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Beauty Contest: Cosmetics Companies Split Over Safety Act Safe Cosmetics Act Splits Makeup Companies

American consumers have never more access to stuff to put on our bodies. But the laws controlling cosmetics haven't budged since 1938.

American consumers have never had access to so many products to clean, primp, paint, powder, dye, straighten, and smooth our bodies. But the laws controlling those cosmetics haven't budged since 1938. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 would give the rules a modern boost, banning ingredients linked to cancer or birth defects, mandating better ingredients disclosures, and increasing FDA oversight over the industry.

To U.S. cosmetics companies big and small, the terms of the act aren't necessarily pretty. When the first draft of the bill hit last year, the cosmetics industry took on legislators over its language, which they say could spawn confusing ingredients lists, place administrative chokeholds on small businesses, and rely on science they don't trust. The bill has since been amended to address some of those concerns. And now, a small group of cosmetics companies have found a way to separate themselves from the pack: Promote the act, and their own products, too.

Earlier this week, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps released a press release lending support to the bill, and touting the company's soap line along the way. The presser identifies Dr. Bronner's as the "top-selling natural brand of certified Fair Trade soap" and touts the company's natural ingredients. Yesterday, New Hampshire-based body care producer WS Badger came out in support of the bill, too, adding that the business believes "in creating healthful products for people that we care about."The Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild has also signed on to the effort in recent weeks.

From a PR perspective, endorsing a bill as glowingly titled as the "Safe Cosmetics Act" is a no-brainer. Plus, many of the niche natural companies that have voiced support of the bill are unlikely to take a major hit from the law's administrative shifts. "The companies supporting this bill tend to be the ones that have already figured out how to make the safest products and fully disclose their ingredients," Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a bill supporter, told me.

Cosmetics companies that oppose the bill may have more at stake. Big-name cosmetics companies continue to criticize the proposed regulations, but the effort hasn't inspired many splashy self-promotional press releases a la Dr. Bronner's. Instead, the Personal Care Products Council has lobbied against the bill on behalf of hundreds of large outfits, allowing big cosmetics companies to largely avoid having their brand names associated with what's perceived as an anti-safety stance. Avon, Aveda, Elizabeth Arden, Almay, and Abercrombie & Fitch are all council members—and that's just in the A's. "I think it’s perfectly legitimate to have questions about the bill, but to torpedo the whole thing is really unhelpful," Malkan told me. "There’s been a lot of negativity that’s associated with that."

Meanwhile, many smaller-scale companies, from Etsy shop soap makers to eco-friendly grapeseed cosmetics producers, have put their brand names on the line in speaking out against the legislation. And as more small businesses align with the act, opponents have been quick to claim that criticizing the legislation doesn't amount to abandoning safe products. "The introduction of [the bill] has created a division in the small business arena, and that's sad," small cosmetics company owner Lisa Rogers wrote of the rift. "We should be working together on legislation." She added: "We support safe cosmetics." Doesn't everyone?

Photo (cc) via Flickr user dreamglowpumpkincat210

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