California Just Approved Two Major Beauty Laws. What Else Should Be Done To Govern Beauty?

For this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we touched base with 28 brand founders, executives and retailers about two California laws signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week involving the beauty industry, one banning 24 ingredients from cosmetics and another requiring fragrance ingredient disclosure. We asked them: What beauty industry policy steps do you think should be taken next?

Mehir Sethi Founder, True+Luscious

Based on previous experience following strict ingredients compliances in Asia and Middle East, the most important next step is to make this law into a national consensus. Instead of leaving us to self-regulate as an industry, ingredients compliance law at a national level will help support and protect the beauty industry by creating fair competition.

DELANE MAZAHERI Co-Founder and CEO, Stare Cosmetics

Most responsible and conscious makeup and skincare companies have already done away with these chemicals on their own and, frankly, those that have not, I don't believe have the consumer as their No. 1 priority. Our community, on its own, has educated and brought awareness to consumers, thus creating a demand for higher quality products. I want to use products where companies are willing to comply, not forced. I would ask the question: Where are the companies forced to comply cutting costs now? They are all about their bottom line. The consumer still won't be their No. 1 priority and will never be. I would choose a more socially responsible company to patronize.

Frances Shoemack Founder and CEO, Abel Odor

It's great to see tightening of ingredient use and disclosure in California, and we hope this will trigger more states to follow suit. While it's definitely a win, there's still work to be done! Fragrance labelling laws were designed decades ago to protect trade secrets. Something that is no longer relevant with modern science as the plethora of knockoffs attest! Today, labelling laws that allow most fragrance ingredients to be listed as "parfum" essentially act as a hide-all. 

We firmly believe customers have a right to know what these fragrance ingredients are, especially when some are known to be toxic to humans and/or the environment. We've been listing our full ingredients list for seven years now and hope to see more brands follow suit. Consumer appetite for increased information is definitely there and, while individual brands can be proactive, the change really must come at a legislative level. If customers don't know what's behind the "parfum" catchall, there's no impetus for brands to use more environmentally-friendly alternatives, especially when they cost exponentially more.

This whole issue is very close to my heart. We launch our new fragrance Cyan Nori in a week and, alongside the fragrance, we're launching a petition and campaign around transparency.

Anne Serrano-McClain Founder, MCMC Fragrances

Currently, the U.S. has a patchwork approach to beauty industry policy. You see this with individual states passing laws like California's recent ban on 24 ingredients and requirement that brands disclose their ingredients. Some large retailers are beginning to feel responsible for informing their customer. Credo has their Clean Standard and Sephora designates certain products Clean at Sephora.

Finally, brands both big and small, without guidance on a federal level, have varying amounts of comfort and different styles with what they will disclose to their customers about their ingredients. All of this leaves the burden on the customer to do quite a bit of detective work to find out if a product they are interested in suits their needs and they deem as safe.

What would be most helpful at this stage is for the FDA, which regulates consumer products, to come up with clear guidelines about which ingredients are harmful to people and/or the environment and regulate them clearly, and give guidance on how each product should be labeled in a uniform way. This will give retailers, brands and customers the comfort they need to feel that each product they use on their body is safe.

Mona Maine de Biran CEO and Co-Founder, Kierin NYC

In my view, this progress can be credited to the grassroots efforts of consumers, content publishers and indie entrepreneurs who have, in recent years, taken hard roads challenging the beauty and fragrance industries on these issues. The vast majority of innovation in this world comes from the bottom up, and this is just another testament to the power of our voices as small business owners and people.

Jody Villecco Principal Research Advisor, Global Quality Standards, Whole Foods Market

All of the 24 ingredients included in the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act were already considered unacceptable at Whole Foods Market thanks to our rigorous Quality Standards. Our standards go beyond typical clean beauty and body care by banning 100-plus ingredients commonly found in these types of products, including parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde donors and EDTA. Additionally, our sun care products do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, ingredients which are harmful to the marine environment. More information, including a list of our unacceptable ingredients for beauty and body care products, can be found on our website.

Dr. Ben Johnson Founder and CEO, Osmosis Beauty

I think this is a good first step in educating the public about potential toxins in their skincare and makeup. There are still many companies which do not put everything on the label, and I think that needs to be addressed soon by creating stronger enforcement measures and penalties. Additionally, it would be nice if they made funds available to do unbiased testing of certain potentially harmful and/or falsely promoted ingredients.   

