Potentially harmful chemicals used in many cosmetic products banned by California governor

Oct 11, 2023, 4:51 PM

The formulation of some cosmetics may change in a few years due to a new California law banning cer...

The formulation of some cosmetics may change in a few years due to a new California law banning certain chemicals. Mandatory Credit: torwai/iStockphoto/Getty Images

(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has banned 26 chemicals — used in many cosmetics such as hair products, bodywash and nail polish — due to concerns about health harms.

The Golden State’s economy is the largest in the United States and the fifth largest in the world, meaning the new law marks another move that could influence the consumer landscape of not only California, but the rest of the nation.

Introduced by Assemblymember Laura Friedman in February, Assembly Bill 496 expands upon the state’s 2020 Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, which bans 24 other commonly used chemicals from inclusion in personal care products. The original law goes into effect in 2025, and the new law won’t be implemented until 2027, giving companies time to revamp product recipes.

This year’s law, approved by Newsom on October 8, prohibits the manufacture, selling or delivery of any cosmetic product containing ingredients commonly used in shampoo and conditioner; hairspray and dyes; hygiene products; foundation and primer; lotions; fragrances such as perfumes and laundry powders; and more.

The banned ingredients — including vinyl acetate, boron substances, certain colors and styrene — are found in at least hundreds of products, according to the Environmental Working Group. You can view the list of all 50 banned chemicals here.

“Personal care products and cosmetics should be non-toxic for everyone,” Friedman said in a news release from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization that sponsored the legislation.

“Every day, Californians use soaps, shampoos, makeup and other personal care products without realizing that those products could contain chemicals that present serious health risks,” Friedman added. “The European Union prohibits almost 2,000 chemicals in such products, so this ban on noxious carcinogens and endocrine disruptors is long overdue.”

The US cosmetic industry isn’t required by law to have approval from the US Food and Drug Administration before putting products on the market.

“The banned chemicals have been linked to various health issues, including cancer, genetic defects and environmental damage,” said Dr. Neil Kline, director of the American Cosmetic Association, via email. “California’s recent decision to ban cosmetics containing 26 toxic chemicals is a significant win for consumer safety and public health.”

How cosmetics are regulated

The Environmental Working Group contends that “in the absence of comprehensive federal protection, it falls on states to step up and ensure these harmful substances are absent from our daily routines.”

The US Food and Drug Administration regulates cosmetics under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but says products and their ingredients intended to cleanse or beautify “are not subject to FDA premarket approval, except color additives.”

premarket approval application is scientific documentation provided to the FDA to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of a product or device.

“The (FDA) and the personal care products industry continuously strive to ensure cosmetics safety,” said the Personal Care Products Council in a statement. The council is a national trade association representing more than 600 companies, including 100 with a site or presence in California.

“For more than a decade,” the council said, “PCPC and its member companies … worked diligently with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders and a diverse group of stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of the FDA regulatory authority and to provide the safety reassurances that consumers expect and deserve.”

As a result, US President Joe Biden’s signing of the 2022 Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act, or MoCRA, established new requirements for manufacturers and enforcement authorities for the FDA.

These conditions include requirements to report serious adverse events within 15 days, to register facilities with the FDA and renew registrations every two years, and to list each marketed cosmetic product and its ingredients with the agency and provide annual updates. Cosmetic companies also have a legal responsibility to ensure their products and ingredients are safe, as “neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients,” according to the FDA.

Potential health harms

Some of the banned chemicals have also been linked to impaired fertility, skin burns, and organ or eye damage, according to the Environmental Working Group.

“Borate compounds, like borax, have been used in cosmetics as preservatives, emulsifiers, and pH adjusters,” Kline said via email. “Some concerns have been raised about their potential to imbalance the endocrine system and they also cause skin irritation.”

Cyclotetrasiloxane, one of the newly banned ingredients found in some skin and hair conditioners, has been found to be “environmentally persistent,” Kline added, “as it accumulates in water and can harm fish and aquatic life.”

Some concerns about these chemicals have more to do with the packaging of cosmetics than the products themselves. Styrene, for example, “is not typically found in cosmetics but is used in the production of some packaging materials,” Kline said. “Long-term exposure to high levels of styrene has been associated with cancer risk.”

If you want to avoid these ingredients on your own until the law takes effect in four years’ time, check the ingredient labels of products before buying.

Many of these ingredients can be listed under synonymous names, so you can also use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to learn which products contain these ingredients and how they could affect your health.

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Potentially harmful chemicals used in many cosmetic products banned by California governor