When the beauty industry entered 2023, it also entered an era of new industry regulations.
On Dec. 30, 2022, President Biden signed a whopper 4,155-page omnibus spending bill amounting to $1.7 trillion that keeps the U.S. government funded through September. Nestled about 3,500 pages in was the “Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022,” giving the federal government more power over the beauty industry via the Food & Drug Administration. It is the culmination of years of advocacy work from the clean beauty sector within Congress and the public sphere to push for more standards that raise the bar on regulations and requirements.
“It’s a meaningful step forward that has real substantial policies that will change the way cosmetics and personal care products are made, and it will also change the American population’s exposure to certain chemicals,” said Lindsay Dahl, chief impact officer at vitamin brand Ritual. “I am energized by how much progress was made with this legislation while simultaneously committed to getting other pieces passed to ensure cosmetics are safe for consumers.” Dahl had advocated for the law long before her tenure at Ritual, she said.
There are several significant changes and updates within the reform law, including authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to issue mandatory product recalls that are unsafe for the market and requiring the FDA to set rules for companies around disclosing fragrance allergens. In addition, professional salon products will newly need to disclose ingredients, and companies will need to have accessible safety substantiation about why certain ingredients are safe for use.
Other minor changes include required registration for beauty product manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, within one year of enactment. This will aid the FDA when issuing recalls or investigating other issues. And the FDA will establish Good Manufacturing Practices for cosmetics, which are already required for OTC drugs like sunscreens and dandruff shampoo. GMPs help ensure that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. The FDA will publish proposed regulation by the end of 2024, with finalization suggested by the end of 2025.
Under the new legislation, the FDA will also have to study the safety of PFAS chemicals, dubbed “forever chemicals,” that cannot be processed and eliminated by the body or the environment. PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are included in several common products, including cleaning products, non-stick cookware and personal care products. They help combat grease, water, oil and resist heat. The FDA will also need to establish standardized testing requirements for testing asbestos, which naturally occurs within talc.
Over the past decade more information about beauty product ingredients has come to light and made headlines. In 2017 and 2019, asbestos was found in three eyeshadow palettes from tween retailers Justice and Claire’s. However, the FDA could only advise customers not to use them at the time, while the retailers removed the products from store shelves on their own. A 2022 study suggested that chemical hair straighteners pose a risk for uterine cancer, leaving Black women particularly vulnerable — 60% of participants who reported using hair straighteners self-identified as Black women, according to the study. But the biggest and most controversial topic involves Johnson & Johnson baby powder and whether its talc formulas contain asbestos, causing cancer and other ailments. J&J stopped selling baby powder made with talc in the U.S. and Canada in 2020, saying consumers preferred a version made with corn starch. The company still sells talc-based baby powder in other countries.
The banning or restricting of ingredients was not included in the law, and it does not require supply chain transparency. Dahl also pointed out that minority communities are more often exposed to adverse effects from beauty products. Still, no law provisions specifically protect BIPOC consumers or impact the products they are more likely to use.
“Frankly, the majority of this legislation is giving the FDA authority over things responsible brands and manufacturers operating in the U.S. were already doing,” said Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist and former president of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. “The bigger implications are for smaller, indie brands. They need to ensure they will be in compliance with their contract manufacturers, especially those outside the U.S.”
But “clean” indie brands, in particular, may not feel much impact, given that many adhere to clean standards set by retail partners like Sephora, Detox Market and Credo, or were already practicing a similar set of standards on their own. Mia Davis, vp of sustainability and impact at Credo Beauty, said the brunt of responsibility for adhering to Credo Beauty’s clean standards falls on brands, which is an issue for smaller brands who do not have much cachet with manufacturers. The law instead shifts part of the onus onto manufacturers, which helps indie brands and retailers. According to Davis, it is likely on a case-by-case basis when it comes to costs to adhere to or upgrade to the new FDA standards.
“The Credo Clean standard is already more robust than this law, but it strengthens and codifies systems, and that’s always helpful,” said Davis. Additionally, “the law does not directly mandate or inspire more innovation, but [it instead] helps to raise the bar on the floor in a better direction; this signals to the industry to move toward [a cleaner] future because the bar just got higher.”