ANNIE JACKSON Co-Founder and COO, Credo Beauty

I think what we are currently experiencing as a planet, with COVID-19, has propelled the clean beauty industry into a mainstream movement already. The health and safety of products for humans and our environment are now, more than ever, top of mind for people. Consumers are willing to invest in their health and want to have transparent information on how products are manufactured so they can make an education decision. 

For California to pass both of these bills, it signals to conventional brands—if somehow they missed the memo that safe formulation of products is what today’s consumer is demanding—that they better start taking steps to reformulate a safer way or risk the consequences in missed market share. We hope California started the sea change and that many other states will follow suit.

Tony Rechtman CEO, Inika Organic

The United States has certainly lagged behind the rest of the world in banning toxic substances from makeup and skincare. However, we support the new laws introduced in California and believe they are a step in the right direction. The next steps should require full disclosure from brands regarding what their products contain and the banning of further harmful ingredients so that consumers are able to make informed decisions about all beauty products. For the record, we have never used any of the banned ingredients as this is not consistent with our ingredient policy. 

MELINDA CHENAULT-HERRON Founder, 103 Collection

The Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act is a landmark bill that prohibits the use of ingredients that have been linked to greater risks of allergies, cancer, hormone disruption, chemical absorption into the blood, commonly cancer concerns or other health threats. Many of these ingredients that are already banned by European standards are used in U.S. products, specifically, formaldehyde, commonly used in hair straightening products, which are often marketed towards women of color. 

For the past 10 years, women of color have shifted their focus to embracing their natural hair and have practically left the relaxer world behind. This shift caused an enormous amount of beauty brands to create products for natural hair and skin. Almost all hair and skincare products marketed to women of color are vegan, plant-based or organic. Very few companies are still using ingredients that are not ethically or organically sourced. But because the definitions of "clean beauty" and "toxic" are largely left up to the individual brand, making it easy for the terms to be left open to interpretation, many brands tend to go with the label of “natural” so they can market to that health-conscious consumer. 

The passing of this legislation is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still more work that needs to be done in the clean beauty space. We applaud California for leading the charge and encourage more states to adopt these practices for a cleaner beauty industry. One way they can start making the beauty industry cleaner is by requiring companies to list the risk factors that come along with using their products just like the commercials we see on TV talking about the side effects of taking certain medications. Not one company wants to publicly market and sell products that contain ingredients that can cause health issues like cancer or cause allergies, so challenging them to become an open book and share those side effects will cause them to rethink that ingredient list and how it affects their customers.

Holly Eve CEO, Founder, Creative Director, Madame Lemy

It’s shocking to know cosmetics laws in the United States haven’t been changed or updated since 1938. Though significant work is needed to federally regulate personal care products and cosmetics, California’s passage of the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act is a step in the right direction. Given the wealth of information available on the internet, brands, chemical companies and lobbyists are finally being exposed for profiting from concealing and continuing to use toxic carcinogenic chemicals in their makeup and skin care products. 

For 12 years prior to launching my natural brand, I worked as a celebrity and TV makeup artist. I had no idea that the products I was using on myself and clients are filled with unsafe ingredients. Once I did, I made it my life’s mission to educate and advocate for more transparency and stringent laws protecting our health and safety.

When I started my company, I was grateful to have the opportunity to spread awareness through small speaking engagements. Today, I have a wider reach as a Forbes contributing writer. I recently wrote an article about the harmful chemicals lurking in our medicine cabinets, which has been viewed thousands of times and continues to be shared every day. 

Once women are armed with this information, I believe they will change how they shop for makeup and skin care. The first step is awareness. We as consumers can make the second step with how we spend our money. Every time a woman chooses to support and buy from a natural brand, profit is taken away from unethical companies who are deceitful with their formulas. My hope is that the 3,000-plus carcinogenic chemicals legally permissible to be used and concealed under the word “fragrance” in the United States will be banned by the federal government.

Sasha Plavsic Founder, Ilia

I believe this policy should be implemented nationally as it will be challenging to regulate it on a state level. Another step would be to follow in Europe’s footsteps and list all trace ingredients in the formula.

Britta Chatterjee Co-Founder, Odele

Product safety should be table stakes. As an industry, we need to define a common standard that is informed by science and communicated in a way that is easy for consumers to digest. This doesn’t require black or white thinking. As with all things, there is room for gradation, but, without a single source of truth, both consumers and brands pay the price.   

It starts with agreeing on the facts as defined by a neutral governing body which doesn’t stand to gain financially from their recommendations. If we can agree on the facts, then defining the standard will come much more easily.

