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Salon professionals and health experts urge Washington state senators to take action on toxic beauty and personal care products

Powerful testimony in the Senate

Powerful testimony was presented to the Washington State Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee in support of the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act on March 14, 2023. The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote, would make cosmetics and personal care products for sale in Washington healthier by banning a number of toxic compounds and chemical classes.

Three salon professionals testified that they had suffered illness due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in products at the salons where they worked. They were joined in supporting the bill by more than 200 individuals who signed in for the bill. And several of the nation’s leading experts on the health effects of toxic chemicals used in cosmetics provided senators with compelling evidence of the need for legislation to protect health from these harmful chemicals.


Makers of cosmetics, represented by the trade group Personal Care Products Council, provided testimony opposing the bill. Specifically, the industry opposed ending the use of formaldehyde releasing agents (FRAs): chemicals that release the known carcinogen formaldehyde into products over time. The industry also expressed opposition to the bill’s provisions limiting lead in products to an appropriate protective level (1 ppm), despite the well-known irreversible harm from lead on children’s brain development.

Testimony highlights

Testimony supporting a ban on formaldehyde releasing agents pointed to: 

  • A technical report issued to the legislature in January 2023 by the Washington Departments of Ecology and Health. The agencies tested products marketed to people of color and detected high levels of formaldehyde in a range of hair products, creams, and lotions. All of the hair products and lotions were labeled as containing a formaldehyde releasing agent. 
  • The availability of many safer preservatives which are in use. In fact, companies including Credo, Target, Sephora, Ulta, and Walmart  have made progress in recent years in phasing formaldehyde releasers out of their private-label beauty and personal care products.

Here are some excerpts from testimony at the hearing from cosmetologists and public health experts:

Marissa Doherty, Bellingham, WA, cosmetologist for 23 years:

“In 2018 I became extremely ill and was going into anaphylaxis at my work. My doctor informed me that I needed to quit my job and my exposure to the toxic chemicals or I could die. I came to learn that the major cause of this was formaldehyde poisoning from the chemical straighteners used by the other stylists in my salon. Although I personally had decided not to use those products because of the risks of the health of myself and my clients, I was poisoned anyway because it was airborne. It not only forced me to quit my job, but caused permanent damage to my lungs, causing them to partially collapse. I also had extreme fatigue, extreme fragrance allergies, and chronic fatigue as well as brain fog. The poisoning from the formaldehyde will always affect me.”

Merideth Pedack, Bellingham, WA, cosmetologist for 28 years:

“In a salon environment I was being repeatedly exposed to the fumes that were being released from hair smoothing services. My central nervous system was injured from the inhalation of toxicants. My health, my career, my wellbeing, and my life as I knew it rapidly collapsed. I went from a healthy, robust, thriving individual to being debilitated, housebound, and isolated for years.

Brandi Hyatt, Selah, WA, cosmetologist for 20 years:

“I’ve been working as a cosmetologist for almost 20 years now. And 20 years of (being) elbows-deep in products manufactured and sold to myself and my clients doesn’t bring me confidence when I learn that they are filled with cancer-causing chemicals.

On top of this gut wrenching discovery that cancer-causing agents are in products I use every day, I also learned last year that my family and I were unknowingly drinking extremely high amounts of PFAS chemicals….And to this day we still only have bottled water and lack access to safe potable water for our homes, livestock, and agriculture. The lack of access to safe water for my home and community is unacceptable….Passing this bill lets people like me and my community know that you recognize the dangers that have infiltrated our homes, bodies, pets, and land.”

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Research Institute:

“These chemicals are not only being disproportionately exposed within women of color but it’s also girls and adolescents. These are young people that are being exposed. And when they are exposed at developmentally susceptible time periods they can have long lasting health impacts.”

Jen Lee, Chief Impact Officer, Beautycounter, cosmetics company:

“We’ve proven and tested that preservatives without formaldehyde releasers can be equally effective in protecting skincare, hair and makeup from mold and bacteria. 

We saw the modernization of cosmetics regulation (MoCRA) act passed last year at the federal level, but the reality is the U.S. personal care product industry remains severely under-regulated. While the bill was a step in the right direction there is so much more work to be done at the state level as it failed to ban harmful ingredients from personal care.”

Dr. Ami Zota, tenured Associate Professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health: 

“Minoritized women from underrepresented groups are disproportionately impacted by unregulated chemical use in cosmetics. Compared to white women, black and Latinx women have higher levels of beauty product-related chemicals such as orthophthalates in their bodies. And these differences are not explained by differences in income or socio-economic status. 

A study published by University of California Berkeley found that choosing safer personal care products can help reduce chemicals levels in Latinx teenagers by 30-50%.”