The short and easy answer to this question is…not many. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has restricted the use of 33 ingredients for use in personal care and cosmetic products. By comparison, the Canadian government has banned or restricted around 600 ingredients and the European Union over 1,400.
So how does this break down? What are these 33 banned or partially restricted ingredients? Let’s start with the first ingredients banned and move to 2023.
The Original 11
While Congress recently passed legislation to make much needed updates to cosmetic safety legislation, the bill didn’t include provisions for the FDA to assess ingredients for safety, nor did it ban new ingredients.
To start, let’s go back to the original 1938 legislation. Included in that law was a list of 11 “ingredients” that were prohibited for use. An example of one of the ingredients listed is bovine parts; since cow parts are not used in beauty products, to many this isn’t considered a legitimate banned ingredient. Similarly, some of the ingredients on the original list of 11 are not chemicals used in the actual product formulation, but rather supporting ingredients like those used to deliver hairspray out of an aerosol can.
Also on the list is mercury, the naturally-occurring highly toxic substance BUT it’s only banned at levels above 65 parts per million. This is highly inadequate for this heavy metal and essentially leaves the ban irrelevant. To put this into perspective, the NRDC’s seafood fish guide recommends that the maximum level of mercury consumed in fish is less than .5 parts per million. (More on why I don’t think any company can claim to make products that are 100% heavy metal free HERE.)
Anything used as a colorants in a cosmetic product must be registered and approved by the FDA before a product can come to market, one of the few existing regulations companies need to adhere to. Back in the 1990s the FDA did actually place an outright ban for one particular colorant’s use in cosmetics: red dye #3. Colorants must be carefully chosen by companies as there can be health risks with both natural and some synthetic colorants.
Asbestos was banned from talc powders in 1973, after reports found that contamination was widespread in the naturally-occurring mineral. The problem wasn’t entirely solved however, as asbestos was recently found in children’s makeup sold at Claire’s. (Giving the FDA the ability to require a mandatory recall is one of the great wins in the latest cosmetics bill that passed).
Triclosan and 18 other antimicrobial chemicals
Earlier this year the FDA restricted triclosan and 18 other chemicals used in “antibacterial” soaps because of concerns around aquatic toxicity and hormone disruption. This was a small victory, but doesn’t address the use of these ingredients in cosmetics, toothpaste, and other applications.
Micro-plastics come from a variety of sources that vary from small beads used in toothpaste and face wash, to the fleece you wear in the winter. In response to concerns about water pollution from the microbeads in some personal care products, the U.S. and Canadian governments banned microbeads. Currently the U.S. plastic microbead ban falls under the original 1938 law.
With the recent passage of the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act, we’ve made real progress, but will still need the FDA to be granted power to ban more chemicals outright. PFAS, nicknamed “forever chemicals”, hormone disrupting compounds, heavy metals and allergens are still widely used across the beauty market. Take a moment to drop your elected official a note to ask them to ban the worst offenders from cosmetics.