Monday, October 29, 2012

Trying to Get a Product Off the Market

I read an article this week that did a good job of illustrating how little regulation there is for cosmetic products and how hard it is to remove them from the market. A special report by Environmental Health News looked at the history of a problematic hair straightener. That article and a page of information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made the following points:

  • About 2,000 new cosmetic products enter the market each year and companies are not required to gain approval for them or disclose their ingredients.

  • Removing a product from the market requires a federal court battle. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have authority to recall cosmetic products.

  • The hair straightening formulation contains high levels of methylene glycol, the liquid form of formaldehyde, which has been linked to a wide range of health concerns, including cancer. When OSHA tested the air in hair salons using the product, they found formaldehyde levels that exceeded the federal safely limit. During the blow drying phase of treatment, the formaldehyde levels in one salon were found to be five times the safety threshold.

  • An employee of the California Department of Public Health noted that the sale of the hair straightener violated five separate laws and resulted in numerous injuries, but that they had not been able to get it banned.

  • The product remains in salons despite the fact that several states have issued health alerts and the California Attorney General won a settlement regarding deceptive advertising and failure to disclose a cancer-causing ingredient. The Food and Drug Administration also cited the manufacturer for adulteration and misbranding of the product and  a review panel of health experts called it unsafe.

  • Stylists profiled in the article now suffer from what the author calls "an odd, lasting sensitivity" to products such as cleaning agents, fragrances and hair spray. Readers of the this blog know the situation is actually not odd at all. Formaldehyde is a known sensitizer, which often sets people on the path of chemical illness.

  • OSHA found that many products containing formaldehyde did not list the chemical on either the label or the MSDS (material safety data sheet). They note that even products that claim to be formaldehyde free can still expose workers to the chemical.

It's nice to assume that products allowed to be sold are safe and that those proved otherwise can be easily recalled. Unfortunately, that just isn't the case. We have to take the initiative ourselves to protect our health and the health of those around us. I mentioned in last week's blog post that I didn't think deodorant was worth dying for. I also wouldn't trade my health for straighter hair. How about you?

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