Already struggling with debt and declining sales, international accessories retailer Claire’s closed out 2017 by pulling 17 products off its shelves. One consumer’s allegations about her 6-year-old daughter’s makeup made way for “precautionary” refunds and investigations that found the products to be allegedly contaminated with cancer-causing tremolite asbestos.
Claire’s was not the first in recent years to be caught using asbestos in cosmetics designed for teens, despite the company’s own tests clearing these products as “asbestos-free.” Clear deficiencies in safety testing have prompted lawmakers to intervene. Last week, Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell introduced the Children’s Product Warning Label Act of 2018, legislation that forces the cosmetics industry to rethink their duty of care to young consumers.
Bill Points a Stern Finger at Teen Retailers
The rules of the bill are simple. Children’s cosmetics must be free of asbestos, or otherwise, carry a clear warning that they might not be.
Dingell said in a statement:
“Parents across the country should have the peace of mind in knowing that the cosmetics they buy for their children are safe. Yet we were all stunned when the retailer Claire’s pulled 17 products from their shelves after asbestos was found in cosmetics marketed to children, including glitter and eyeshadow. No child should be exposed to asbestos through the use of common, everyday products.”
If the bill passes, cosmetics manufacturers will need to state whether their products have been evaluated for asbestos contamination. They must otherwise demonstrate to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the products’ ingredients are sourced from asbestos-free mines, or test them using a specific method. Dingell believes that this sort of FDA intervention is long overdue.
‘Deadly’ Discoveries Finally Spark Action
Before the controversy over Claire’s, the Breast Cancer Fund and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted in-depth lab testing on children’s cosmetics made with talc, a mineral that occurs naturally near asbestos deposits. Researchers found a widespread presence of asbestos in makeup, but also heavy metals like lead to boot.
“The presence of these chemicals marketed to children is of serious concern, since children are highly vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals,” the report read.
These products, which included Halloween face paints, lip balms, body sprays, and nail products, were found in the toy aisles of Target, Toys R Us, and Claire’s. Researchers also exposed Justice, another popular fashion brand aimed at the teen and tween crowd. Justice also halted sales of its “Just Shine Shimmer Powder” last year.
“I would treat it like a deadly poison, because it is,” said Sean Fitzgerald, Director of Research and Analytical Services at the lab that tested the “Just Shine” powder. “In this powder designed for children, they could die an untimely death in their thirties or forties because of the exposure to asbestos in this product.”
The Outlook for Consumers
Asbestos is a mineral with properties that were once thought to be favorable for use in construction and other industries. But when scientists linked asbestos inhalation to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other fatal diseases, it became clear that asbestos has no place in the commercial world. This is especially obvious for products marketed to young children.
“It is difficult to believe that decades after the threats of asbestos had been established, it is still putting people, especially young children, at risk,” said Linda Reinstein, president and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). “Rep. Dingell’s bill should pass with unanimous support among her colleagues in Congress, and every parent should applaud her efforts to keep kids safe from something as lethal as asbestos.”
Renewed pressure to stop cosmetics manufacturers from selling asbestos-contaminated products may be welcome news to parents. However, since federal and consumer protection agencies still lack the resources to catch every defective product, we still cannot rest assured that any children’s cosmetic is safe. It will be up to the grownups to be vigilant and check labels.