As consumers and regulators escalate demand for safer consumer products, Avon announced last week it will phase out the toxic chemical triclosan — a commonly used antimicrobial agent found in color cosmetics, creams, shaving products, detergents, toothpastes, and antibacterial soaps — from its beauty and personal care products. Triclosan has been linked to hormone disruption and the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibodies and antibacterial products.
"The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics congratulates Avon for finally giving triclosan the boot," said Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and director of program and policy at the Breast Cancer Fund. "It's a hormonally active chemical that has no business being in cosmetics and personal care products. But triclosan is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unsafe chemicals in cosmetics. We want Avon to adopt a comprehensive policy that declares chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other adverse health effects to be off limits in cosmetics and to support stricter regulation of the $71 billion cosmetics industry so that everyone is protected."
Though this is good news for the growing number of consumers concerned about the potential effects of triclosan, there is no word yet on what Avon will use to replace it.
"We are not going to use it in new products and the process is underway for identifying alternatives or changing formulations for the small number of existing products that had included triclosan among their ingredients," Avon spokesperson Jennifer Vargas told the Guardian.
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In 2013, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Green Century Fund filed a shareholder proposal that would require Avon to adopt a safe chemicals policy; the proposal received support from 18 percent of shareholders.
Recently, Avon’s competitors have adopted cosmetic chemical safety standards that are stronger than existing federal regulations: Johnson & Johnson announced in 2012 that it would eliminate chemicals of concern from baby and adult products, including triclosan, parabens, phthalates and preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. And in September, Procter & Gamble announced it would eliminate triclosan and the phthalate DEP from all products by 2014.
Major loopholes in federal law allow Avon and other cosmetics companies to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products. Cosmetics companies are not required to test ingredients or monitor health effects of toxic chemicals, nor are they forced to adequately label products. In fact, cosmetics are among the least-regulated products on the market today, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
In December, a group of the country's leading consumer brands — including Seventh Generation, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farm, Aubrey Organics, Method, Naturepedic, EO, Annie's and EILEEN FISHER — formed a new coalition to persuade Congress to update the nation's out-of-date and ineffective chemical safety laws. Strong lobbying by other industry groups has given policymakers the impression that business is monolithic in its support for weak legislation. The new coalition, Companies for Safer Chemicals, is making a business argument for strong reforms that support the industry innovating to create safer and cleaner products. While many of the companies (and some of their respective industries and states) have taken their own initiative in terms of eliminating toxic chemicals in their products, the coalition members strongly believe more stringent federal regulation is a must.