California’s cosmetics law AB 495, if passed, would ban the sale of any cosmetics containing certain chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm.

Both healthy and unhealthy ingredients can be absorbed through our skin.

Now, legislators in California are pushing for legislation that could deal a blow to the state’s cosmetics market. Assembly Bill 495, authored by Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), if passed, would ban the sale of any cosmetics — a category that includes lotions — containing certain chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer or reproductive harm.

Those chemicals, dubbed the “Toxic Twenty,” include asbestos, lead, diethylhexyl phthalate, formaldehyde, seven types of formaldehyde releasers, mercury and related compounds, toluene, triclosan, carbon black, fluorinated PFAS compounds, and four different parabens.

“Many cosmetics companies are already reformulating their products to exclude these dangerous chemicals, but it’s important to establish a floor other companies can’t drop below,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a non-government, nonprofit organization that co-sponsored the bill, in a press release.

In the massage industry, for example, most — but not all — lubricant manufacturers create products that contain organic or natural ingredients and do not contain such ingredients as phthalate or parabens.

Assembly Bill 495 also expands the authority of the California Safe Cosmetics Program, which was established in 2006; the bill would make it mandatory for cosmetics found to be using harmful chemicals to be reported to the state’s attorney general, who would then have to investigate and prosecute.

What’s Considered a Cosmetic?

The cosmetics category is broad, encompassing most personal care products such as lotions and shampoos in addition to makeup. It is also largely unregulated, as cosmetics are not overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill could eventually lead to safer cosmetics across the U.S., not just in California, said Cook. “No cosmetics CEO would make a product with a cancer-causing chemical ingredient that could not be sold in California, the fifth-largest economy in the world,” Cook said in the press release.

The governments of 40 other nations, the press release also noted, have banned thousands of chemicals from their cosmetics and personal care products.

According to the bill’s text, in part:

“Existing law, the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law, prohibits the manufacture, sale, delivery, holding, or offer for sale of adulterated cosmetics, and prescribes when a cosmetic is adulterated, including when it bears or contains a poisonous or deleterious substance that may render it injurious to users when used as directed in the cosmetic’s labeling or advertising or under customary or usual conditions.

“A violation of these provisions is a crime. This bill would additionally prescribe that a cosmetic is adulterated if it contains asbestos, lead, or any of several specified intentionally added ingredients. By expanding the scope of a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”

The Toxic Twenty

According to the Environmental Work Group, these are categories of the Toxic Twenty ingredients:


Formaldehyde releasers

Dibutyl phthalate

Diethylhexyl phthalate

Mercury and related compounds (including thimerosal)







Carbon black

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)


Lead (and related compounds)

About the Author:

Allison M. Payne is the associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and Chiropractic Economics.