California Toxic Cosmetic Ingredient Database Pleases Nobody

toxic cosmetic chemicals database

I have written before about the California Toxic Cosmetic Ingredient Database of supposedly risky ingredients run by the state government in California.  As part of piece of legislation called Proposition 65 the Californian government has set up a database which keeps track of cosmetic ingredients.  The state has a long list of chemicals which have been linked in some way to health problems.  The list is a long one and mainly consists of chemicals that have no relevance to the cosmetic industry.  (It has other purposes so this isn’t surprising.)  But a handful of them are used fairly widely, so chemists for cosmetic companies have to check the list against their company’s formulations and notify them on a database set up for the purpose.

As it is set up in a way that is not only troublesome to fill in but positively insulting to the person doing it, it is not surprising that it is not very popular with technical staff in the industry.  But leaving the unpleasant way it was built aside, it always seemed to me to be a stupid idea anyway.  If California thinks the cosmetics on sale in its area of responsibility are dangerous, surely it should ban them, not list them.

But it turns out that the proponents of the database aren’t very happy with it either.   I am not sure exactly what they were hoping to get out of it, but the actual results are disappointing.  Companies have by and large dutifully complied with the regulations and listed everything that is asked of them.  The result has been that California now has a very long list indeed of cosmetic products that contain ingredients that may or may not be harmful.  Natural News has homed in on the fact that about 5% of respondents used a ‘trade secret’ button to avoid disclosing some information.  I didn’t see that button when I was using it.  Perhaps it was a later addition.  But I would have leapt on any opportunity to minimise the work of filling it in.

Natural News puts this down to big business interests.  “Instead of helping to disclose chemicals in cosmetic products, the California cosmetic database has created a system of crony capitalism.”   

Well I wish the crony capitalists had stopped the database being created in the first place if they have that much power.  I have a feeling that the reality is that the lab workers who were filling in the the data were simply seizing on any opportunity to shorten a soul destroying and pointless job.  

There certainly are big corporations that will put their financial interests ahead of those of the community at large.  Tobacco companies and the ones that used to put lead in petrol are good examples.  Only legislation firmly enforced can be relied upon to ensure public safety.  Which is why it is such a tragedy when ignorant and ill conceived legislation gets passed.  I don’t think there are any harmful ingredients in cosmetics that aren’t already effectively banned.  But if there were, this toxic cosmetic ingredient database is an exceptionally silly way of going about tackling the issue.  The database costs about $320,000 a year to run, a modest sum of money compared to the size of the state budget but still enough to fund a couple of decent projects that might actually shed some light on how safe cosmetics actually are.  If there are risks from using them surely investigating the harm they are doing is going to be a lot more productive than generating a list?

If you are interested in the legal background to Proposition 65 in general, here is a summary


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