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Beauty industry in the US is the 'Wild, Wild West': skincare CEO

The $320 billion global beauty industry is one of the fastest growing categories in the consumer goods business.

It’s an industry that grew 4% in the U.S. alone last year and goes largely unregulated. In other words, all those tough-to-pronounce ingredients in foundation, blush, lipstick, lotions and soaps are not subject to stringent federal testing.

“People should know [the beauty industry] is not like the food industry. It's the Wild, Wild West.” says Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter, a company that has led the charge for safer cosmetics.

Calls from consumer groups and entrepreneurs like Renfrew are catching the attention of lawmakers. Newly introduced legislation like the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 and the Cosmetic Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 could change the landscape. The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health held a hearing this week on reforming the cosmetics industry. It’s long overdue says Renfrew who testified at the hearing.

Multiple cosmetic products on black background. High resolution image for cosmetics and fashion industry.

“We have not updated a major federal law regulating the cosmetics industry since 1938,” she says. Renfrew believes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to step in.

“The FDA has no ability to screen ingredients for safety before products are put on the shelves,” she says. “They are not able to recall products when there are known things that are harmful to health. And they are not regulating what claims are being made on the labels of the products that we're all using every single day.”

‘Bipartisan support for cosmetic reform’

Beautycounter was one of the first companies to pioneer the clean beauty movement. The company today offers 150 skincare, cosmetics, anti-aging, and kids and baby products. Renfrew says when she launched Beautycounter in March of 2013, the U.S. had only banned 11 chemicals from beauty products.

“Now we're up to a whopping 30,” she says. ”What's happened I think over the number of years is that there was a brief moment in time where we had legislation that was comprehensive and kept us safe. But we've introduced over 85,000 chemicals into commerce since then, and no one has really done anything about it.”

Her company posts its ‘Never List’ online, a compilation of known harmful ingredients it does not use in its products.

Renfrew says she is hopeful that Washington will act.

“There is bipartisan support for cosmetic reform,” she says. “I think it was clear... that the FDA is inadequately resourced, that everyone agrees that they are not protecting consumers. And most consumers think that they are, and they're not.”

Joanna Campione is a producer for Yahoo Finance.

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