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Jan Lee headshot

CVS Banishes Formaldehyde, Other Toxics From Cosmetics

By Jan Lee

Consumer and environmental organizations have been pressuring manufacturers for years to remove certain ingredients from their personal care products. Ingredients like parabens, phthalates and various formulations of formaldehyde are often used in cosmetics and are now considered suspected carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Last week consumer advocates received the clearest sign yet that their efforts are making a difference. CVS, which owns and operates some 9,700 pharmacies across the country announced on Wednesday that it would be pulling those products in its own line of cosmetics that contain those three chemical substances and “will stop shipping store brand products that don’t meet these standards to distribution centers by the end of 2019.”

CVS manufactures four product lines that it said will be affected by the change: CVS Health, Beauty 360, Essence of Beauty, and Blade. The company’s Promise Organic is prohibited by federal law from containing synthetic ingredients already and won’t be affected.

“Today’s announcement is a natural step in the evolution of our comprehensive approach to chemical safety,” said Cia Tucci, Vice President of CVS Health’s Store Brands and Quality Assurance Department. She credited the decision to the CVS effort to be responsive to consumer concerns and to ensure that the products it sells are “safe [and] efficacious." The company already publishes a list of restricted chemicals by product category on its website.

In 2005 the state of California passed a law requiring personal care product manufacturers to supply the state with a list of any products that contained ingredients it identified as toxic, including parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde. The Safe Cosmetic Act put the onus on manufacturers to not only ensure transparency, but to meet stringent reporting guidelines about its use and consumer risks.

In 2012, California voters took another step to strengthen requirements concerning toxic chemicals by passing Proposition 65. Under California law, manufacturers are required by law to warn consumers if the product contains harmful amounts of toxic ingredients. That added pressure has made some companies realize that many consumers really don’t want certain ingredients in their personal care products.

But the SCA and Prop 65 have also made it easier for consumer organizations and the state to go after companies that didn’t report the use of toxic ingredients. In 2013 the Center for Environmental Health sued manufacturers of 98 personal care products for not reporting the use of toxic substances on the label and to the state. None was manufactured by CVS, although some of those products had been sold in major pharmacies across the country.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of companies are now dropping or limiting “unwanted chemicals” from their stores and product lines. In January Target announced it would be reviewing products that didn’t meet consumers’ ingredient and quality expectations, a step that Walmart has also endorsed.

CVS’ move represents a sizable effort in this arena. With more than 500 products to review, the company’s efforts demonstrate that consumer preferences are being heard loud and clear.

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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