The Humane Cosmetics Act emphasizes the importance of beauty labeling


On January 1 of this year, California’s Humane Cosmetics Act of 2018 came into effect, banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. Illinois and Nevada have both signed equivalent bills, with federal legislation possibly to follow in the not-so-distant future. While this represents an incredible milestone for the animal welfare community, as the United States takes a big step toward joining the global community of cruelty-free nations, the significance is also largely symbolic.

“It should be noted that cosmetic testing on animals is extremely rare, as the industry moved away from this inhuman practice almost a decade ago,” says Mia Davis, CreedDirector of Environmental and Social Responsibility of. Some exemptions will remain legally – as in the case of drugs like sunscreen, ingredients that have been benefiting from acquired rights from previous tests or industries, as well as ingredients with particular safety concerns – but efforts by California, Illinois and Nevada are expected to ensure that all cosmetics sold will be cruelty-free from January 1 . “The brands aren’t going to make one cruelty-free version for California and another for the rest of the country, of course,” says Davis.

The passage of the HCA also points to progress towards beauty reform, especially with regard to label regulation. The policy of beauty labels – concerning cruelty to animals, but also the health of consumers – is stormy. Political loopholes can lead to poor communication between beauty brands and their customers. For example, a lack of uniformity between naming organizations allowed so-called cruelty-free brands (some that publicly denounced cosmetic testing on animals, such as Caudalie and Urban degradation) to legally sell in the mainland market of China, where until January this resulted in compulsory cosmetic tests on animals abroad.

If passed, the HCA at the federal level will address this type of discrepancy. Victoria Katrinak, head of animal research and testing at the Humane Society of the United States, shares: “The new HCA language… would prohibit a company from putting a cruelty-free label on its product if it was tested… for meet foreign testing requirements. She adds that while state-level legislation does not directly address labeling, companies can no longer use “outsourced” data derived from animal testing abroad to justify the safety of labeling. their ingredients.

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Why is this important? Because past experience proves that transparency is sorely lacking when the industry is left to self-regulation. Deceptive marketing of ambiguous or inaccurate labels remains an endemic problem, challenging the government’s hands-off, pro-business approach. Yet a growing body of evidence and consumer demand is pushing the industry towards stricter regulations regarding the ethical basis of beauty.

Several ethical dilemmas currently arise from a lack of label oversight. Among nail polish brands, “green whitening” complaints target brands that claim to exclude “bad chemicals,” pointing out those omissions with “n-free” labels. But without a legal definition specifying which ingredients are toxic, some brands take liberties in how they label their formulas. A polish without seven can indeed be “cleaner” than its counterpart without 10, or even 16 without, because of these inconsistencies in nail polish labels that leave consumers to fend for themselves to do in-depth brand and ingredient research.

The recent documentary Toxic beauty portrays another political battle over beauty labels; namely, Johnson & Johnson’s long resistance to printing warning labels on products containing talc. Despite the evidence linking the contamination of talc with carcinogenic asbestos to cases of ovarian cancer in long-term customers, the company strongly supports the studies commissioned to defend the safety of its products. “The truth is, you’d have to have a product tested in an impartial lab and know the formulation and combinations of chemicals that interact with each other, in order to really know what’s in your body. [beauty] produced, according to most of our film experts, ”says Phyllis Ellis, director of Toxic beauty.

Another oft-cited regulatory loophole allows hidden phthalates (which have been shown to be potential endocrine disruptors) to go undisclosed in products listing synthetic fragrances as an ingredient. Consumer watch groups have sprung up to address the lack of government control, with organizations like Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental working group awareness and advocacy for change. Without the private efforts of these consumer groups, we would be forced to navigate an industry teeming with undisclosed and hidden carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and toxins found in our beauty and personal care products.

“‘Safest’ [likely means] do not use anything with the word “perfume” or “perfume” on the label, as these words alone can indicate hundreds of chemicals, [some of which are harmful]”Says Ellis.” Talc, asbestos, mercury, lead … Why is it in the products we put on our skin, our hair, our lips? “And why, given the deleterious impact that it has on public health, have retailers, brands, experts and advocacy groups gone to lead the battle for well-being in style?

According to Jessica DeFino, a beauty journalist who covers cosmetic regulation, “Most labels in the beauty industry are nothing more than exaggerated marketing terms; very few are regulated.” [Editor’s note: DeFino is also a frequent Fashionista contributor.] She explains how these ethical issues arise when brands use words with vague definitions in order to give consumers a false sense of security. DeFino points out that words and labels with concrete definitions (ie “vegan”, “oil free”) raise fewer red flags. However, labels with ambiguous definitions such as “clean”, “green”, “non-toxic”, “organic” and “natural” – none of which are defined by law – allow brands to benefit health-conscious consumers. who feel falsely reassured. product safety. In reality, the lack of regulatory oversight makes these colloquial terms meaningless. (There is a bill to legally define the term “natural” for this very reason.)

The dangers of labeling do not end there, yet the question is complex. On the one hand, DeFino points out that the sense of security is largely subjective and that the government might not be the appropriate entity to make such decisions. “Should the government decide what this means? She asks, “Probably not … And even if they did, brands would find a way around the problem, by offering New unregulated labels to stick on a bottle. “

Experts tend to agree that the role of government through legislation like the HCA is to establish an ethical basis for the industry, and also agree that reform is urgently needed. “The law that governs the approximately $ 90 billion beauty industry dates back to 1938 and is only a page and a half long,” Davis points out, adding that “it allows carcinogens in baby shampoos.” .

The need to improve the ethics of beauty has changed the entrepreneurial landscape, with the efforts of retailers, brands and individual groups to educate the public. In such a competitive market, it takes courage to take a public stance to formulate and sell only those products that research has found to be non-toxic. This is why advocates of clean beauty emphasize transparency as a fundamental principle of the movement.

With the industry having long taken a stand in favor of animal welfare, perhaps the next decade will see similar progress made in the name of human welfare as well. “We are talking about the safety and health of millions of Americans who use these products,” writes Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) of the aforementioned Natural Cosmetics Act. “My bill will set the standard for ‘natural’ personal care products and do good for American consumers by putting transparency first.” So far, these are two labels – “cruelty-free” and “natural” – how many more do we have to go through?

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