California legislators move to ban certain chemicals in personal care products, including PFAS

By John Breslin | Mar 25, 2019

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SACRAMENTO – California legislators are moving to try and ban a wide range of chemicals historically used in cosmetic products.

Assembly Bill 495 lists 20 chemicals the legislators want banned, including ones that supporters say are carcinogenic or may be reproductive and hormone disruptors.

But the filing of the bill has drawn criticism from one industry group which claims that that the bill makes no sense.

"California already has a process in place to do exactly what this legislation is intending to do," said Andrew Fasoli, regional communication manager for the American Chemistry Council.

"In 2013 DTSC’s Safer Consumer Products Program took effect, creating a rulemaking authority that brings multiple stakeholders to the table to determine the risks that chemicals in consumer products pose and if a viable and effective alternative is available," Fasoli added.

"It does not make sense for the legislature to circumvent a program that they created and completely ignore the determinations made by qualified experts.”

The chemicals are often used as preservatives, which are a vital component of the personal care products as otherwise they can be a "breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and mold," according to a recent piece in the Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The ACS has been tracking the debate over the use of certain chemicals as preservatives, including the "unintended consequences" of the "shrinking list of approved preservatives."

At a national level, the ACS has noted that regulators are looking at the various preservatives in different cosmetic products to check their level of safety and potentially order lower concentrations or ban them. This view is disputed by the supporters of the bill, who claim there is little or no oversight of chemicals in personal care items.

California legislators are moving ahead with legislation that would force companies to remove the listed chemicals from their products.

"Many cosmetics companies are already reformulating their products to exclude these dangerous chemicals, but it’s important to establish a floor other companies can’t drop below,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in a press release. The EWG supports the bill along with CALPIRG, the consumer organization.

The legislation targets chemicals such as mercury, lead, phthalates, formaldehyde, triclosan and fluorinated compounds known as PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) are “adulterated cosmetics” that may not be sold in California.

Formaldehyde is one of the most widely used chemicals in cosmetic products. It is often used as a preservative.

A piece authored by Marc S. Reisch, a senior correspondent at C&EN, contains a warning as "preservatives play a key role in cosmetics."

"They prevent mold, fungi and bacteria from growing in creams, makeup and shampoos. Left unchecked, contaminants can spoil products or cause skin or eye infections or worse," Reisch wrote. "At a minimum, these bad actors can make shampoos and skin creams look unappealing and smell bad. More seriously, they can cause eye, skin, and respiratory infections."

Formaldehyde is either banned or restricted in around 40 countries. It is, for example, banned in cosmetics and toiletries in Japan and Sweden, restricted in personal care products in the EU, where labeling is required, while there are restrictions on concentration in Canada.

The bill was introduced by Assembly members Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).

"Californians deserve to know whether the cosmetic products they purchase in the state are not harmful to their health,” said Muratsuchi. “While cosmetic products sold in the U.S. are largely unregulated, other nations — and even retailers — have proactively banned or restricted the use of hundreds or thousands of cosmetic ingredients.

“Most of us, including me, use cosmetics on a daily basis,” said Wicks. “Some still contain chemicals that are harmful to our bodies."

California already has the Safe Cosmetics Program. Set up in 2006, it requires major cosmetics manufacturers to provide notification when one sells a personal care product containing a reproductive toxicant or a carcinogen.

Among those facing a ban, if the bill is passed, are lead, formaldehyde, parabens, which are various compounds used as preservatives, and flourinated PFAS compounds, which are used in a wide of products.

Under the bill, the Safe Cosmetics Program would be charged with policing the ban and reporting to the Attorney General, who would be required to investigate and potentially take companies to court for financial and criminal penalties if found to be violating law. 

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