Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers and industry leaders says that has got to change, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
Americans spend more than $50 billion every year on beauty and skin care products. But there's growing concern that some of the products we use to look good actually could be causing harm.
"It's because of the addition of some chemicals - chemicals for staying power, chemicals for shine," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is leading a bipartisan effort in Congress to give the FDA more power to ensure skin and beauty products are safe. "Our laws should provide for adequate testing of chemicals before they go into widely used products."
Cosmetics and skin care products are largely unregulated. Today's products are made with chemicals like formaldehyde -- used in products from nail polish to some chemical hair straighteners - which is known to cause cancer. Other commonly used cosmetic preservatives include propylparaben and lead acetate, used in hair dye.
Under the proposed law, the FDA would test whether those chemicals are being used at safe levels. If not, they can force a recall.
Doctors say it's long overdue, not only for adults, but for teenagers, whose developing bodies are more at risks.
"Ignorance is not bliss," said dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, who said she treats patients weekly for adverse reactions to chemicals in beauty products.
"We are just assuming all of our hair care, skin care, and our personal care products are safe," said Dr. Tanzi. "Well, I think we really need to look very closely at some of these ingredients because we know that at higher concentrations they can be toxic."
Tanzi says the biggest offenders are hair products, especially straighteners, and newer nail polishes that last more than a week - all largely unregulated.
That's not the story in other countries. The European Union bans more than 1,000 chemicals from personal care products. Of those, the U.S. bans 11. Gregg Renfrew said the lack of oversight led her to start Beautycounter, a natural beauty products company.
"I think the beauty industry is the last industry that's been forced to clean up its act," Renfrew said.
She was on Capitol Hill Tuesday to urge Congress to pass the tougher new legislation.
"Things that I've been washing my babies in, things that I had been putting on my body while I was pregnant, things that I had been putting on my body for decades, to find out that those ingredients were not safe for my health was incredibly disappointing and scary, quite frankly," Renfrew said.
Feinstein said she expects the bill to pass -- not only are legislators on both sides of the aisle supporting it, but so too is the industry. The Personal Care Product Council, the leading trade association for cosmetics and personal care products, said they have been working with Congress for five years for reform. In a statement to CBS News they said: "We support the creation of a national standard that maintains the continued safety of our products while providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with additional regulatory authority over our industry."
Feinstein said the companies also want to know what's safe and what's not, and that consumers and beauty salons deserve to know.
Twelve Common Harmful Ingredients to avoid at all costs
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (found in shampoo, body wash, foundation, face wash, mouthwash, and toothpaste): SLS has been shown to cause or contribute to skin irritation, canker sores, disruptions of skin’s natural oil balance and eye damage. It is also widely believed to be a major contributor to acne (especially cystic acne) around the mouth and chin. Opt for a natural shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste.
- BHA (found in exfoliants, perfume): The National Toxicology Program classifies butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It can cause skin depigmentation. In animal studies, BHA produces liver damage and causes stomach cancers such as papillomas and carcinomas and interferes with normal reproductive system development and thyroid hormone levels. The European Union considers it unsafe in fragrance. Opt for a BHA and Phthalate-Free Perfumes.
- Triclosan and triclocarban (found in toothpaste, deodorant, antibacterial soap): Triclosan was all the rage as antibacterial products became ubiquitous in the 1990s. Even the FDA agrees that there is no health benefit to humans who use triclosan, and in 2013 ruled that manufacturers using it had to demonstrate that there were no long-term detrimental effects. Triclosan (in liquid products) and triclocarban (in bar soaps) have been linked to hormonal disruptions, bacterial resistance, impaired muscle function, impaired immune function, and increased allergies. Instead, use naturally antibacterial and antiseptic agents like tea tree oil.
- Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene, Phenylenediamine -Coal Tar (found in hair dye, shampoo): Coal tar, a byproduct of coal processing, is a known human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Hairstylists and other professionals are exposed to these chemicals in hair dye almost daily. Europe has banned many of these ingredients in hair dyes. While FDA sanctions coal tar in specialty products such as dandruff and psoriasis shampoos, the long-term safety of these products has not been demonstrated.
- Parabens (found in makeup, moisturizer, shaving gel, shampoo, personal lubricant and spray tan products): The FDA acknowledges several studies linking parabens, which mimic estrogen, to breast cancer, skin cancer, and decreased sperm count, but has not ruled that it is harmful. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer chain parabens like propyl and butylparaben and their branched counterparts, isopropyl, and isobutyl parabens, may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. Look to avoid ingredients with the suffix “-paraben.” Also, paraben-free products will be labeled as such.
- Polyethylene/PEGs (found in scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste):
Those tiny plastic beads in the face or lip scrubs and exfoliating washes are made from polyethylene (used because they’re gentler on the skin than natural exfoliators like walnut shells). These synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. government considers a probable human carcinogen and which readily penetrates the skin. Polyethylene has been noted as a skin irritant and should never be used on broken skin. Polyethylene beads in scrubs and body washes also are not filtered by our sewage systems, meaning they can collect pollutants and travel into waterways, where they’re consumed by fish and marine animals.
- Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate (found in moisturizer, lip products, sunscreen): Retinol products (often found in anti-aging products) have the opposite intended effect and become ineffective in sunlight,
making it extra important to only use them at night and to avoid any sunscreens containing retinyl-derived ingredients. Try frankincense, a natural replacement for retinol, or Bakuchiol, a plant-based alternative.
- Petroleum distillates (found in mascara): Petroleum-extracted cosmetics ingredients may cause contact dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries at the same time as
automobile fuel, heating oil, and chemical feedstocks. Find a non-toxic mascara to use instead.
- Fragrance (found in moisturizers, deodorant, lotion, face cream, shampoo, conditioner): Federal law doesn’t require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Recent research from Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label.
Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Our advice? Buy fragrance-free or a product containing health beneficial essential oils wherever possible.
- Oxybenzone (found in sunscreen):
Oxybenzone is one of the highest-risk chemicals found in sunscreen. It acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. Studies on cells and laboratory animals indicate that oxybenzone and its metabolites may disrupt the hormone system. It also has high rates of skin allergy.
Opt for safe, physical sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide instead. These are chemical-free, mineral-based ingredients. And don’t forget to cover up with a hat and clothing.
- Dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde (found in nail polish and other nail products, perfume, makeup remover): These chemicals, known as the “toxic trio,” have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches, and respiratory problems—especially concerning for nail salon workers and those who frequently get manicures or pedicures. It’s advised that pregnant women avoid nail products altogether. Non-toxic nail polish brands like OPI and Zoya have pledged to remove these chemicals from their products. Look for “toxic-trio-free” products.
- Hydroquinone (found in skin lighteners): The FDA warns that this skin-bleaching chemical, when used chronically, can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions on exposed skin. Illegally imported skin lighteners can contain mercury, which can poison adults and children and is especially toxic during pregnancy. Be wary of imported skin lighteners, don’t buy products without ingredients clearly labeled, and always avoid products with “mercury,” “calomel”, “Mercurio” or “Mercurio chloride.” If your skin goal is overall evenness, there are three natural alternatives that don’t involve harsh chemicals: neroli oil, orange oil, and chamomile all present in Andes Oganics THE ONE Face Serum.
If your skin goal is overall evenness, there are three nat