If all goes according to schedule, next month the European Union will become “cruelty-free,” banning without exception the sale of cosmetics ingredients that were tested on animals. That is certainly a victory, but if you look at the big picture, only a very partial one. Why?
First, some manufacturers may have found new ways of determining that products are “safe,” but there are still plenty of questionable ingredients in our bubble bath and other cosmetics, many of which haven’t been tested at all.
Second, realistically speaking, animal testing is far from over everywhere. Take China: the country officially mandates animal testing of cosmetics. To the manufacturers to find a way to be sold in Europe without animal testing, and to be sold in China with mandatory animal testing….
No sane person likes the idea of subjecting animals to unnecessary cruelty. Yet, even with testing (since not every ingredient is being tested), we are all guinea pigs in our daily consumption of products. Per the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average American woman uses a dozen personal care products daily. EWG’s database includes more than 79,000 personal care products, ranked by level of hazard. Indeed, these products were produced using something like 10,500 different chemicals, of which, according to E.W.G. estimates, not even a fifth has been assessed.
What are these chemicals?
Some of them are very known, dangerous, yet still used chemicals:
- Formaldehyde: carcinogen is used in nail polish, shampoo, soap, hair straighteners, and sometimes disguised on ingredient lists as “formalin”
- Dioxane: another known carcinogen, used in bubble bath, but rarely “visible” on labels because it’s not intentionally added, rather a byproduct of manufacturing.
- Lead: still present in some 400 hair dyes and lipsticks despite more than proven danger to human health.
- Phthalates: endocrine disrupters, found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in pretty much… everyone.
There also are unknown dangers hidden among thousands of barely tested chemicals created on a regular basis as manufacturing companies keep coming up with new miracle-in-a-bottle products meant to deliver magic in the treatment of … conditions (probably not the right term here) ranging from bad breath, to chipped nail polish to curly hair…
This begs the question of who is in charge of regulating the use of known and unknown chemicals? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has primary regulatory power over personal care products but does not regulate “cosmetics” before they come to market. Per its website, “Cosmetics firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products.” Should we feel safe and trust that the makers of these products in the market to make money take their protective role as an even more important priority?
Let’s be real and, given this reality, look into what we have going on for us, in terms of protection:
- We can threaten to sue these companies… The problem is, unsafe products don’t cause immediate reactions and by the time an association is found between an ingredient and a reaction, there may never be any lawsuit at all. We all witness the increased rates of allergies, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, certain cancers and other ailments, but when can we hope to pinpoint the real causes?
- Then… back to testing. And whether it is animal testing or some other kinds may be less important than who is supervising it and enforcing the consequences of the findings. In the United States, we are not there yet.
So really, most of us are all for ending animal cruelty, and that includes the human species, daily guinea pigs for companies’ untested cosmetics. The only way to get there is to stop using questionable ingredients. And just like we need activists pressing our elected representatives to empower the FDA to safeguard us against known unsafe food ingredients, we need activists to do the same regarding personal care products.