Get the exclusive scoop on Indiewire.
Get the exclusive scoop on Indiewire.
The group that lobbies on behalf of cosmetics companies in Washington D.C. is the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC).
You’ve probably never heard of them and that’s just the way they like it. Their chief lobbyist, Lezlee Westline, is paid more than One-Million-Dollars a year to make sure that 1. chemicals that go into cosmetics aren’t regulated, and 2. they don’t have to disclose all chemicals on product labels. In other words, this group you’ve never heard of does the dirty work for the pretty consumer brands you have heard of.
PCPC has a great racket going. They distribute money to members of congress to make sure its precious products aren’t really regulated. Its added bonus (for political cover) is having the FDA as its titular regulator. (I say “titular” 1. because its a fun word to use and 2. FDA does not actually regulate these products – companies are on the honor system. Most Americans think a product is safe because it’s on the shelf, but that’s not true and that’s by design (shameless plug time: if you see Stink! you will learn the truth).
So it’s bad enough in America that it’s legal to sell everyday consumer products with chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt hormones, but it’s even more outrageous that these companies don’t have to disclose these chemicals on products labels. You can’t avoid a nasty chemical if they don’t have to admit it’s in a product, right? Not being transparent about chemicals in 2015 is just not a viable business model regardless of how much money you’re spending on politicians.
Lately, in an apparent quest for generating goodwill, the Personal Care Products Council has been promoting STEM for girls and women in Science and Business. It’s also been crusading for ending domestic violence. We applaud them for supporting these important women’s issues. However, the one issue that they won’t discuss are the hidden chemicals in their products that can cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt hormones. We have been asking them for years to disclose these chemicals on product labels but they never respond to us.
We’ll keep trying. Here it goes: Personal Care Products Council can we count on you to support efforts to disclose all chemicals on product labels so that women have a choice about the chemicals they are being exposed to?
We hope they come around and are open to discussing the issue and finding common ground.
The “Stink!” team is grateful to the Memphis International Film and Music Festival for choosing “Stink!” for its 2015 festival lineup.
And even more excited – Drum roll please – about this: “Meanwhile, the judges in the best documentary category sniffed out a winner in Jon J. Whelan’s “Stink!,” a first-person, activist-with-a-sense-of-humor expose’ of the use of chemicals in everyday consumer products.” Read about the Memphis International Film and Music Festival winner here.
August 21st is National Brazilian Blowout Day. It always sneaks up on me. In case you are unfamiliar with this product (or are blessed with naturally straight hair), “BRAZILIAN BLOWOUT IS THE PREFERRED SMOOTHING TREATMENT OF CELEBRITIES, BEAUTY EXPERTS, AND STYLISTS AROUND THE WORLD.” It is the jizz that cures the frizz™ (I just made that up). Woman rave about how effective this product is to get the kink out of their hair. But what’s the secret sauce in Brazilian Blowout?
It’s formaldehyde: a pungent gas created by combining oxygen with methanol. Formaldehyde has numerous applications but it’s best known for its role in embalming fluid. It’s a preservative that helps prevent dead bodies from decomposing and stinking. Formaldehyde is also listed as carcinogenic by the Federal Government. The good news is that Brazilian Blowout gets rid of frizz but the bad news is its main ingredient can cause cancer. Brazilian Blowout is the poster child for the so-called “Cancer Loophole.”
In fact, many products in American contain lethal but legal ingredients. Chemicals like formaldehyde, styrene, cadmium, arsenic, asbestos, benzene, toluene and atrazine – to name just a few. We assume (or hope) products are safe because they are on the shelf. But the truth is it’s legal to sell products with ingredients that not only cause cancer, but can also cause birth defects and disrupt hormones. Companies are basically on the honor system, and they shouldn’t be. What’s alarming is that companies generally don’t need to disclose these harmful chemicals on product labels. This means that consumers are not choosing to be exposed to harmful chemicals – the chemical industry and product manufacturers get to choose for us. The situation is exacerbated by misleading ads and the ridiculous marketing claims of the products that saturate our lives. In the case of Brazilian Blowout, it was actually marketing its formaldehyde-laced product as “formaldehyde-free.” Yes, that takes brass balls!Brazilian Blowout got slapped with a lawsuit in 2012; not because it was selling a product with a high level of a known cancer-causing chemical but because it was marketing it as not having the carcinogen. It lost the suit but it can still sell Brazilian Blowout with formaldehyde; it just can’t market it as “formaldehyde-free.” Brazilian Blowout’s
douche bag chief executive, Michael Brady, had this to say in the New York Times after the settlement:
Michael Brady, Brazilian Blowout’s chief executive, said the proposed settlement would be paid by his insurance company and would end an unpleasant episode for his company. “We get to sell the product forever without reformulation,” he said. “In my eyes, that’s the acquittal we’ve been waiting for.”
