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Government Regulations - Why They Often Don't Protect Consumers from Harmful Chemical Exposure

By HHI Staff

Many Americans believe cleaning product manufacturers—and especially cosmetics and toiletries companies—have volumes of strict regulations they must follow. It’s also commonly believed that their ingredients, products, and production lines are continually being monitored by government agencies. Unfortunately, these assumptions are wrong. In reality, the laws protecting citizens from potentially dangerous cleaning and personal-care products remain absent, minimal, or rarely enforced.


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For many centuries, there were no laws whatsoever concerning cleaning products, cosmetics and toiletries. Finally, the public demanded some type of restrictions be placed on cosmetics at least. And so, in this country, government regulation began with the passage of the 1938 U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Its purpose was to stop mislabeling and product adulteration (the addition of dangerous or impure substances). A number of regulations have since followed. Now, clear, accurate labeling of all cosmetic ingredients (except flavorings, fragrances, and colors) is required. Also, laws forbid the use of known cancer-causing ingredients and the inclusion of some particular dangerous substances in certain products. For example, compounds containing mercury can no longer be used in skin preparations.


Despite these federal regulations, ingredients that some researchers and consumers consider potentially harmful still remain in some cosmetics. This is due to several factors, a major one being that cosmetic manufacturers are not required to register their company, products, ingredients, or adverse reactions with the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, experts on an industry-created Cosmetics Ingredient Review Board determine product safety. Even if the Board decides to take some action, company compliance is only voluntary. Even in situations where regulations require the Food and Drug Administration itself to get involved, cosmetic-industry surveillance is still very limited because of budgetary and personnel limitations. Therefore, in many respects, government supervision and enforcement is only superficial at best.


Actually, for many personal-care items, as well as certain ingredients in otherwise regulated products, there are few or no government requirements or restrictions at this time. As it turns out, many toiletries, such as soap, are not legally classified as cosmetics, and, therefore, are completely unregulated. The same is true for most personal and home cleaning products. Also, as previously noted, fragrance, dye, and flavoring ingredients, even in a legally classified cosmetic preparation, are exempt from product-labeling regulations. Unfortunately, this is particularly distressing because the single word “fragrance” on a product label can mean that hundreds of individual chemical components have been added—but exactly what they are, perhaps no consumer will ever know. Keep in mind, too, some product ingredients can remain unknown to the public because they’re legally defined as proprietary trade secrets.


(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.) 




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Government Regulations - Why They Often Don't Protect Consumers from Harmful Chemical Exposure:  Created on February 28th, 2009.  Last Modified on February 27th, 2011


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