PATRICK KELLY Founder and Perfumer, Sigil

We pride ourselves not only on using 100% natural ingredients, but also following and seeking certification for safety under both IFRA and EU guidelines. Our fragrances already list all natural potential allergens, per the EU’s guidelines. In terms of broader change: more transparency across the board, at a federal level, will be necessary. I don’t see smaller brands making adapted versions of their products for domestic regions of the United States, so hopefully this can be a forcing function for broader implementation of these guidelines.

Courtney Somer CEO and Founder, Lake & Skye

This is a great step in the right direction. Ideally, there would be a nationwide policy to ban the 24 ingredients and [require] fragrance disclosure across the board. Consumers have become so knowledgeable around these issues which has helped change the law. I hope lawmakers outside California will follow suit.

Anne-Claire Walch Founder, Brûmée

Increasingly in retail, thanks to the policies in place, consumers are being provided greater transparency on the products they consume, giving them the power to make an informed choice. This hasn't been the case for fragrance up until now, with lower levels of transparency than in skincare with their extensive INCI lists, and in fashion with improving visibility on supply chains and materials. It's about time the perfume industry lived by the same standards. Scent comes into such close contact with the skin, and consumers deserve to know what they're putting on their skin. 

This new law on ingredient disclosure is a step towards greater transparency in the industry. However, the capacity in which consumers are able to recognize which ingredients are allergens, and can therefore cause damage to sensitive skin, is often limited. Clearly highlighting allergens at the point of purchase online and on the product's label so that consumers can quickly spot them would help this. At Brûmée, we believe fragrance is just another form of skincare. It should nourish and scent your skin whilst being safe to use, which is why we are launching a uniquely alcohol-free, water-based fragrance range next month.

Ada Polla CEO, Alchimie Forever

I should preface the following comments by saying that my brand has always followed European cosmetics regulations in addition to U.S. cosmetics regulations as we are a Swiss brand and sell our products in the U.S. and in Europe. As such, the recent laws passed by California do not impact us much given that both the fragrance transparency recommendation and the 24 “newly banned” ingredients are already standards in Europe. 

I am 100% in favor of ingredient transparency (fragrance and otherwise) as this strengthens our industry and the trust consumers have in beauty companies and beauty products. And ingredient transparency, of course, is different than divulging trade secrets. In terms of the newly banned 24 ingredients, these are ingredients that are already banned by the European cosmetics authorities, and I do believe that an update to the FDA regulation is timely. 

I do worry about two things, however. First, the implementation date: January 1, 2022 for fragrance. This seems very soon, in particular given what our current year has been like for all businesses, including beauty brands. We have all been stretched to our limits in 2020 to survive a global pandemic as well as social unrest. In this vulnerable position, some brands now need to potentially reformulate and repackage within 15 months. That might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

Second, it is very challenging to have different regulations in different states. Will this lead, for example, to needing different labeling in CA versus NY? I believe it would be more coherent, and logistically more efficient if we were to move in the direction of aligning all states to a federal standard.

TONIA WALKER Founder, Ime Natural Perfume

When it comes to full disclosure of ingredients in fragrance, this is something we already do. We are a business based on honesty and transparency. Many of our customers make the switch to all natural fragrances for many health reasons and having a full list of ingredients allows them to make the best choice for themselves. In the perfume world, fragrances are copied all the time, but it's impossible to mimic a brand's essence or ethic. I'm not threatened by this at all.

Onyeka Obioha Advisor and Dermatologist, Glory Skincare

The beauty industry should expand the list of fragrance disclosure to reveal additional ingredients with high allergenic potential. The rapid expansion of the beauty industry market has led to an increase in a condition called allergic contact dermatitis. Fragrance is one of the most common allergens that contribute to this rash but there are other common ingredients that should be disclosed to consumers.

Alexia Wambua Owner, Native Atlas

The initial move of the ban and disclosure of ingredients present in cosmetics is a step in the right direction. This is something other states should follow suit. Where the beauty industry can expand on this policy is by continuing to push for full transparency on what is present in products that come in contact with the skin on sometimes a daily basis. There are so many allergens and sensitivities that can present themselves differently in people that remain unknown when not everything is listed. 

Adodo Délali Robinson Founder and Owner, Délali Robinson Cosmetics

That is amazing! We need the rest of the states to follow and make these laws universal for the U.S. I am not sure if it falls under the beauty industry policy, but what could help especially small indie brands would be if manufacturers could offer a range of recyclable packaging and minimize outer box packaging as well. The industry and the government can invest in educating the consumers in proper ways of recycling in an effort to reduce our footprint.

