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300 companies join campaign for safer cosmetics

More than 300 cosmetics and body care products companies have signed an agreement promising to replace ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other adverse health effects with safer alternatives within the next three years. Twenty of the companies that signed were based in the Bay Area, including Juice Beauty, Avalon Natural Products and Wild Thyme Botanicals.

Many of the largest cosmetics companies, however, have refused to sign the compact, including L'Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Gap, Avon, OPI and Proctor & Gamble.

By signing the agreement, which is known as the "Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products," companies agree to meet the new European Union standards banning chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects. They also agree to conduct an inventory of all ingredients to determine whether they use chemicals that pose health hazards, implement plans to substitute dangerous or potentially dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives and to report to the public on their progress in meeting these goals.

According to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the Food and Drug Administration does not review or regulate cosmetics products or ingredients for safety before they are sold to the public, nor do they have any legal authority to require safety assessments of cosmetics.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics spokeswoman Stacy Malkan said that with drugs, the FDA requires a company to prove that a drug is safe before putting it on the market, but with cosmetics, there has to be a proven danger before the FDA will ban a chemical, said Malkan.

"It's extremely difficult to ban a chemical in the U.S.," said Malkan. Formaldehyde, for example, is listed as a carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency but continues to be used in many nail polish brands.

The United States has only banned nine chemicals from cosmetics, such as arsenic and vinyl chloride, which are known to be harmful to health. The EU has banned approximately 1300 chemicals from cosmetics that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and gene mutations.

"They're essentially looking at same science we are, but taking a more precautionary approach," said Malkan.
She said that the companies that have refused to sign the agreement have given her and other people with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics various responses. Malkan said those responses ranged from not talking at all to saying they don't sign pledges. "They haven't yet shown a willingness to work with public interest groups," she said. "They think what's in their products is their business."

According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, women and girls use an average of 12 personal care products daily. One out of every 100 personal care products on the market contains known or probable carcinogens and 89 percent of ingredients in products have not been assessed for safety.