US needs safer cosmetics

This time last year, when I came to Capitol Hill, I met with some of the most powerful men and women in America. I’ve become a familiar face in Washington in recent years, because I feel like I got famous, I got cancer, and I lived to talk about it. So I’m using my voice (it is one of a kind) as an advocate.

In 2007 I founded Cancer Schmancer, and we are going full-tilt to try to defeat this horrible disease. America’s “War on Cancer” is 40 years old and counting, and we believe that prevention and early detection should be on equal footing with the search for a cure. Why not triple the weapons in our arsenal?

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I’m writing today to ask those in Congress who want to turn the tide on cancer to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011. It might seem like a leap to connect personal care products with cancer, but the President’s Cancer Panel’s report last year sounded the alarm on toxic chemicals in products we use every day. You all have a chance right now to take a major step at cancer prevention and to lead the way forward in our fight against cancer.

I also want to make the point that this isn’t a bill about makeup. Cosmetics refers to products that men, women and children use every day. This bill affects every single American. Men use an average of six personal care products every day. Women use 12!

Shampoos, lipsticks, deodorants, shaving cream, lotions, mascara and every other product we put on our faces, in our hair, even on our teeth, can contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, neurological problems and other health problems. And it’s perfectly legal!

The bill will do three important things: 1. eliminate the most harmful chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm from personal care products; 2. require cosmetics companies to tell us everything that’s in their products; and 3. set up a system to review the safety of cosmetic ingredients.

No-brainer, right?

Of course, many of our trading partners, including Canada and the European Union, already have much tougher rules than we do about protecting their citizens with safer cosmetics and personal care products. So companies have to make safer products for those markets anyway! Why would they foist toxic products on Americans? What are we, chopped liver?

I have always been proud of America’s leadership in the world, and I think of this as a matter of national pride. Why would the greatest country on earth accept and buy products that are making us sick over time?

Another matter this bill addresses is something called “CBI,” Confidential Business Information, which gives companies an “out” from having to disclose what is in the fragrances they use in everything from lotion to deodorant to shaving cream.

It turns out that when a company comes out with a new fragrance, the first thing its competitors do is have their chemists determine what is in it. So the argument that “fragrance” ingredients shouldn’t be disclosed so companies can protect trade secrets is really moot. In many cases, this is a convenient place to hide toxic ingredients. The next time you pick up a product in your bathroom, take a look at the label. It almost certainly will say “Fragrance” or “Parfum,” and within that line item can be all manner of toxins.

This is a nonpartisan issue. This is a human issue! Everybody wins if Congress comes out with bipartisan support for the Safe Cosmetics Act! The companies doing the right thing get rewarded; the companies doing the bad things have to stop doing them; legislators protecting our environmental health get accolades from their constituents and health activists; and most importantly, we reduce the chances that all of us and our kids are going to suffer from the illnesses linked to harmful chemicals — and that means not giving cancer that extra chance to grab on to someone we love.

So get ready, here I come! I’m coming back to pound the pavement on Capitol Hill! I can hardly wait to see everybody again. Please be my heroes (and don’t make me beg): Support the Safe Cosmetics At of 2011!

Drescher is an actress, author and health advocate.