Cosmetics companies bow to EU pressure

The United States must increase regulation and research of toxins in cosmetics.

Cosmetic manufacturers Procter & Gamble and Estee Lauder Companies decided to reformulate their nail polishes amid health concerns from the European Union. The companies own Aveda, Clinique, MAC, Cover Girl, Max Factor and Olay, among others. The new formulas will remove common chemical components called phthalates that caused damage to offspring in laboratory tests on animals and pose a health risk to women. The move is a reminder of the United States’ inadequate regulation of the health and beauty industry.

The United States does not test nor require testing of any cosmetic products before they hit the market. The Food and Drug Administration only requires testing if it receives complaints about a specific product or amid a major health concern. Marilyn Joseph, medical director at Boynton Health Service and director of the women’s clinic, said the FDA policy might cause problems in the long run but is consistent with Boynton’s practices: “We normally tell patients not to use any products we consider harmful Ö we just don’t know all the causes of problems like birth defects and cancer.”

In December 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more research was needed to determine the exact health effects of phthalates on humans. But California already included two common phthalates in its list of possible carcinogenic or reproductive toxins that might be limited or banned soon. The ban would affect almost every nail polish and synthetic fragrance on the market.

Cosmetics are just one example of domestic consumers’ growing overdependence on foreign regulation and research. Despite similar outcries in the United States, the European Union was the first to send strong warnings against the prescription of certain antidepressants to children.

The FDA is failing to protect consumer health and should be reformed. It is unacceptable for U.S. consumers, and women in particular, to be subject to potential toxins until further research can be conducted. The burden of research must fall on cosmetic manufacturers and must occur before introducing products.