video The Story of Cosmetics, available in full at

Well, the new bill introduced by Congresswoman Schakowsky aims to close many of the current loopholes. But the cosmetic industry’s own trade group also announced last week it, too, is interested in having a formal process for the FDA to review the safety of ingredients. In a statement released last week, Lezlee Westine, the president and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council, said, quote, “For decades, the industry has had an impeccable safety record under the existing requirements implemented by FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Our products remain among the safest in the marketplace. Nonetheless, we believe it is time to develop a more contemporary approach that includes a greater federal regulatory role.”

Well, for more on the toxic chemicals in beauty products and the need for effective legislation and oversight of the cosmetics industry, we’re joined by two guests. Joining us from the University of California, Berkeley, studio is Stacy Malkan. She’s co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. And we’re joined from Washington, DC, by John Bailey. He’s the chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council. He formerly worked at the FDA for thirty years.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Stacy Malkan, let’s begin with you. Can you explain what legislation was introduced last night, Tuesday night, by Jan Schakowsky?

STACY MALKAN: Sure. Thanks for having me, Amy. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to talk about this landmark legislation. And the first thing I want to do is urge your viewers to please call your legislators and ask them to co-sponsor and support Jan Schakowsky’s bill, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.

As was mentioned earlier, the bill would require that companies phase out chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other harmful health effects, would set up a safety system to assess the chemicals for safety for the first time. This hasn’t been a requirement. Companies do not have to tell us everything that’s in their products, and they don’t have to assess them for safety. So this is critical legislation for all of our health. It’s so important that we move away from chemicals that are contributing to cancer, learning disabilities, rising rates of asthma, allergies and other diseases that are becoming epidemic.

And I think it’s so important that we start with these most intimate exposures, which is the products that we’re putting on our bodies, on our faces, in our hair on a daily basis. It’s just common sense that we phase carcinogens and hazardous chemicals out of those products.

And I’m really happy also to get a chance to talk to John Bailey today. And John, when you were in charge of the FDA Office of Cosmetics in the '80s, you know, you said that when products are on the market, consumers just assume that they can't hurt you, and that’s not always the case. And you said repeatedly that claims like “hypoallergenic” and “natural” mean absolutely nothing and that it’s up to consumers to figure out, you know, what’s — whether the companies — what the companies is telling them is true.

And I just think that consumers shouldn’t have to do so much work to figure out what’s in these products that we’re putting on our bodies. You know, we shouldn’t have to do a research project or have a PhD in chemistry to figure out what these chemicals are and what they do to us. I believe that it should be the responsibility of the companies to use their capacity for innovation to figure out how to phase out the carcinogens and make safe, non-toxic products.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bailey, your response? You’re now the chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council. For thirty years, you were a scientist at the FDA, in charge of the very division — is that right? — that would regulate the businesses that you now represent.

JOHN BAILEY: Well, thank you very much, Amy, for the opportunity to talk with you and Stacy today.

You know, I think the cosmetic industry record speaks for itself. For decades, we’ve sold safe products under the existing law, and that the products on the market are the safest that consumers will use every day. And certainly, we believe that today is a time to introduce a new legislation to bring it — to make it contemporary with what consumers expect, and that’s what we proposed earlier in the week. And in fact, we’ve been working with Congress for three years to come up with appropriate legislation.

That said, I think that the notion that cosmetics are laced with toxins and that consumers are put at risk is really not consistent with what really happens in the marketplace. The products are safe. Cosmetic companies take great steps to avoid and minimize exposures to substances. And the products that are sold here in the US are very much in line with those sold in the rest of the world, that are also safe. So, you know, I think it’s really a misrepresentation that consumer health is being put at risk by products on the market. And I think this legislation that we’ve put on the table will help to address any concerns, to address consumer interest and transparency, and give FDA more authority over products in the marketplace.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the legislation that you have introduced, the Personal Care Products Council, and Jan Schakowsky’s legislation differ?

JOHN BAILEY: Well, I think there are many common elements. We believe, in fact, that companies should register their products and should register their ingredients, that they should report serious adverse reactions to the agency, and that they should follow good manufacturing practice. And that has been in our proposal for a long time. We also believe that the agency, using sound science and good scientific practices, should assess some of the contaminants, some of the ingredients that have been of concern, and should issue guidance based on that science. And in addition, we believe that the law should recognize the considerable investment that the industry has put in over the years through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review program, which is an independent program of scientific experts that have been assessing cosmetic ingredients for more than thirty years. And we believe a more formal relationship should be formed with that.

