Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act Protects Public Health From Lead, Asbestos and Other Toxic Chemicals in Personal Care Products

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For Immediate Release: 
Monday, January 13, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today supporters gathered at the California State Capitol to urge the state Assembly to pass the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, A.B. 495. If passed, the law would ban toxic ingredients like lead, mercury and formaldehyde from the beauty and personal care products Californians use every day. The law will face its first key vote on Tuesday.

“More than 40 other nations protect their citizens from harmful cosmetics,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Californians should be protected from unsafe products, too. A law to do that was passed in 1996 but never implemented. A.B. 495 would update this law to make sure that cosmetics manufacturers can no longer use some of the most toxic chemicals as ingredients in personal care products sold in California.”

Last spring, the bill stalled in its first policy committee because industry opposition helped to block a vote. Since then, California has seen more examples of the impact of toxic ingredients in beauty care products.

“I want my daughter growing up in a state where I don’t have to examine the label, and be an expert toxicologist, to know the soaps, face creams and toothpastes that are safe for her to use,” said Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), author of the legislation. “That’s why I introduced A.B. 495 to get the most toxic chemicals out of the products we use on a daily basis.”

“A woman recently went into a coma a few miles from here because she used face cream contaminated with mercury,” said co-author Assembly Member Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). “And right now, there is nothing stopping that from happening again and again. I call on my colleagues to make sure we don’t wait any longer to address this critical issue.”

In March 2019, tests by the Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in three talc-based cosmetics products sold by the national retail chain Claire’s. Although the FDA is supposed to protect consumers from these threats, when it comes to personal care products, the federal regulatory body lacks any of the authority it has with food or drugs.

EWG found 2,119 talc-based products in its Skin Deep® online database, including more than 1,000 loose or pressed powders that could be inhaled. Products with talc represent about one in 12 of those in the database that have been on the market in the past three years.

“Asbestos is highly toxic and doesn’t belong in kids makeup, but because of the FDA’s limited legal authority, all they could do is ask Claire’s to voluntarily remove their products from the shelf,” said Laura Deehan, CALPIRG public health advocate. “When Claire’s refused, the FDA had no ability to issue fines or mandate a recall.”

The consumer group CALPIRG released a report in 2018 that found tens of thousands of asbestos fibers per gram of eye shadow and face powder in some products sold at Claire’s stores.

Congressional action is required to increase the scope of the FDA's authority on cosmetics. But for more than 80 years, this has not occurred.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, especially for women today, according to supporters of the bill. “Ten out of the 13 chemicals addressed by AB495 are linked to breast cancer,” said Janet Nudelman, Director of BCPP’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “One in eight women will develop breast cancer, which is a 40 percent increase since the 1970s. This important bill takes us one step closer to preventing breast cancer before it starts by removing a major source of women’s ongoing exposure to some of the most toxic substances on the planet.”

An NIH study released last month found a direct correlation between women dying their hair or using hair straightener, and their risk of developing cancer. The report concluded that black women are affected most adversely.

“Some of the most toxic ingredients are being aggressively marketed to black women,” said Nourbese Flint, policy director for the L.A.-based organization Black Women for Wellness. “Levels of formaldehyde that could be used to embalm a body are being used in hair straightener, and black women who dye their hair are 60 percent more likely to develop cancer. That’s why we demand safe cosmetics now. The legislature should pass AB495 so that we can finally protect women from the toxic exposure they currently face on every trip to the salon.”   


NOTE: The California State Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials will hold a hearing tomorrow, Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. PST, in Room 444, on A.B. 495. Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., one of EWG’s senior scientists, will speak as an expert. The audio of the hearing will be available here:


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners is the leading national science-based, policy and advocacy organization focused on preventing breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. Learn more at

CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a statewide non-profit organization that works to protect public health and consumers.