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The Intensifying Regulatory Investigation of Formaldehyde and Its Implications

By: Stan Perry
Posted: November 1, 2011, from the November 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

In addition to following trends such as emerging markets, changes in distribution channels, consumer preference and the performance of specific beauty segments, there is another trend the industry should be continually monitoring: regulatory oversight and influences from government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and interest groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

In some instances, the actions of third parties can provide opportunities for innovation and product differentiation, but they can also lead to boycotts and litigation.

Consider one evolving and intensifying regulatory investigation: the use of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives found in shampoos, liquid body soaps, nail polishes, hair gels and many other personal care products. When federal officials raised concerns about the use of and potential dangers in formaldehyde in hair-smoothing products, the media was quick to jump on the story.

The Good, The Bad and The Toxic Tort

The beauty industry has been out front in monitoring the use of formaldehyde for a long time. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review’s (www.cir-safety.org) expert panel recently released its views on hair-straightening treatments that use formaldehyde, recommending that for health and safety reasons no product contain more than 0.2% of the chemical.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) considers formaldehyde to be a “basic-building block chemical,” essential to an estimated $145 billion of the U.S. gross national product, and dozens of industry sectors, in addition to beauty, use formaldehyde. The EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies, however, after studying the chemical for a dozen years, issued a “game-changing” ruling on the toxicity of formaldehyde in releasing the National Toxicology Program’s 12th Report on Carcinogens on June 10, 2011. Formaldehyde and five other chemicals were added to the government’s list of known human carcinogens.