SANTA MONICA, United States — There is a clash happening in Washington, D.C., and it has nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election. Fuelled by an intense debate over the need for federal regulation of the questionable or potentially harmful ingredients used in many personal care and cosmetics products, the policy fight erupted onto the public stage this week in a New York Times editorial, which cited Los Angeles-based Wen Hair Care as an example of why stronger consumer protection is needed.
As a leader in the safer beauty category, I cannot overemphasise the importance of public education on this issue. Research shows the vast majority of American consumers remain totally unaware of the risks associated with many ingredients. Most falsely believe the FDA already regulates personal care products.
The truth is, the US personal care and beauty industries are severely under-regulated. When it comes to cosmetics safety, the EU has banned or restricted over 1,400 ingredients, while the US has only taken action on 11. The few consumer protections that do exist in the US date back to the World War II era, with the last major federal update being in 1938.
This is not a cosmetics or personal care industry issue; this is a women’s health issue.
Both science and consumer expectations have changed dramatically since then, and Congress must act now to protect the public. In response to growing public concern, senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced the Personal Care Product Safety Act, a bill intended to bring the cosmetics industry into the 21st century. Many might find it strange for a beauty executive like me to support increased regulation of my own industry, but the expectations of business conduct and ethics have changed since 1938, too.
A growing force of new, socially-minded businesses are solving problems in new ways and earning the support of today’s ethically-conscious millennial consumers. We have pioneered safer standards in beauty because it is the right thing to do, and because it is good for our business as well. Entrepreneurism, at its best, solves problems — rather than lobbying to avoid them, as many traditional beauty brands do. The behind-the-scenes fight in the beauty industry has nothing to do with the size or age of the companies involved; it has everything to do with how forward-thinking and responsible they choose to be.
Peer-reviewed scientific literature shows that reducing daily exposure to certain harmful chemicals presents a major opportunity for reducing the chance of future health problems, from certain cancers to reproductive issues. Major professional health organisations, such as The Endocrine Society, have sounded the alarm on the hormone-disrupting ingredients found in many products. For this reason, I see the need for action as urgent. This is not a cosmetics or personal care industry issue; this is a women’s health issue.
Women cannot afford to wait for legislation to catch up with their needs. We must innovate and solve the problems that threaten our health and that of our children. New businesses are blossoming to meet increased demand for safer products. It is time for new beauty standards to stare down and eliminate the outdated legislation that protects old beauty ideas.
Gregg Renfrew is the founder and CEO of Beautycounter.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.