Is the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Keeping Us Safe?

The modern day beauty industry is broken and it may not be solely for the reasons you’d expect. It goes without saying that the excessive airbrushing, obsession with youth, and dirty marketing tactics need to change. But today I want to talk about a different side of the beauty industry, the one where cosmetic and skin care companies hide behind outdated science and use ingredients that have been linked to harmful health impacts like cancer and hormone-disruption.

Established in 1976, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) is an industry funded panel that has been tasked to review the safety of ingredients used in the beauty industry. The panel appoints industry leaders to review ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products for safety. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Unfortunatley, the CIR hasn’t evolved with the latest science and has done a poor job of assessing ingredients for safety. The result is that the CIR isn’t as useful as it could be for businesses seeking to create safer products.

Over the last four decades the CIR has only reviewed approximately 10% of cosmetic ingredients and they have only deemed 12 ingredients as “unsafe” for use in personal care products. Because it’s a voluntary program, companies do not have to actually abstain from using these ingredients.

Based on my research, the CIR has found several ingredients to be “safe as used” where there is a strong scientific body of evidence showing harm. Some include:

  • Benzylparaben
  • BHT
  • Butylparaben
  • Dimethyl phthalate
  • PEGs
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • EDTA
  • Propylene glycol
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Toluene

So is the CIR working? Not really.

Should it be scrapped entirely? In my opinion, no.

If that surprises you, read on. I think the CIR has the opportunity to be an important tool for new companies seeking to make personal care products. Right now the CIR is one of the few sources companies have to look for ingredient safety and currently in the United States the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the ability to make determinations around ingredient safety.

How the CIR can be improved:

  • Work to increase the number of independent scientists on the review panel.

Right now the scientists reviewing ingredients are coming from industry rooted in outdated science. Increasing the number of non-industry scientists to the panel is important, with a specific focus on researchers who study cosmetic chemicals for health and environmental impacts. I would personally think including industry leaders who are up to date on the current science would be wonderful as well. Just because someone from the beauty industry, doesn’t automatically make them “biased”!

  • Increase the amount of ingredients reviewed.

In the absence of a federal program, the CIR has the potential to review ingredient safety at a faster pace. By increasing the amount of reviews, more companies will have access to whether or not an ingredient is safe to use, and at what level.

  • Consider it supplementary to much needed federal reform. 

The CIR should not be considered any sort of replacement for a new federal regulatory structure. We need the FDA to have the authority to recall unsafe products from the market, ban or restrict toxic ingredients used in personal care products. Simply having a panel to review ingredient safety is not on its own enough to protect public health or companies seeking to formulate products.

What can we do to take action?

1 – Text “BetterBeauty” to 52886 to ask Congress for new laws on the beauty industry. Laws that would make our products safer, protect our health AND make it easier to formulate safer products.

2 – Choose safer products for you and your family. Visit my SHOP section to find some of my favorite personal care product recommendations.

3 – Join the movement for better beauty. If you’re passionate about this topic and want to get more involved, be a change agent in your community, leave me a comment in the note below.

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