KÁT RUDU Founder and CEO, Kát Rudu Beauty

We have gone into such a state of seeing more natural and botanical ingredients that I believe the FDA should look more into safe preservatives so that pesticides and bacteria such as mold growth is prevented. The time and money that it takes to research these ingredients needs to be focused more on safe, synthetic preservatives that are tested on plants, not on animals. Also, perhaps cutting down on paper waste and less use of boxes being mandatory so that we can sell without waste for the environment.

Carolyn Aronson Founder and CEO, It’s A 10 Haircare

I think it is important to always work towards being cognizant of toxic ingredients and raising the bar with technology to create new ingredients that are safe yet perform well. We follow EU compliancy because we are sold there, and I’m happy to do it because I know our products are high-quality and nontoxic.

MELODY BOCKELMAN Founder, Private Label Insider

I am very encouraged by California passing laws that help protect consumers from harmful ingredients and fragrances. However, while banning these 24 ingredients is a great start to shoring up California’s regulations, a staggering 1,300 ingredients and fragrances that have been shown to cause harm are still not covered by regulations that could protect consumers. These ingredients and fragrances are commonly used, and have already been banned in the EU as a result of numerous studies showing that these cause harm to consumers.  

While California’s legislation is certainly a step in the right direction, more action is needed to protect consumers in the form of regulating harmful substances, and to provide requirements for labeling and disclosure of ingredients so consumers can make informed choices about what they put in and on their bodies. Until action is taken, myself and other influencers in the beauty industry will continue our efforts to lobby and inform the public and government officials of the dangers that have yet to be addressed.

GARONNE DECOSSARD Founder, The Ronnie Shop

I believe these new laws are long overdue in the United States. Overall, both men and women are using more cosmetic products for their personal upkeep with more frequency and at higher quantities. What would have had insignificant impact years ago can now really adversely affect the customer’s health. In my research on harmful cosmetic ingredients, I have seen dermatologists talk about skin and hair inflammatory responses that they attribute partly to cosmetic ingredients. We can therefore only win from making our products cleaner.  

On the subject of fragrance/parfum/flavor, it is important to understand why the previous laws allowing manufacturers to hide ingredients under this umbrella existed. It was primarily to protect trade secrets so that competitors could not figure out and replicate a formula. As with anything, it started to be used for nefarious reasons to hide harmful ingredients that would turn a customer away if properly disclosed. For example, parabens, which acts as endocrine disruptors potentially triggering early puberty in young children, are often hidden as fragrance/parfum/flavor on product labels.  

That is why I am especially grateful that, from the beginning, I tried to make sure each ingredient had a real purpose. For example, we use essential oils for the scent in our products and, as far as harmful ingredients, constantly ensure and update our products to meet the Whole Foods Whole Body criteria of ingredients. By adhering to this standard, we make sure our products do not contain toxic ingredients. For example, we recently removed one ingredient from our conditioner to reflect a change in the criteria. 

The overall goal of creating clean products that work is especially dear to my heart as a Black woman. Toxic ingredients in products affect the entire population. However, there is a heaviness of the issue in the multicultural community due to a lack of oversight, and the fact that multicultural women use more products and a lot more of them than other demographics to maintain their hair. Products targeted to that community tend to contain a lot more of these toxic ingredients and, yes, a lot of them are hidden using less obvious names or under the fragrance/parfum/flavor umbrella. It is with this spirit that we have partnered with WEACT of Harlem New York City (Environmental Justice) Beauty Inside Out Series to educate their constituents on reading and interpreting product labels.  

This is the beginning, and I surely hope more states follow suit to do the same and have real implementation plans in place to ensure that businesses are minimally impacted in adopting the new law. During this pandemic, small businesses have already had to surmount major obstacles to stay in business, thus potentially relabeling or recalling products may be a financial strain. I would be curious to know what assistance, if any, is available to help with this transition.

YOKI KIVA HANLEY Owner and President, Itiba Beauty

I think this is a great move on California’s part and one the U.S. needs to be heading towards. Hopefully, this will truly make cosmetics be more globally uniform in terms of ingredients and disclosure. I believe that most indie beauty brands were well ahead of California and the beauty industry on a whole when it comes to the banned ingredients. 