Where I think we differ is that FDA cannot — it’s simply not something they’re able to do — assess all of these ingredients and make a determination of safe, unsafe. That’s really best done by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. The idea of classification of ingredients as safe or unsafe is not a simple process. It really has to take into account the ingredient, how it’s used, how it’s controlled, and so forth. So, I think that what we know about the Schakowsky bill — and frankly, we haven’t seen it yet — it goes far beyond what’s really necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. John Bailey, Personal Care Products Council, he’s the chief scientist there. And Stacy Malkan is co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and has written the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are John Bailey, he is the chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, previously thirty years at the FDA; Stacy Malkan is co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.

Stacy, your first chapter in your book “Indecent Exposure” — what are the chemicals that are getting into us? Can you go through some of the makeup, some of the personal care products we use? What is in them?

STACY MALKAN: Sure. Well, for the book, as I confessed in the book, I actually was a lover of makeup when I was a teenager. I used lots of products. And I was using about twenty products a day. So that was shampoos, lotions, hair gels, all kinds of makeup. And for the book, I went back, and I actually looked up all of those products that I had been using as a teen and learned that I had been exposing myself to 230 synthetic chemicals every day, you know, before even getting on the school bus. And that’s pretty typical kind of exposures for a teenage girl.

So, in that mix were seventeen carcinogens, chemicals linked to cancer. There were dozens of hormone-disrupting chemicals, many parabens, which can act like estrogen in the body. Lots of these products, as we know from the product tests we’ve conducted at Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, are contaminated with carcinogens like formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, that are not listed on the label. We found those chemicals in dozens of top-selling children’s bath products.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, on that issue —-

STACY MALKAN: We’ve found lead in lipstick.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, just one second. For example, you said dioxane in, what, baby soap. What do you mean it’s not listed on the label? What is listed, and what isn’t?

STACY MALKAN: Well, there are two huge loopholes in labeling laws. The companies don’t have to tell us what’s in fragrance, and that can be a dozen or more chemicals that are in any shampoo or conditioner with a fragrance, for example. They also don’t have to tell us about contaminants or byproducts, and those are some common ones that typically get into products from the chemical processes that are used. So, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane would be examples, nitrosamines. Those are carcinogens. We find lead in lipstick. We’ve done tests of kids’ face paint and found low levels of lead, as well as other heavy metals like nickel and chromium.

So, contaminants are very common. The industry knows about them. FDA knows about them. But there are no limits. And the only way to find out if your product contains them is to send it to a lab and spend a couple of hundred dollars to test it.

So the problem with cosmetics, as I was saying about my own daily exposures, it’s the mixture of low levels of hazardous chemicals that we’re exposed to continually, day after day after day. And the companies always say, and I’m sure John will say, it’s just low levels, it’s just a little bit, just traces of1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. But, you know, these are chemicals derived from oil products with known toxicities, and they’re mixed together. So a typical baby in a tub could be exposed to formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane from the shampoo, the bubble bath, the body wash. The same chemicals are used in laundry detergent, dish soap. So the exposures are continual. And there’s no need for it. There’s absolutely no reason on earth for baby shampoos to contain carcinogens. The companies already know how to make products without those chemicals, and that’s what they should be doing.

ANJALI KAMAT: John Bailey, what’s your response? Why won’t the industry ban these ingredients?

JOHN BAILEY: Well, you know, first I’d like to say that the legislation that we’ve proposed will in fact require FDA to examine and set quantitative levels for materials such as lead and 1,4-dioxane. But it’s also important to note that these are not new issues. They’ve been around for years. They’ve been thoroughly assessed for -— with regard to safety and exposure. The FDA has many times analyzed products in the marketplace. Most recently, they published a very comprehensive and thorough analysis of lead in lipstick and concluded that the levels being reported do not present a health risk. And this is consistent with what happens in other parts of the world. With 1,4-dioxane, it’s the same situation. The levels are very low. The exposures have been assessed and determined not to be a health risk to children.

