By Kim Robson:
Our broken Congress is finally working on passing a bill. Is it the Farm Act? Immigration reform? Campaign finance reform? Repairing our infrastructure? No. Congress is cracking down on a public menace to the American people: handmade soaps.
Yes, Senators Dianne Feinstein (California-D) and Susan Collins (Maine-R) want to protect us from handmade soaps and all-natural cosmetics and beauty products. The Personal Care Products Safety Act, if passed, could strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to regulate the ingredients in personal care products, including mom-and-pops making ends meet at the local farmers’ markets.
Feinstein and Collins have, not surprisingly, won endorsements on the bill from giant cosmetics corporations: Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Unilever, and L’Oreal. The act would require all cosmetic businesses — regardless of size — to complete onerous government registration forms with detailed ingredient lists.
It’s been 75 years since federal regulations on cosmetics have been updated, the senators argue. “From shampoo to lotion, the use of personal care products is widespread, however, there are very few protections in place to ensure their safety,” Feinstein said. “Europe has a robust system, which includes consumer protections like product registration and ingredient reviews. I am pleased to be introducing this bipartisan legislation with Senator Collins that will require FDA to review chemicals used in these products and provide clear guidance on their safety. In addition, the legislation has broad support from companies and consumer groups alike.”
Stay-at-home moms, crafty retirees, and entrepreneurial environmentalists are pushing back, though. The Handmade Cosmetic Alliance (HCA) represents more than 300,000 small handmade cosmetic companies throughout the U.S. HCA opposes the bill, charging that it “imposes burdensome fees, registration requirements and reporting mandates” and will jeopardize small home operations run out of kitchens and garages. These businesses “primarily use food-grade ingredients that can [be], and often are, purchased in local grocery stores.”
Debbie May, executive director of the HCA, says, “The HCA, along with other handmade cosmetic organizations, support efforts to make meaningful policy changes to enhance cosmetic safety. However, subjecting small handmade cosmetic companies which operate with less than a handful of employees to onerous regulation is not only unfair and unprecedented, but creates regulatory requirements that will force businesses to close their doors.”
Big corporations can absorb the cost of additional regulations: small businesses cannot. “Handmade cosmetic companies should be exempt from product registration and ingredient filings with the FDA since handmade products already bear labels with all ingredients listed,” the HCA said.
“Yet, the little guy — the competition — often works on a shoestring and doesn’t have the support or robust finances to endure these regulations,” writes Julie Gunlock of the Independent Women’s Forum. “And so these companies are often the ones really hurt by these unnecessary regulations.”
Just as small farms and businesses were exempted from the Food Modernization and Safety Act, there also should be exemptions for small cosmetics businesses with average annual sales of less than $2 million dollars.
Both sides agree that the bill does have some good points. For instance, it would require the FDA to test the safety of the five most common chemicals found in cosmetics, particularly those used by big corporations: quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, propyl paraben, lead acetate, and methylene glycol/formaldehyde.
If you want to continue using all-natural handmade soaps, lotions and scrubs, contact your state senator and register your disapproval of the Personal Care Products Safety Act, at least as it is currently written.