The Food and Drug Administration would have more power to regulate toothpaste, deodorant, hair treatments and other beauty products under a bill proposed by an Illinois Democrat - a move critics consider regulatory overreach.
Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky said she will reintroduce the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, which would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to regulate chemicals in the products and require manufacturers to disclose ingredients, among other things.
The bill is backed by salon industry workers worried about long-term health effects, and they shared those concerns at a congressional briefing last week.
"Why should hairstylists, such as myself, live in fear about our health?" Safiyyah Edley asked at the meeting. She owns a natural hair salon in California.
Thu Quach, a research scientist at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California who attended the briefing, said she would like to see a ban on what she calls the "toxic trio" - dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene - three chemicals often linked with cancer, birth defects and developmental harm.
Ms. Schakowsky said she is convinced the legislation is needed.
"The increasing number of reports of serious health issues stemming from the use of dangerous chemicals in beauty products ... proves that there is a need to protect both the safety of consumers as well as the safety of workers from harmful exposure," she said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the FDA does not have sufficient authority to monitor and regulate the use of toxic chemicals in cosmetic products."
However, business groups say this could raise prices for consumers and hurt the industry. Kayla Fioravanti, co-owner and chief formulator at Essential Wholesale in Clackamas, Ore., says most chemicals in cosmetics have proved to be safe over years of use and they are being misrepresented.
"Unfortunately, there's been some misinformation that's going out there that these things are unsafe and that they aren't tested when actually they are," she said, citing the industry's Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, which requires testing.
Ms. Schakowsky's bill stalled in the Democrat-controlled House last year, and it will face even longer odds this year with the GOP in charge. Just this week, Republican budget writers called for a $285 million cut to FDA funding in fiscal 2012, 11.5 percent less than 2011.
"I think the chances of that are about zero," said Kathleen Dezio, a spokeswoman for the Personal Care Products Council.
Still, the hair and nail stylists who are exposed to the chemicals daily say Congress needs to act.
Cosmetologist Van Nguyen, who immigrated to the U.S. more than a decade ago and works at a San Francisco nail salon, said she fears the chemicals at her job are responsible for two miscarriages and memory loss.
"We came here for a better life, but I didn't know I'd end up working with harmful chemicals. My doctor has advised me not to work around these chemicals, but this is how I know to make a living," she explained. "What can I do?"
Some salons are seeking healthier options.
Lisette Attias, who owns Piaf Salon & Day Spa in the District, said she is careful about what products she allows in her store.
"The chemicals we had, we hardly use anymore," she explained. "We took care of that."
Sushada Saichur of Shears Hair Salon in the District, switched to the new formaldehyde-free hair products but says she has the old stuff if customers insist.
"I will use it if I have the requests," she said.
Others say they've been around the chemicals their whole careers and never had any problems. Gary Thompson, a hairstylist at Inari Salon and Spa in the District, said he's not worried because he is a professional who knows how to handle the products carefully.
"You want your hair a certain way; that's just what we do," he said.
Cosmetic manufacturers think formaldehyde is not as dangerous as its pegged to be.
"The formaldehyde you get exposed to is more when you eat brussel sprouts than when you use cosmetics," Miss Fioravanti said.
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