California Proposition 65 Lawsuits and the Cosmetics Industry


Many potentially harmful chemicals are used in cosmetics manufacturing. Consumer and worker advocacy groups are concerned because some cosmetic products contain chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, as well as various other health hazards. Recently, plaintiffs' law firms have begun targeting cosmetics manufacturers and distributers by bringing lawsuits alleging that their products fail to sufficiently warn consumers of potential hazards associated with chemicals contained within the products. In particular, plaintiffs' firms have been targeting personal care products containing chemicals classified as a cancer causing substance such as cocamide diethanolamine—commonly found in face and body washes, soaps, and shampoos—and titanium dioxide—commonly found in cosmetics such as eye shadows, loose and pressed face powder, powder foundation, bronzers, and blushes.

In California, one such recent lawsuit targeted dozens of cosmetics manufactures alleging they were in violation of Proposition 65, California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act which requires warnings labels on products that contain compounds that may cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. The basis of the lawsuit was that the defendants' products failed to sufficiently warn consumers that their beauty products contained titanium dioxide, a compound added in September 2011 to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer. This case ultimately settled in June 2014 with the final remaining defendants agreeing to either remove titanium dioxide from their products, or provide Proposition 65 compliant warning language. In another similar lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the manufacturers and distributers of various shampoos and soaps were in violation of Proposition 65, alleging the manufacturers and distributers failed to sufficiently warn consumers that the products contained cocamide diethanolamine, which was added in June 2012 to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. This case ultimately resolved in May 2014, with the remaining defendant companies agreeing to remove cocamide diethanolamine from their products.

Although recent California cases have been limited to warning label requirements under Proposition 65, the $4.5 million settlement in 2012 regarding formaldehyde in the popular hair-straightening product, Brazilian Blowout, is still fresh in the minds of legal practitioners. Analysts at the time believed that the wide-scale media coverage of the lawsuit could trigger additional beauty product litigations due to heightened scrutiny bry consumers regarding products they used on a regular basis. However, at least in California, it seems that plaintiffs' firms have taken it upon themselves to bring lawsuits against the industry by alleging Proposition 65 violations rather than representing individuals alleging they suffered an injury from exposure to hazard-containing beauty products.

In order to protect against similar litigation, manufacturers and distributors of beauty and personal care products should carefully review the contents of their products and ensure that if they contain chemicals found on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, they also contain compliant warning language informing not only consumers, but also those who work in and around the cosmetics industry, of any potential hazards.

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