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Reports of adverse reactions to shampoo justify better regulation of cosmetics industry

It would probably surprise most people that the hair care industry is not subject to strong regulatory restrictions protecting consumers from the adverse effects of chemicals found in products.

So unless someone had a similar experience with hair care products, the situation detailed in a recent New York Times article would come as a much-needed warning label.

The Food and Drug Administration must obtain the authority to test ingredients, as proposed legislation requires. Those products failing the test should be removed from the shelves and the public informed. Nothing less is satisfactory. The multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry will continue.

The Times article told the story of Los Angeles hairstylist Chaz Dean and his celebrity-endorsed almond mint and lavender-scented hair care products. The FDA found no evidence of contamination or misbranding in Wen products but his formula, according to a number of customers, caused itching, rashes and even hair loss in large clumps, both in adults and children. The result: more than 21,000 complaints lodged against Dean’s Wen Hair Care.

This is a cosmetic industry with about $50 billion in annual sales. It can afford stronger regulation. That’s where a proposal by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, comes in. Their bill would, for the first time, require that cosmetics manufacturers report “serious adverse” reactions to their products to the FDA, in real time, in addition to creating an annual report of all “adverse events.” It would also give the agency the power to order companies to recall products found to be dangerous.

Remarkably, cosmetics companies are not required to inform the government of adverse reactions, even if someone dies. The agency must rely on consumers.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., Feinstein and Collins are trying to strengthen a 1938 law that was passed to regulate the pharmaceutical industry. Cosmetics received less attention at a measly two pages. This gaping omission has allowed the industry to run unchecked.

Small independents belonging to a beauty care trade association, such as Guthy-Renker, have their own champion. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has introduced competing legislation. He is doing so in support of his home-state company, Mary Kay, which joined the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors in order to fight the Feinstein-Collins legislation.

Sessions’ bill was reportedly largely drafted by Mary Kay and the independent companies. And through no sheer coincidence, after his legislation was introduced, campaign finance records obtained by the Times shows Sessions as the top recipient in Congress of donations from Mary Kay employees, and taking donations from at least 10 other industry executives. Guthy-Renker was not among them.

The FDA should have stronger powers to protect consumers.

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