Watchdog Group Petitions FDA for Warning Labels on 356 Personal Care Products

June 2004, Washington Environmental Working Group petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall or issue warning labels on a wide array of personal care products whose ingredients have not been adequately assessed for safety or may harm health.

The legal action was prompted by a 6-month EWG computer investigation. Researchers found that 356 personal care products contain ingredients that, according to the chemical industry's own review panel, lack sufficient data to support their safe use in personal care products. The products included shampoos, shaving products, moisturizers and other common items sold under brand names such as Jergens, L'Oreal, St. Ives, Dove and more.

The EWG study found that another 19 products, including Desitin Diaper Rash Ointment and Stridex Triple Action Pads, contain ingredients that, according to industry assessments, may cause harm when used as directed on the product label. EWG seeks a recall or warning label on those products as well. Only 11 per cent of 10,500 personal care product ingredients have been publicly assessed for safety.

The EWG petition is the most comprehensive legal challenge FDA has faced over personal care products to date. Because FDA has no definition for the term "safe" as it applies to personal care products, EWG requested the Agency give practical meaning to its term "adequately substantiated for safety." EWG also petitioned FDA to require internet vendors to clearly list all ingredients in all products they are selling, and to assess the safety of chemical ingredients that have not been studied by industry or the government.

The FDA has no authority to require safety tests before chemicals can be put in personal care products and used by consumers.

"Most consumers believe that if a product is on a store shelf, government scientists have approved it," said EWG Vice President for Research Jane Houlihan. "But the $35 billion cosmetics industry appears to have the freedom to put whatever chemicals it wants into our personal care products. FDA needs to update decades-old safeguards and make sure that personal care products on store shelves contain only ingredients that have been proven safe."

Charlotte Brody, executive director of Commonweal, said, "Cosmetics companies that sell products in Europe have to remove chemicals that can cause cancer, mutations, and birth defects from their products no later than September to comply with a new law. Today I ask those companies to sell their safer, reformulated products to American consumers as well."

Arianne Callender, general counsel for EWG, said, "The FDA studies food and drugs with care and caution before allowing them to be sold in stores. Shouldn't our personal care products at least meet the same safety standards as food? We petition FDA today to remove from store shelves or put warning labels on products whose ingredients have not met scientific safety standards. We ask for meaning behind the word, 'safe,' and we seek scientific study of ingredients in personal care products that could cause harm."

Consumers can read the petition at and use EWG's "Skin Deep" website to learn what health effects are associated with ingredients in their own personal care products.

Source: Environmental Working Group

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