This past week concerned customers have been taking letters to Walgreen asking them to #MindtheStore by keeping products containing any of a list of 100 hazardous ingredients off their shelves. Similar previous efforts have resulted in Target and Walmart agreeing to take steps to reduce and eliminate hazardous chemicals in their products. Some might wonder whether this course of action is really necessary. I mean, don't our national laws and regulations prevent retailers from selling hazardous products in the first place?
Acceptable Levels of Risk
Although most consumers believe the U.S. government regulates the safety of personal care products, the sad truth is, personal products (a.k.a. cosmetics) are among the least-regulated products on the market. The current cosmetics law in the United States dates back to 1938, long before thousands of ingredients had even been invented. The FDA (charged with oversight of the cosmetics industry) has no authority to require pre-market safety testing, does not have the authority to regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for consumer use, and has no authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics or even to require that manufacturers report cosmetics-related injuries to the FDA (source).
In fact, the cosmetics industry rather than a government agency is in charge of policing itself. Like many other industries before them (tobacco, alcohol, and now food), when faced with the possibility of meaningful government regulation (in 1978), the cosmetics industry volunteered to regulate itself by creating the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel. Who determines if ingredients are safe enough to be used in personal products?
"Acceptable levels of risk are entirely at the [Industry] Panel's discretion" (source).