Most U.S. Cosmetic Companies Resist Calls to Phase Out Suspect Chemicals

A growing controversy over phthalates — chemicals frequently used in cosmetics, including nail polish and fragrances — highlights dramatic differences in the way potential toxins are handled by U.S. and European Union regulators. Phthalates have been shown to cause adverse reproductive effects in laboratory animals, but no harm to humans has been conclusively demonstrated. Acting on the “precautionary principle,” the E.U. has voted to ban two common phthalates as of September. Despite a March appeal by the Breast Cancer Fund to U.S. cosmetics companies to do the same, only two — Procter & Gamble and Estee Lauder — have announced that they will phase out the chemicals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates cosmetics only after they are already on the market, often based on consultation with the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel. “It’s the fox designing and building the henhouse,” says Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group.