Dangerous secrets: Popular cosmetics brands fail to disclose ingredients

Media Contacts
Claudia Deeg

20 popular beauty brands are keeping consumers in the dark

CALPIRG Education Fund

OAKLAND, Calif. — Some of the largest cosmetic and personal care companies are failing to inform the public on what ingredients are used in their products, hiding potentially toxic chemicals from consumers. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a scorecard report Wednesday that found 20 of 26 surveyed brands had failed to adequately disclose product ingredients to consumers. The report, entitled Looking Inward 2021: Where popular personal care brands stand on ingredient safety and disclosure, found the average ingredient disclosure score was 5.56 out of 10, or an F, pointing to a need for improvement across the industry. 

“Last year, California made history by passing the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, the first significant cosmetics law in the country in over 80 years,” said Claudia Deeg, CALPIRG Education Fund Public Health Associate. “But this report shows the cosmetics industry still has a long way to go to protect the health and safety of its customers.”

While many brands scored well on disclosing potentially hazardous ingredients, others were still lagging behind. In particular, big beauty conglomerate L’Oréal has failed to fully divulge its products’ ingredients to consumers. L’Oréal, highlighted as a lagger in this report, has just appointed its new CEO, Nicolas Hieronimus, on Saturday, May 1, 2021. 

“In 2018, L’Oréal claimed it would soon disclose more ingredients to consumers,” said Gina Werdel, report author and U.S. PIRG Education Fund Associate. “Now, nearly three years later, we’ve found that L’Oréal is still lagging behind competitors such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble, and withholding information that its customers need to make informed purchases. We hope that Mr. Hieronimus will take bold action to protect his customers as he steps into his new role.”

Current federal law allows companies to list any chemical ingredients that make up the sensation of flavor or fragrance in a product as simply “flavor” or “fragrance.” Many of these chemical ingredients have been flagged as potential hormone disruptors or carcinogens. In September 2020 California passed the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020, which will require cosmetic manufacturers to disclose the presence of flavor and fragrance ingredients that are listed on one or more of 27 hazard lists beginning January 1, 2022.

“Consumers should be able to trust that the products they use on their bodies every day are free of toxic chemicals,” Deeg said. “For lower scoring companies, this report should be an opportunity to make improvements to ingredient disclosure and safety. For customers, this report can serve as a guide for avoiding toxic chemicals and making decisions to protect their health and safety.”

U.S. PIRG Education Fund attempted to contact all companies that were a part of the survey. Unilever was the only company to respond to a request for comment. Unilever told U.S. PIRG Education Fund that they are actively working to address any ingredient disclosure issues identified. 

Read the full report here.