On Tuesday, Kourtney Kardashian brought attention to an issue plaguing the beauty industry for years by lobbying on Capitol Hill for stricter regulations on ingredients in cosmetic and personal-care products. As the laws stand, companies producing these products — which, according to the FDA, include include makeup, hair products, skin-care products, toothpaste and deodorant, as well as some products regulated as drugs, like acne products and lip balm — have the freedom to include a slew of harmful chemicals.
“We shouldn’t be walking around going, ‘Is this okay?” Kardashian said at the Russell Senate Office building.
Despite beauty being a $445 billion industry, the guidelines on ingredients permitted in products are minuscule, and have gone largely unchanged since the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act was passed in 1938. Change is on the horizon.
“We are dangerously far behind as a nation,” said Gregg Renfrew, the founder of Beautycounter, a skin-care and cosmetics company dedicated to safe products. “The law that does exist is only one-and-a-half pages long, and it still allows companies to make claims like they’re organic, all-natural and preservative-free, when they may be none of the above.”
Since 2015, Renfrew and Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s vp of environmental and social responsibility, have been pushing for the Personal Care Products Safety Act (PCPSA), a bill first introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins, calling for the screening of ingredients before products hit the shelf and the empowerment of the FDA to recall products later found harmful.
Among beauty brands, Beautycounter has been leading the charge. Its 30,000 national sales representatives contribute to the cause, both by educating shoppers on product safety in their pitch and actively reaching out to lawmakers; it claims responsibility for 100,000 emails, texts and phone calls to members of Congress, asking them to lead demand for protective legislation. In fall of 2017, Renfrew and Dahl orchestrated the Counteract Coalition, compiling 20 fellow beauty entrepreneurs in Washington D.C. to join them in meetings in support of PCPSA. And last month, for the second time, they brought two sales reps from each of the 50 states to advocate the bill to each member of Congress. Dahl said she’s in touch with Capitol Hill on a daily basis, and both she and Renfrew have been making frequent visits to government officials since 2014.
Among those taking part in the Counteract Coalition was Tara Foley, founder of Follain, a multi-brand beauty retailer specializing in non-toxic products. She said it was the lack of established laws that motivated her to launch her store in 2013, and her shoppers’ continued support signals a need.
“Consumers are angry nobody is looking out for them, and that they’re forced to take it into their own hands and figure out what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad,’” she said. “They want regulations; they’re voting with their wallets. And companies want a level playing ground; they want shoppers to know they’re not ‘bad.’”
Large companies reportedly supporting the PCPSA include L’Oréal, Revlon, The Honest Company and Estée Lauder.
Progress has been slow, but it’s recently been gaining much momentum — even before the presence of any Kardashian effect. Renfrew pointed to a stat often called out by those stressing the need for change: Europe has banned or restricted 1,400 chemicals in personal-care products, while the U.S. has done the same for just 30 — but that’s an improvement from when she and Dahl started going to bat for the cause, when that number was 11. In 2016, the Senate held its first hearing on cosmetic safety since 1974. And the most promising news to date: According Dahl, per a meeting with a Congressional staffer last week, there will likely be a vote on the PCPSA in the next four to six weeks.
“There’s such disarray and no unity in Washington, but it seems the one thing all can agree on is the need for change,” said Renfrew. “These laws need to be updated. Where we see hope is that conversations are continuing concurrently — even in the midst of chaos.”
Beautycounter sales representatives in Washington D.C. in March 2018
Renfrew has never teamed with celebrities and traditional influencers, opting instead to rely on Beautycounter’s representatives to attract awareness to the company and what it stands for. She’d rather work with insiders, she said.
“I think most celebrities who attach themselves to products and missions are not necessarily fully engaged and really, truly walking the walk; oftentimes, they’ll go through Washington, and will obviously make a splash, but then they go back to their day-to-day lives. For us, this is what we do,” she said — though noted she’s thrilled to see major influencers, including Kardashian, supporting the issue.
It certainly helped spread the word. Kardashian posted an image of herself in Washington to her Snapchat account and also Instagram Stories — where she has 63 million followers — along with the caption, “Thanking [Washington] Senator Murray for supporting strong cosmetics legislation.”
An image in Kourtney Kardashian’s Instagram Stories on Tuesday
“Kardashian is a paradigm player on social media,” said Jessica Michault, senior vp of industry relations at Launchmetrics, a technology and data insights company specializing in fashion and beauty. “What she says can shift the online conversation; she is able to reach a broad and engaged following of younger and digitally savvy individuals, who will, in turn, echo out her message to their own niche communities of followers.”
The Kardashian-Jenner family has been a major force in the beauty industry since the 2016 launch of Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics, which is projected to be worth $1 billion by 2022. Kim Kardashian’s first fragrance, released under her KKW Beauty line introduced last year, reportedly did $10 million its first day of sales.
Even so, Kourtney Kardashian hitting Capitol Hill came as a surprise to many. Also this week, her collaboration with Kylie Cosmetics — a brand that makes no “clean” claims — launched. And, according to Brian Igel, a New York–based lawyer whose clients include Off-White and Nylon, Kardashian isn’t exactly the poster girl for federally mandated rules.
“It’s rich that Kourtney [Kardashian] is lobbying for transparency and government regulation,” he said. “She and her siblings are infamous for failing to make FTC-required disclosures when they are being paid to promote products.”
As he sees it, a more appropriate and just as powerful move for Kardashian would have been to share the names of companies not supporting PCPSA, along with a denouncement of sorts — considering how Kylie Jenner questioning Snapchat’s relevancy hurt the platform.
“Even without government regulation, if Kardashian were to call for a boycott against brands that ‘aren’t healthy’ in her estimation, or that don’t adequately disclose the ingredients used in their products, the effect on those companies could potentially be catastrophic,” he said.