The indie beauty brands have been making this their policy since inception. The next step is for the big players in beauty to adopt this policy and begin to normalize the practice of full disclosure across the board. I can see eventually the Cosmetic Directive being adopted within the U.S. My concern, though, is the cost of doing this for the indie beauty brands who were and still are ahead of the curve when it comes to creating a safer cosmetic product for the public.

JASMINE LEWIS Founder and CEO, Vie Beauty

The safety of the consumer is very essential to a brand and business, so this will be a great way to ensure that there aren't any causes of concern when purchasing a product or even brands formulating one. This is a step in the right direction in the U.S., especially because California tends to be the leader and pioneer to many beauty trends and changes. It's about time! In terms of the fragrance, that will be beneficial for identifying potential allergens and sensitivities. I think it should span across the full U.S. and not just California. I am almost certain we will see more changes in other states very soon.

Andrew Sotomayor Makeup Artist and Founder, Oracle Jayne Station

This is groundbreaking legislation. For too long, the beauty industry has gotten away with using toxic ingredients in their formulas, under the pretense that cosmetics are FDA regulated. The truth is that there are very few ingredients that you cannot put into a product, and that should make all Americans nervous. Most brands would logically want to avoid dangerous or irritating ingredients, but there are many which can take long periods of time to show up. There’s something called bioaccumulation, which is basically when a chemical builds up in your body. It may not be harmful at first, but, over time, increasing toxicity in fat cells and your internal organs can lead to serious health problems.

Next steps in regards to beauty policy should include fair-trade requirements. There are ingredients used in cosmetics sourced from countries that may not have legal protections for workers. We need to know that the people who grow, gather or mine the ingredients in our products are paid appropriately, have safe working conditions and are not children. There’s nothing beautiful or cruelty-free about any of that. 

We need stricter standards on safety testing and further bans against animal testing. Better brands, with Cover Girl being the largest in the world, have moved away from animal testing and gotten Leaping Bunny certifications. This is the global gold standard. This is why I chose to use ingredients like salt in my hand and body scrub, whipped shea butter as a moisturizer, and solid bar soap instead of liquid. There is no water in my formulas once the soap is fully cured, which means they won’t harbor bacteria. There are simple and complex changes that can be made. 

I would also like to see revisions pertaining to alcohol in products. It’s extremely intimidating and complicated for small business owners getting started because of all the heavily controlled state regulations pertaining to alcohol in cosmetics. A lot of ways to denature alcohol to prevent people from drinking it are pretty unhealthy. Because it’s cheap and easy to buy chemically treated perfumes alcohol, most people don’t realize that there’s a legal formula to denature organic cane alcohol without creating a toxic product or taking away from your ability to create a beautiful scent. 

The next step after that is for the beauty industry to go vegan. Ending animal testing alone does not really make a product cruelty-free if you have to harm or kill an animal. Lanolin oil is made from sheep’s wool. The animals are often kept in cramped and filthy spaces. Fish scales are used to make certain shimmer pigments. Beetles are crushed to make red carmine pigment. Sharks have their fins and tails cut off to make some type of squalene and are thrown back into the ocean to slowly and painfully die. Plant-based squalene works just as well and doesn’t contain high levels of mercury either. We all know these things are wrong, but every time we buy a product or support a brand that practices these behaviors, we’re empowering them to keep doing it. 

We also need stricter regulations on what makes a product organic. Our ingredients are either organic or wild-sourced, and I actually have conversations on the phone with the distiller in the U.S. who picks the plants and creates some of my essential oils. That kind of direct link allows us to really know what we are buying and from who. A lot of ingredients are grown without chemicals, but if whatever was planted there before was treated with toxic weed killers or pesticides, the next plant grown there will likely contain toxic residue, too. That shouldn’t be good enough to be called organic. 

The words “all natural” on a product don’t really mean much. Natural products usually have ingredients like propylene glycol snuck in, or non-organic, conventionally-grown ingredients treated with chemicals. This is an easy way to give consumers a false peace of mind and many brands have gotten away with it for far too long. 

As someone working in the green beauty space, I strive to make my products as safe as possible. Most of my ingredients have been used for decades or even thousands of years. Some of my ingredients come from Southwestern states like Arizona And New Mexico, and have been used by Native American people for hundreds of years. In other cases, I’ve put in the work of reading what limited scientific studies there are. There are healthy and unhealthy plant ingredients, and we need real experts, botanists, toxicologists, herbalists and neuropathologists to have the funding and resources to study more of the natural world so that we can protect it, and also benefit from the many treasures grown in the ground.

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