Outgoing FDA Chief Gottlieb: FDA Not Equipped to Ensure Safety of Consumer Cosmetics

House testimony Tuesday to focus on risks in contaminated talc products

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal Food & Drug Administration and the cosmetics industry must do a better job protecting consumers from harmful chemicals in cosmetic products – including cancer-causing asbestos found in talc-based makeup and body powders, outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declared in a strongly worded statement released March 4.

Consumer watchdogs welcomed the FDA advisory and called for Congress to review and revise outdated laws governing the FDA’s ability to adequately protect consumers from dangerous chemicals found in cosmetics.

Fortunately, the new Democratic majority in the House saw the urgent need and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, called a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, March 12, to focus on the public health risks of carcinogens in consumer products, specifically talcum powder.

“Dr. Gottlieb should be commended for taking this important stand and making clear that there is currently no effective oversight to prevent manufacturers from selling dangerous products,” said Mike Lux, co-founder of the non-profit American Family Voices. “This issue must be a priority for this Congress and the next FDA chief.”

This hearing comes as recent tests by the FDA confirmed the discovery of asbestos in cosmetic products sold across the country by Claire’s and Justice retailers. While Justice and Claire’s stopped selling some of its powder, blush, cream and eye shadow products, Claire’s refused to comply with the FDA’s recall request, and the agency has no authority to mandate a recall.

“What’s happening is a powerful argument for why the FDA needs a greater ability to not only regulate these products but also be compelled to protect the health and safety of all Americans,” said Mr. Lux of American Family Voices. “There is an even larger company that refuses to stop selling these dangerous products, and the FDA doesn’t have the resources or authority to stop them. Despite Johnson & Johnson’s claims that the FDA says talcum powder is safe, the agency conducts little independent testing of cosmetic products and relies on those manufacturers to self-police through an industry-funded group called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. It’s a classic example of the fox guarding the hen house. The FDA has no true oversight in this area, and that’s something the public and our representatives need to acknowledge.”

Indeed, internal Johnson & Johnson documents disclosed in litigation have shown that the company has known about asbestos contamination in its products for decades. Yet the FDA and the public were never advised of the safety concerns. Safety advocates also urged transparency in the development of cosmetic products testing procedures to ensure that these procedures comply with objective scientific standards and cannot be manipulated by the cosmetics industry.

Dr. Gottlieb’s statement notes that laws governing FDA’s oversight of cosmetics have not been updated in more than 80 years and that the agency has no authority to require manufacturers to test their products before putting them on store shelves. He recommended that the FDA move away from this self-regulatory model and also urged the industry to embrace a “more modern approach” by registering products, listing their ingredients in a transparent way and doing a better job of notifying the FDA about adverse incidents involving cosmetics.

The House committee hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 12, at 10 a.m. ET in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing will be streamed and archived at https://www.youtube.com/user/OversightDems.

Media Contact:
Barry Pound

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