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The makeup and hygiene products you're using may have toxic ingredients unregulated by the FDA

GREEN BAY, Wis. - The makeup and hygiene products you're using may contain toxic ingredients unregulated by the FDA.

While Europe bans more than 1,300 ingredients from cosmetics and personal care products, the FDA only bans 11.

"In Europe they use the precautionary principle where they say, 'Here we have some evidence that suggests that formaldehyde could be carcinogenic, so we're going to ban it until we know more about it," Cynthia Ochsner, a chemistry professor at St. Norbert College, explained. "In the United States, we tend to take the very opposite approach. It could be harmful, we don't have enough scientific evidence to suggest it is so we'll just keep using it until we have to pull it off the market."

Ashley Prange, the founder of the cosmetics brand Au Naturale in Green Bay, is trying to change that. 

"The FDA does not have the budget, the authority, or the money really to regulate this space at all," Prange explained. "So when you are looking at an ingredient list, by law they have to show you what's in it, but who's doing the testing? I mean even when I am looking at a product, I'm more thinking about where is this being manufactured, and was this ever really being tested at all."

Formaldehyde can be in eyelash glue, asbestos can be in talc-based makeup, and lipsticks can have petroleum in them. 

"In the long-term, it's thought to be carcinogenic,"  Ochsner said. "How much exposure you get through cosmetics is really not well-understood."

Ashley Prange worked in Washington, D.C. at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and then later at the Atomic Licensing and Safety Board.

While Prange worked with government regulations in her day job, she started mixing makeup on the side, and her products gained popularity.

"And it wasn't until I was like alright, this is going so well, let's look at the regulations in the beauty industry to see what I need to do to stay legal, and at that point, I realized anything goes in the beauty space, and that you can really get away with putting anything into products, and it's not just makeup," Prange said. "It's skincare, it's hair care, it's anything you might use, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant. All of these personal care products are unregulated in the United States of America."

Makeup became Prange's full-time job, and as she learned more about it, her business transformed from conventional makeup to clean makeup that wouldn't harm her customers.

That's when Prange launched Au Naturale, and held her company to the highest standards in ingredient safety. 

"Anything that might compromise your health, let's take it out," she said. 

Her epiphany took her back to Washington, D.C. and straight to Capitol Hill.

Prange teamed up with the Environmental Working Group, as well as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins, who together co-sponsored a proposal that would give the FDA more power to regulate ingredients in makeup and personal care products.

It's called the Personal Care Product Safety Act. The bill would give the FDA more power to ban more toxins from products. 

IF the bill is passed by Congress and signed by the president, the FDA would have a committee that would review at least five ingredients a year, starting with the most toxic ingredients, and deciding if they should be banned from cosmetics and personal care products.

Not only should consumers be aware of what ingredients are used and where they come from, but it's also important to know how small the particles are. 

Many cosmetic companies are breaking down their makeup into what are known as nanoparticles, which are intended to help makeup go on smoother. 

"They're so small, they actually go right through your skin, into your bloodstream, and some studies have shown actually into your cell structure, and there's no way to take that out of your body," Prange said.

Prange's company gathers ingredients from all over the world, but Au Naturale requires a certificate of analysis from a California-based lab that tests for harmful elements in the raw ingredients before they are mixed into products. 

"I promise you, every single one is having an impact on your overall health, so have you done the homework to make sure you're not poisoning yourself really," Prange said.

Not every company does a lab analysis, and she'd welcome a new law requiring more testing as a step in the right direction, but even then, she hopes to see regulations on personal care products become even more sophisticated. 

"We have even more work to do after this, but this is our moment to actually make impact in a space that's been unaddressed for 80 years," Prange said.

If you're wondering how you can protect yourself from potential toxins, you can look up brands, products, and ingredients on websites like the Environmental Working Group, and even apps on your phone, like one called Think Dirty, which allows users to search products and scan products to learn about how toxic certain ingredients in the products are.


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