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What to Know About California’s Prop 65 Warning Label on Cosmetics


California’s Prop 65 requires businesses to issue warnings about notable exposures to potentially harmful chemicals in products.

If you’ve seen the label listed on beauty products, you may have wondered what it means.

Below, we break down what Proposition 65 means in relation to cosmetics.

A few months ago, while shopping for cosmetics online, I came across a beauty product I’d heard great things about. Right before hitting “add to cart,” however, I noticed a note at the bottom of the product’s description: “Warning: Click here to review California Prop 65 information related to this product.”

The note warned that the product could expose me to chemicals known in the state of California to cause cancer, reproductive harm, or both. While I’ve seen labels on my beauty products about being cruelty free or clean, I’d never paid much attention to the Prop 65 warning. To learn more about what it means for consumers, I researched what you should know about products with the Proposition 65 warning label.

What Is California’s Prop 65?

If you’ve seen the Prop 65 warning label on a product or noticed it posted outside a business, you might have wondered what it was. Essentially, Proposition 65, which was previously known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, is intended to allow Californians to make informed decisions about their exposure to chemicals. The law reads:

No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly discharge or release a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity into water or onto or into land where such chemical passes or probably will pass into any source of drinking water…” (CA Health and Safety Code, Section 25249.5)

No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving a clear and reasonable warning…” (CA Health and Safety Code, Section 25249.6)

According to the California Proposition 65 Warnings website, Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposure to chemicals that could potentially cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. That exposure applies to the use of products in homes, workplaces, and other environments in California. The proposition also requires that the state publish a list of all the chemicals (it first published in 1987), which is updated at least once a year.

While many businesses opt to include the warning on their products, some businesses choose to remove the chemicals from their products altogether. Businesses that violate Proposition 65 can receive penalties as high as $2,500 per violation per day until the matter is resolved. The proposition is enforced via civil lawsuits that are handled by the state’s attorney general.

What Chemicals Are on the Prop 65 List?

A full list of the chemicals on the Proposition 65 list can be found on the Prop 65 website. The list includes both naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals, including additives or ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, and solvents.

The list includes more than 900 chemicals, and some – including titanium dioxide (often found in foundation, sunscreen, concealer, and more) and cocamide diethanolamine (found in shampoos and soaps) – are commonly found in beauty products.

Consumers can also search for specific chemicals on the Proposition 65 website. The site shows the type of toxicity related to the chemical, as well as the basis for listing the chemical.

What Does a Prop 65 Warning on Cosmetics Mean?

According to the Prop 65 website, the Proposition 65 warning label is not the same as a regulatory decision deeming a product “safe” or “unsafe.”

“Most of the Prop 65 concerns are about safety in drinking water or environmental concerns caused by the chemicals,” Ginger King, a cosmetic chemist, tells POPSUGAR. “For cosmetics, it is for consumer awareness that such chemicals are used, but there is no guarantee that long-term use of these chemicals will have a similar effect as ingestion. Otherwise, it would be banned altogether in the United States.”

Should Conssumers Avoid Cosmetics With the Prop 65 Warning Label?

The choice to heed or ignore the Prop 65 warning is up to you. For now, since I don’t avoid wearing clothes or entering locations that have a Prop 65 warning label, I’m going to keep the warning in mind without altogether avoiding cosmetics with the label. If I have a serious concern, I can always look up any specific chemicals I’m worried about on the Prop 65 website. Ultimately, it’s your personal choice to do whatever you feel more comfortable with.Join the conversation2

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