In the U.S.A., we tend to think that the government is watching out for us and making sure that the products available on store shelves are safe. However, that is not always the case, especially not with cosmetics such as nail polish. The short answer to the question of whether nail polish ingredients are regulated in the U.S.A. is “barely.”
The FDA Merely Regulates Color Additives in Cosmetics
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains on its website:
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients do not require FDA approval before they go on the market. The exception is color additives (other than those used in most hair dyes). Companies and individuals who market cosmetics have the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products.[3. How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics, http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm262353.htm]
So basically, the only nail polish ingredients regulated in the U.S.A. are color additives. I will write a separate post regarding the use of color additives in nail polish.
There are also regulations requiring the listing of ingredients on labels, which I will cover in another post.
Nail Polish Companies are Entrusted with Making Sure their Products are Safe
It is up to cosmetics companies to make sure their products and ingredients are safe. Under the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, decisions about ingredient safety are left up to the cosmetics industry and the FDA cannot require cosmetics companies to run safety tests before marketing products. [4. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Federal Legislation, http://safecosmetics.org/section.php?id=74, viewed October 30, 2012.]
The cosmetics industry formed the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel, which is funded by the cosmetics industry. The role of CIR is to evaluate the safety of ingredients used in various cosmetics, based upon existing data. The data they rely upon may therefore be incomplete. In 30 years, CIR “has reviewed the safety of only 11 percent of the ingredients used to formulate personal care products, and through June of 2008 has found only nine ingredients to be unsafe for use in cosmetics.”[5. FDA Regulations http://safecosmetics.org/section.php?id=75] While the “European Union now bans more than 1,100 chemicals from personal care products because they may cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm…just 10 ingredients are banned from cosmetics in the United States.”[2. Unmasked http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/Unmasked8.pdf]
If cosmetics products are found to be dangerous, the FDA has no power to require recalls, “but works with companies to make sure their recalls are effective.”[6. How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics, http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm262353.htm]
The Toxic Trio of Nail Polish Ingredients are Still Legal in the U.S.A.
You have probably heard of the “toxic trio” also known as the “big 3,” which are the three most harmful ingredients found in nail polish. Until recently, the toxic trio of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde were found in many brands of nail products. Although these toxic ingredients are known to cause reproductive/developmental harm or cancer, they have never been banned from use in nail products in the U.S.A. Instead, some nail polish brands removed the toxic trio from their formulas around 2006-2007, in response to consumers and consumer groups. This means that some brands of nail polish still contain these harmful ingredients. Be sure to check the ingredients list in tiny print on the back of the bottle, or consider switching to water based nail polish.
Wouldn’t it be better if companies were required to remove toxic chemicals from their products?
Time to Change the Law- The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been working to change the law, to make cosmetics, including nail polish, safer.
In 2011 the Safe Cosmetics Act was introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. If this piece of legislation becomes law, it will give the FDA additional power, in order to keep harmful ingredient out of personal care products.
The Safe Cosmetics Act would require:[7. The Safe Cosmetics Act, http://safecosmetics.org/section.php?id=74]
- Phase-out of ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm;
- Creation of a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children, the elderly, workers and other vulnerable populations;
- Elimination of labeling loopholes by requiring full ingredient disclosure on product labels and company websites, including salon products and the constituent ingredients of fragrance;
- Worker access to information about unsafe chemicals in personal care products;
- Required data-sharing to avoid duplicative testing and encourage the development of alternatives to animal testing; and
- Adequate funding to the FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors so it has the resources it needs to provide effective oversight of the cosmetics industry.
To support the Safe Cosmetics Act, tell your U.S. Representative to Congress that safe cosmetics are important to you.
You may also be interested in reading The Truth About Nail Polish Ingredients. If you want all the gory details about the chemicals used in cosmetics and the lack of their regulation in the U.S.A., read the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.
Are you surprised to find out that the FDA does not require safety testing of cosmetics ingredients before products hit the market?