The Revelation of REACH-Toxic beauty

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The Revelation of REACH-Toxic beauty

REACH (not for the stars but the registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of chemicals) legislation is a major new system established to evaluate  numerous chemicals for their effects  on human health and the environment and to encourage the replacement of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. It came into force in June 2007 in the EU and its member states, and replaces about fourty different pieces of chemical legislation.

Over the next 11 years approximately 30,000 chemicals currently in use will have to be registered according to a set timetable. As far as consumer products go, REACH takes into account the human and environmental impact of chemicals used in the products and packaging.

The onus for demonstrating the safety of a substance falls on the industry itself and the 'no data, no market' rule applies, so if companies fail to submit safety data on a substance, they should not manufacture nor place it on the market, meaning that producers and users will have to prove the safety of thousands of products.

REACH in a nutshell
Registration-each manufacturer or importer of a substance in excess of 1 tonne per year will have to provide safety information on that substance to the new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki.

Evaluation-the European Chemicals Agency and member states will evaluate information submitted on a substance to identify any risks.

Authorisation-substances of very high concern will be subjected to use- specific authorization and may have to be replaced by safer alternatives.

Restriction-certain chemicals of concern may be restricted in terms of manufacturing, placing on the market or use.
Some loopholes

REACH has been welcomed by environmental groups, but criticisms have also been levelled due to a reported loophole in the authorization stage, which means that the use of high concern chemicals can continue, even if safer alternatives exist, as long as they are 'adequately controlled'. A clause mandating safer substitutes of the most toxic chemicals was abandoned. 


REACH does mandate the replacement of persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals and all-non threshold  substances (that is, chemicals for which there is no safe level of exposure), wherever safer alternatives are available. The controversy will be over carcinogens, where companies may try to claim adequate control instead of substituting them.The idea of adequate control rests on the premise that substances are safe below a certain threshold. However, persistent bio-accumulative chemicals  are not readily controlled.  They cannot easily be broken down in the environment and lipophilic chemicals remain in the fatty tissues of organisms.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have noted that the registration will only apply to 30'000 of the 100'000 + chemicals on the market, due to a caveat that stipulates that only substances imported in volumes exceeding 1 tonne, per year, per producer or importer will have to undergo REACH registration. Only rudimentary information will be required for substances within 1-10 tonnage band. in addition, the decision on whether to mandate industry to replace endocrine disruptors with safer alternatives in every instance has been delayed.

It is also important to note that the chemicals in cosmetics are only covered by REACH in terms of their environmental impact, not with regard to their effect on human health( which will remain under the remit of the Cosmetics Directive). Cosmetics products are also exempt from the requirement to provide a safety data sheet on the ingredients in them.

Dr. Ninja Reineke of WWF's Toxics Programme also points out that 'REACH' will make a difference only in the long term, because it will take three years until we get more information on the higher volume chemicals and some of them may be used in cosmetics. So, for the consumer REACH will not change things overnight.'

Take home message
In a perfect world all governments would protect us from harmful products by ensuring that the ingredients used are always reliably tested and then enforcing strict regulations on product manufacturers so that anything potentially harmful is totally banned from inclusion and replaced with safer alternatives. Maybe one day this will be the case, but until then, you can become very savvy about shopping safely for beauty products. Your body will thank you for it.

Reference:Toxic Beauty: Dawn Mellowship