And the notion of cumulative exposure, I think, is one that needs to be explained a little further, because normal safety assessment by toxicologists will take into account margins of safety that will address issues of a cumulative exposure. So this is not really a problem with regard to these trace contaminants. So, you know, I think our legislation —-

AMY GOODMAN: John Bailey, are -—

JOHN BAILEY: — will address this in a very public — yes, yes?

AMY GOODMAN: Are there any chemicals you think should be banned?

JOHN BAILEY: Well, you know, I think that the levels should be set and controlled so that everyone knows what is safe and what levels the suppliers and product manufacturers should test to to make sure that they are controlled. The same thing goes with parabens, which Stacy also mentioned. These are very, very important ingredients that prevent the growth of microorganisms. And microorganisms can seriously injure you. So these are important. So when you talk about taking these out, you really need to think about the consequences. So, we’re also proposing that these materials be assessed and conditions of safe use established.

So I think, to get to your question, we know what materials are unsafe. They are not used in products. This has been known for a long time. And the industry practices help —-

AMY GOODMAN: Let me -—

JOHN BAILEY: — to ensure that consumers are protected.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Stacy Malkan — this issue of lead in lipstick, this is pretty straightforward. Women apply lipstick throughout the day. They’re both licking it off, actually ingesting it with their tongues, right? And also it goes into their lips. And they’re reapplying and reapplying. How do you know if there’s lead in lipstick?

STACY MALKAN: Well, we tested a bunch of lipsticks and found that they contained lead. As John mentioned, FDA did a study. To call it a comprehensive study is a gross misrepresentation. The FDA did no type of safety assessment to determine the safety of lead in lipstick. They took two years to analyze lipsticks for lead, and then they reported, yes, guess what, lipsticks contain lead. Some brands — and they happen to be the most popular brands on the market — L’Oréal, CoverGirl, Revlon, Maybelline — had much higher levels than many other brands. And so, yeah, I think it’s a good idea to establish good manufacturing practices and say to those companies, “Hey, let’s figure out how to get rid of this problem,” because any amount of lead —-

AMY GOODMAN: Why do they put lead in lipstick?

STACY MALKAN: —- is dangerous. We know that from the science. And I’ve heard like John —-

AMY GOODMAN: Stacy? Stacy? Stacy?

STACY MALKAN: —- say, you know, well, lead is a problem mostly for children. Yeah?

AMY GOODMAN: Stacy, why do they put lead in lipstick?

STACY MALKAN: Lead is a contaminant in lipstick. It’s either because ingredients that they’re using are — have lead in them or it could be part of the pigment or the colorant that companies are using to get certain color quality.

And so, as I was saying, you know, it’s been said that lead exposure is really just a problem for children, and kids don’t wear lipstick. But I think it’s really important to point out, you know, where do children come from? They come from the bodies of women. And women, as you said, Amy, millions of women are applying lipstick to their lips every day. And lead is a substance that builds in the body; it stays with us, builds up over time. So, any amount of lead exposure is something that you want to avoid. And the Centers for Disease Control even says that consumers should avoid cosmetics that could be contaminated with lead. And we know from our tests that that includes face paints and also lipstick.

ANJALI KAMAT: Stacy Malkan, John Bailey mentioned —-

STACY MALKAN: And consumers can’t know about this, because it’s not on the label.

ANJALI KAMAT: Stacy, John Bailey mentioned the other parts of the world. How does the United States compare to, say, Europe? What are the regulations there on cosmetics?

STACY MALKAN: Well, the United States is much further behind than most other countries, industrialized countries, when it comes to cosmetics safety. Europe has banned about 1,100 chemicals that are known or highly suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. And many other countries have followed suit. Japan has banned formaldehyde. These are chemicals -— some of them are still being used in the United States. For example, we find dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, coal tar in dandruff shampoo, lead acetate in men’s hair dyes. Those are products you wouldn’t find in Europe. And so, the US is much further behind. Canada is further ahead. They’re setting up a hotlist of chemicals that need to be phased out of cosmetics. And those are good steps.

And John mentioned that — you know, the industry’s recommendations, and I want to say about that that it’s good to see that the industry is acknowledging that the current regulatory system is inadequate. And yes, we do need to have requirements, like companies reporting to FDA if people have illnesses or injuries from cosmetics. But I have to also say that, John, I was at an industry conference in 2006, and I heard you say to the room full of companies that that reporting of adverse effects requirement was part of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, but that it was something that you got rid of when you were at the head of the FDA Office of Cosmetics. And then you’re back in your role as the trade association representative, suggesting that the industry put that forth as a voluntary program.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bailey, your response?