The system to regulate chemicals in America is badly broken but, perversely, the flawed system is working just fine for many companies because they are dependent on and accustomed to using cheap, untested chemicals. And they are too stingy, lazy and not creative enough to reformulate their products with better, greener chemistry.
Experts agree that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the weak link in America’s regulatory framework. Efforts to fix this broken law are underway but the so-called TSCA “reform” bill in the Senate would not prohibit known carcinogens in everyday products nor would it require manufacturers to disclose cancer causing chemicals on product labels. Does that sound like reform to you?
Consumers don’t know what they don’t know about the chemicals in everyday products, and companies don’t need to tell them – so consumers are making bad choices about what they buy, and producers are making bad choices about what they sell.
Industry doesn’t want products labels that disclose all chemicals because they know consumers are smart and will make better choices if they know what they’re buying. Instead, industry (fragrance, food, chemicals, cosmetics, personal care, cleaning products, etc.) forms “trade associations” that lobby against regulating chemicals (even those known to cause cancer) and against listing ALL ingredients on product labels. Isn’t ignorance bliss?
Until we fix the broken system and get money out of politics, Americans are sitting ducks for chronic disease. Morally bankrupt CEO’s justify selling products with cancer-causing chemicals by simply saying they aren’t breaking the law. The law is broken and we need to fix it.
Lastly, you may be wondering about the title of this post: “Brazilian Blowout Cures Chemo Curls.” After chemotherapy, many patients’ hair regrows much curlier than it was pre-chemo – they’re called chemo curls. Now, knowing that Brazilian Blowout’s main ingredient, formaldehyde, can cause cancer, is it hard to believe that this company might offer chemo coupons? Let us know what you think.
In the summer of 1998, “There’s Something About Mary” premiered at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Since then, viewers from around the world have wondered what the white gooey ‘hair gel’ was on Ted’s (Ben Stiller) ear and why the ‘goo’ made Mary’s (Cameron Diaz) hair stand up on end. But the ingredients in the gooey hair gel, like many personal care product ingredients, are a closely guarded trade secret; companies don’t want us to know what’s inside these products.
We’re pleased to announce that “Stink!” is an official selection at the 2015 Rhode Island Film Festival.
What you’ll see in “Stink!” may cause your hair to stand up higher than Mary’s. This alarming documentary takes you on a madcap journey from the retailer to the laboratory, through corporate boardrooms, down back alleys, and into the halls of Congress. Follow director Jon Whelan as he clashes with political and corporate operatives all trying to protect the darkest secrets of the chemical and personal care industry.
Heard about the “Fragrance Loophole?” Fragrance appears to be a singular ingredient on product labels, but it is not.
“Fragrance” masks the actual chemical ingredients (which could be hundreds) in synthetic odors. Some undisclosed chemicals are linked to cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects, and may even disrupt hormones. Since it’s legal to use all these chemicals in America, product manufacturers have no incentive to stop using them nor disclose them to consumers.
Scent sells. What do you do before you buy shampoo? You smell it. The smell has nothing to do with cleaning your hair but everything to do with whether you’ll buy the product – scent is the single most important product feature. It’s not just true of shampoo; fragrance has become a must-have product condiment. Here’s the problem: there’s a disconnect between what you think is in the product and what is actually in the product. The packaging may have pictures of fruit and flowers and it may smell like fruit and flowers, but there’s probably not real fruit and flowers inside the product. Perception is reality.
The next time you see a product advertised as “lemon fresh” or “vanilla scented” remember to look for the word “fragrance” on the label. If it’s there, then there’s probably not real lemon or vanilla in your product – it’s a nature knock-off. As real as these bacon inspired products that ended up on the cutting room floor of “Stink!”
The good news is that the fragrance loophole may be closing. SC Johnson is taking the lead and disclosing some of the chemicals in its Glade line of fragrances – proving it’s possible. Hopefully other companies will see the writing on the wall and start disclosing fragrance chemicals too. There’s no consumer benefit to not knowing what’s in the products you buy.
In America, it’s legal to sell consumer products (e.g. popcorn, perfume, pajamas and tooth paste) with chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects and disrupt hormones. Plus, manufacturers don’t need to disclose all these chemicals on product labels. To keep their secrets safe, the chemical industry and related trade associations (who represent the makers of cleaning products, food, fragrance and cosmetics) spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress. The lobbyists have convinced our legislators that industry should be allowed to put nasty chemicals in your everyday products without naming them on the label.
