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Clean beauty advocates are lauding the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in California last week, as an important step in state-level cosmetic safety reform that will have a national ripple effect on the way the broader beauty industry manufactures product.
The bill, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2025, makes California the first state in the nation to ban two dozen ingredients known for toxicity concerns from being used in cosmetics, including mercury, three types of formaldehyde, certain parabens and phthalates, and the fluorinated compounds known as PFAS. Many of the chemicals listed in the bill have been linked in studies to breast cancer, endocrine disruption and other health concerns. The 24 ingredients listed in the bill are all banned for usage in beauty products by the European Union.
The beauty industry in the U.S. has not seen updated safety regulations in over 80 years. Proposed federal legislation, including the Personal Care Products Safety Act, has been introduced to the both the House of Representatives and the Senate over the past few years, but that bill is currently at a standstill in the Senate. Advocates for clean beauty say that while California law is not federal legislation, it is in a sense almost as good, given the size and influence of the state and its population.
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“It’s a huge step forward. California is a really integral state in terms of beauty—no brand is going to formulate a different product for different states,” said Annie Jackson, cofounder and chief operating officer of clean beauty retailer Credo Beauty. “It forces brands not to use any of these toxic chemicals going forward.”
Los Angeles-based Beautycounter was the lead business sponsor for the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. The company, which is known for its clean beauty advocacy, worked with advocacy organizations Black Women for Wellness and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners to lobby state elected officials to vote to pass the bill. In California, Beautycounter encouraged its seller and client base to contact local government in support of the bill. The company is still working to achieve federal level legislation—chief executive officer Gregg Renfrew testified before Congress in December.
“We’re really encouraged by state-level wins, but at the end of the day Beautycounter is active in the democratic process to fundamentally fix the problem, and we need the FDA to say what is safe and what is unsafe,” said Lindsay Dahl, senior vice president of social mission. “We won’t stop until we pass federal reform and any…consumer can find products that are safe.”
With the global coronavirus pandemic still raging and a new era of the civil rights movement burgeoning in the U.S., Jackson noted that the timing of the bill’s passage aligns with the influx of attention being paid to long-ignored racial inequities in the beauty industry. “Compounded with the impact of COVID-19, health and safety is top of mind for people, and then there’s the Black Lives Matter movement—most of the toxic ingredients [in beauty products] are really aggressively marketed to Black women in the form of hair straighteners and [skin-lightening] products.”
Tara Foley, founder of clean beauty retailer Follain, noted that in recent months she has shifted her company’s focus from advocating for federal cosmetics safety regulation to working with nonprofits to educate young women in BIPOC communities on ingredient safety. “Legislation is important,” Foley said. “But there are other things we can do besides [banning] chemicals. We need to educate women of all different races that there is an impact of the ingredients they use on their bodies and skin.”
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