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Toxics in Cosmetics

More than 10,000 ingredients are utilized in cosmetics and personal care products yet nearly 90% percent of these have never been evaluated for safety by the FDA or the Cosmetics Industry Review panel. Read our Buying Guide for more infomation.

As You Sow launched a shareholder campaign in 2005 with the Investor Environmental Health Network and in consultation with leading health groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund. We asked companies to reformulate their products to meet the stricter cosmetic safety standards of the European Union (EU) and to increase transparency of their product ingredients, company safety standards, and procedures.

As You Sow filed a Product Safety shareholder resolution with Johnson & Johnson in 2005 calling for a report on the status of the company’s use of chemicals banned by the European Union (EU) in the company’s products sold to non-EU markets, and the costs and timeframe for global reformulation.

In 2006, As You Sow, its shareholder coalition partners, and health experts met with Johnson & Johnson senior management and later withdrew our resolution based on the company’s continued progress in applying stricter EU standards to its U.S. markets; and its promises to increase transparency through web disclosures. The company also provided written information that outlined its global safety standards, ingredient safety process, approach to phasing out chemicals, and program for supplier compliance with safety standards; and provided additional information on products of specific concern such as coal tar.

Companies including Johnson & Johnson, Avon, and Procter & Gamble now claim to be in full or significant compliance with EU Directive 2003/15/EC which banned the sale of cosmetics or personal care products that contain any ingredients on a list of chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation, or birth defects. This list included Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) a reproductive toxin that was commonly used in the US at that time.

As You Sow also engaged with cosmetics companies on their use of nanomaterials, which are defined as substances smaller than one-billionth of a meter. By virtue of their tiny size, nanomaterials are much more chemically reactive than their normal-scale counterparts and are more likely to pass through biological membranes, circulate through the body, and enter cells. They are currently being used in cosmetics such as sunscreens, moisturizers, lip gloss, and complexion creams. As You Sow and other concerned shareholders are asking companies such as Avon, Procter & Gamble, and Walmart to:

  • Commit to remove, reduce, or label nanomaterials in their product lines pendin the results of long-term safety testing;
  • Conduct inventory surveys identifying which products contain nanomaterials; and
  • Increase transparency and public reporting of safety testing procedures and results.



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