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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Consumer Protection Cosmetic Industry

Nearly five years after its scientific review panel said they were ineffective, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now proposed to ban the sales of all non-prescription drug products that claim to prevent or reduce baldness. Following the usual FDA practice of leisure, the proposed ban, now open to public comment by any interested citizens, won’t go into effect before 1987 at the earliest.
This news report reminded me of an even more delayed action by the FDA regarding harmful hair dyes. These coal-tar hair dyes were completely exempted from the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act due to industry lobbying. A warning label was required, however, but women and men who have their hair dyed in beauty and barber shops, do not get to see the warning on the package regarding a preliminary patch test to avoid allergic reactions. There is no warning required at all for sales to such grooming shops.

Thirty years ago, tests in Japan showed some of these hair dyes caused cancer in laboratory animals. More studies followed to confirm and expand these findings. And in 1975 came the report from the University of California that these hair dyes were also mutagenic (affecting the genes).

By 1979, animal test data produced for the National Cancer Institute, indicated that eight hair dye ingredients were cancer-causing. At this time, the press was reporting that some hair dyes seep into the bloodstream through the surface of the head. The FDA issued a regulation that year, effective in 1980, to require a label for one of these ingredients – 4MMPD – that states: “Warning – contains an ingredient that can penetrate your skin and has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”

Several hair dye manufacturers challenged this requirement in court. Relenting again, FDA agreed to reconsider its position and there has been no action since to warn consumers. Meanwhile, most manufacturers, concerned about liability suits, voluntarily stopped using 4MMPD: in their products. However, there are seven other carcinogenic hair dye ingredients still at large in the marketplace.

Last year, the FDA discovered several brands of eyelash and eyebrow dyes containing illegal coal -tar hair dyes and issued press releases urging beauty salons and women riot to use these products.

If all this makes you wonder whether you are protected at all from dangerous cosmetics and their increasingly drug-like claims to alter the human body, wonder no more. You are not. As the tenacious watcher of the cosmetic industry, Toni Stabile, writes in her new book – Everything You Want to Know About Cosmetics (Dodd, Mead, New York), its trick or treat for the consumer, regardless of price or promise.

Under the weak federal cosmetic laws, the producers of beauty products do not have to prove the safety and effectiveness of their cosmetics prior to marketing them. Nor are they required to report the ingredients used. They are also not obligated to report evidence of adverse reactions in their possession to the FDA. Nor does the FDA have any Authority to obtain access to company records. A hazardous cosmetic can be sold every day until the FDA obtains information — how one can only guess — to prove that the product max be injurious to users. Only then can the FDA move to ban the product.

Forty babies died a few years ago after being dusted with talcum powder containing hexachlorophene. Toni Stabile summed up the matter well: “In the 1980’s, when more and more cosmetics are being exposed as being dangerously contaminated with potentially blinding pseudomonas, with cancer-causing nitrosamines, and withmutagenic ingredients, the word heard on Capitol Hill is that there have to be ‘bodies in the streets’ before Congress is moved” to require premarket testing. The General Accounting Office of Congress, in its 1970 report, urged Congress to pass a law requiring proof of safety for cosmetics.

With Reagan in the White House and the cosmetic industry adamantly opposed to such a law, the drive for consumer protection must start with more disclosure of harm and more complaints by users to their members of Congress.

One final note: don’t wait for the national women’s magazines to tell you the truth about cosmetic hazards. As one editor told me years ago, no exposes of cosmetics are permitted in between all those lucrative pages of cosmetic advertising.