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What to Know About the Safety of Ingredients in Beauty Products

Individual companies, not the Food and Drug Administration, vouch for the safety of products like makeup and bodywash

Like most people, Sherly Diana and her 16-year-old daughter Cinta assumed that ingredients in their personal care products like makeup and bodywash went through a government approval process before they ended up on their skin.

But individual companies, not the Food and Drug Administration, vouch for the safety of these products.

"That's the responsibility of the marketer," said Dr. Jay Ansell, a vice president of the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC).

The group is the leading national trade association representing the $48 billion personal care product industry in the United States.

"The person who puts the product on the market is ultimately responsible for the safety of their products," Ansell said.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a problem with that.

"What we want is an unbiased approach — a third party who has no vested interest in the outcome," said Nneka Leiba, a vice president with the activist group.

The industry says that already exists. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel verifies the safety of ingredients. Though some studies have shown concerning health effects caused by certain chemicals in products, the CIR does not believe that the trace amounts used in our products are a problem.

It's important to note that the CIR is funded by the very industry it serves.

Ansell said this isn't a conflict of interest.

"We pay them for their time; we don’t pay them for their opinion. These are internationally known experts, and I don’t believe that you could pay them to draw conclusions that are inconsistent to what their experience says," he said.

For decades, the EWG and other consumer groups have pushed for more federal oversight. To give the FDA more legal authority over cosmetics and personal care products would literally take an act of Congress. That hasn't happened in 81 years.

The 2019 Personal Care Products Act is making its way through Congress now. It would give the FDA authority to recall personal care products. The FDA would be given the resources to evaluate five ingredients per year to determine their safety. And manufacturers would be required to list fragrance ingredients that now are considered trade secrets.

The bill has bipartisan support and some of the big names in the industry have signed on.

Diana and her daughter, who live in Haymarket, Virginia, said they're doing a little makeover when it comes to knowing what's behind the label.

"I have learned products, even if they say 'natural,' they may not be as natural," she said. "You might think something is full of chemicals when it actually has less than you think. ... You just have to do research into it."

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