Dangerous secrets: Popular cosmetics brands fail to disclose ingredients

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Danielle Melgar

Former Food & Agriculture, Advocate, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Danielle Melgar

Former Food & Agriculture, Advocate, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

20 popular beauty brands are keeping consumers in the dark

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

CHICAGO — Some of the largest cosmetic and personal care companies are doing a poor job informing the public on what ingredients are going into 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. 

“Without strong federal action for cosmetic safety, there has only been a confusing patchwork of voluntary company commitments and state legislation,” said Gina Werdel, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Make It Toxic-Free campaign associate. “This report serves to show consumers and companies which brands have made progress and which have the opportunity to take further steps to protect the health and safety of their 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,” Werdel said. “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. 

“Consumers should be able to trust that the products they use on their bodies will not contain toxic chemicals,” Werdel said. “For lower scoring companies, this report can serve as 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 it is actively working to address any ingredient disclosure issues identified. 

Read the full report here.