STACY MALKAN: And so that companies could tell FDA if people were having injuries if they felt like it. And, you know, those are the kind of typical PR tricks that we see. We’ve seen it from the chemical industry. We see it from the tobacco industry.

JOHN BAILEY: Well, let me speak up here, because, you know, I think I should have an opportunity to comment.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, go ahead, John Bailey.

JOHN BAILEY: I mean, yeah, the part of the FDA program that was terminated was under a voluntary reporting program that also addresses manufacturers’ ingredients. And at the time, under the executive office of the government, there was a move to reduce the burden on industry, to remove programs that weren’t gathering any new information. So this voluntary program, because we had been collecting information for many years, was in fact terminated.

What we’re talking about now is something very different. This is a mandatory reporting of serious and unexpected adverse reactions that may occur. This is very similar to what is required for drugs. And so, this would be important information for FDA as they decide how to allocate their resources.

That said, in my experience at FDA, there were very few serious adverse reactions to cosmetics, a handful over many, many years. And I think that stands to prove, to demonstrate that the risk posed by cosmetics is quite small. So I think that there’s a bit of a mixing of apples and oranges here that really don’t clearly reflect what’s being proposed under the new — the proposals that we put forth earlier this week. And that would be mandatory registration of products, mandatory registration of ingredients, and following good manufacturing practices. And I have to say that the past legislation, over the past decades, has actually served quite well. But I think it’s time, and what we have proposed addresses this, to develop a more contemporary approach that has greater federal oversight and that addresses consumers’ interests in transparency having a federal role, as well as preserving innovation, which I think is a really important point for consumers who expect good and new and products that perform the way they expect them to.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bailey, what about this, that over a thousand substances are currently banned for use in cosmetic products in the EU, in the European Union; in comparison, less than two dozen chemicals are restricted or banned for use in cosmetic products in the United States?

JOHN BAILEY: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s often stated, and it really doesn’t get into the reality of what happened in Europe. In Europe, they passed a requirement that all substances be put on a list of banning, regardless of whether they actually had use in cosmetics. And if you look at that list — and you can go to the website and look at the European Cosmetics Directive, Annex II, and you’ll see there are things like asphalt and tail gases and jet fuel and diesel oil and all kinds of things that simply never have been and would never be used in cosmetics. So, to say that there are 1,100 — and actually, the number is up to more like 1,400 now, because of this dumping of materials into the Cosmetics Directive — you’ll see that most of it is irrelevant. What is left parallels very closely what happens — you know, what’s banned in the US, as well as industry practices in ensuring that their products are safe and avoiding ingredients that may have a concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask —-

STACY MALKAN: Amy, we also see on that list chemicals -—

AMY GOODMAN: Stacy Malkan, what about pinkwashing? You have a whole chapter on that. What does that mean?

STACY MALKAN: So, pinkwashing is when companies present themselves as advocates for women’s health in the fight against breast cancer and yet continue to use chemicals that are linked to cancer. Annie talks about that in the film, and she mentions Estée Lauder. Revlon, Avon are also companies that have pink ribbon events and give money to breast cancer charities. And that’s great, but how these companies could really be champions for women’s health would be to stop buying carcinogens from the chemical companies. And, unfortunately, we see that all three of those companies have products with high toxicities, dozens of products that rank an eight or higher in our Skin Deep database, and products that contain chemicals like formaldehyde, releasing preservatives and chemicals that are ethoxylated, which are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and which use in the processing a known breast carcinogen, ethylene oxide, which may be causing worker exposures. And so, you know, we just need to get carcinogens out of these products and for these companies to stand — the first one to stand up and say they’re going to be the one to do it, I think, is one that is going to be making a smart move, because consumers do not want to be buying products with carcinogens. And I think those three companies have a particular responsibility to clean up their act.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Stacy Malkan, thanks so much for joining us. Not Just a Pretty Face is the title of her book, The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. And I also want to thank John Bailey for being with us, chief scientist for Personal Care Products Council.

JOHN BAILEY: Thank you.

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