But why are they using toxic ingredients in the first place?
Toxic chemicals are cheaper than safer chemicals. Because companies are not required to fully disclose chemicals on product labels, they have no incentive to preemptively create safer formulations. Instead, industry does everything it can to hide the truth about the ingredients because the truth might cause consumers to seek safer products.
The problem with not having full ingredient transparency in America is twofold: product manufacturers make bad choices about what they sell and consumers make bad choices about what they buy.
No celebrity would endorse a line of fur, because there’s a stigma. There is no stigma associated with cosmetics, fragrance and cleaning product endorsements because of a loophole that allows companies to sell these products with hidden chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and hormone disruption.
If companies had to disclose that their product contained nasty chemicals then it would be harder for them to pay celebrities to endorse them. The real reason industry wants ingredients secret is simple: they’re afraid of consumers buying a safer product once they learn the truth about what’s inside the bottle.
Consumer good companies want consumers to focus on the perception of the product (e.g. the pretty packaging, the slick ads and the paid endorsements) instead of the reality of what is inside the bottle. That’s why we need Full Ingredient Transparency (FIT) in America. Disclosing all ingredients is a win-win; companies would make better choices about what they sell in their products and consumers could make better choices about what they buy. And wouldn’t it be great if celebrities endorse the idea of Full Ingredient Transparency?
Kim Kardashian has the power to tell her business partners to disclose all ingredients on the label. Ingredient transparency is so important to human health and the environment. What do you say Kim Kardashian, will you endorse Full Ingredient Transparency? Our kids deserve it. #GETFIT
If you’ve seen the City of London Police’s new awareness campaign #WakeUpDon’tFakeUP then you know about the number one and number two issue facing the beauty products industry today: urine and feces. Huh?
City of London Police recently launched a slick, social media campaign to wipe feces and urine out of your favorite “knock-off” beauty products and fragrances.
In addition to ingredients usually found in dirty diapers, these ads reveal that “fake” beauty products may contain toxic ingredients such as lead, arsenic, mercury and cyanide. Most consumers would infer that “real” beauty products and perfume contain good ingredients and “fake” beauty products and perfume contain bad ingredients. Here’s where perception and reality collide. The list of ingredients prohibited in “fake” beauty products is the same as the list of ingredients prohibited in “real” beauty products. (you may want to reread that last sentence)
In American there is no law prohibiting urine, feces, lead, arsenic, mercury, phthalates, formaldehyde in beauty products and fragrance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the titular regulator of beauty products and fragrance, is not allowed to demand a list of ingredients from a product manufacturer. In other words, the FDA does not know what is in your products – real or fake.
Campaigns like #WakeUpDontFakeUp are clever ways to protect the intellectual rights (IP) and profits of large producers by scaring consumers. But they belie the fact that it’s completely legal to use chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt hormones in everyday consumer products – beauty, personal care, cleaning, fragrance. I hope a police department or any organization will do a glitzy social media campaign with a “Just because it’s on the shelf doesn’t mean that it’s safe” theme.
More about the UK campaign to target fake beauty product’s here.
UPDATE: If you are not afraid of rat dropping and urine then maybe the threat of computer viruses and identify theft will get you to stop buying knock-offs. Courtesy of Lancashire Police.
Two facts to think about:
1. 50% of Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
2. 90–95% of all cancers have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. National Institute of Health.
Maybe this is why the congressionally mandated, science-based, President’s Report on Carcinogens urged President Obama “to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
Many Americans don’t realize that it’s completely legal to use cancer-causing chemicals in consumer products. But even consumers who know about this “cancer loophole” are out of luck because companies don’t always need to disclose cancer-causing chemicals on product labels. How can this be? Surely there’s no consumer benefit to not knowing if you are buying a product with undisclosed carcinogens. Perversely, corporations benefit by not being 100% transparent about ingredients because selling toxic ingredients is more profitable. The current lack of ingredient transparency in the marketplace means bad choices from manufacturers and consumers. So-called “trade associations” fight to keep this broken system in place.
Trade Associations like the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are powerful, politically-connected organizations that represent large corporate interests and spend billions to avoid real regulation and transparency. In the case of cancer-causing chemicals in everyday products, there is actually a lobby in Washington that protects carcinogens from being regulated in the marketplace. The American Chemistry Council even lobbies against federal and state legislation intended to protect firefighters and children from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
Read what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the Cancer Lobby.