“This product is known to the state of California to cause cancer, and/or reproductive harm or other birth defects“. If you’ve ever seen this warning on your beauty packaging, you’re not alone. California citizens voted on Proposition 65 in 1986 as an initiative to address citizens’ growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals.

There are two parts to this law. First, the State is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. This list must be updated at least once a year and has grown to include approximately 800 chemicals.

Second, Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase. This is where beauty and personal care come into play.

According to the OEHHA website, “By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.”

What if I’m not a Californian? Does this still apply to me?

We have an ongoing joke at work” Cocamide DEA only causes cancer if you’re in California. Hehe, some regulatory humor for you. But in all seriousness, the only state that currently requires consumers to be presented with the warning? California. So why is my face wash in New Jersey labeled with the same warning?

Plain and simple, it comes down to cost and supply chain. It’s very expensive to print multiple runs of packaging and then make sure only those customers in California are receiving the product with the warning. Another notable concern: the warning must be presented at the point of sale.

Let’s say said face wash is for sale on ulta.com. Any Californian customer must be presented with the warning before they buy the product. The logistics of targeting the location of customers and presenting only them with a webpage that has the warning is possible yes, but quite a large hassle. In all of my experience, every brand I’ve worked with has chosen to either formulate without the listed chemical or present the warning on all packaging, at all points of sale, across the country.

Will I really get cancer from using one of these products?

In short, no. Chances are you won’t develop cancer from using a face wash that bears the Prop 65 warning. Remember, these warnings are based on certain exposure limits of specific chemicals in the formulation. In most cases, these chemicals appear in the formulation at very low concentrations, or the warning is required due to a potential contaminant in that ingredient. Is your head spinning yet?

Although exposure to these chemicals under certain parameters can cause bodily harm, don’t get too caught up in the scary nature of this written warning on your cosmetic packaging. Remember, informing consumers of chemicals that can be present in the products that Californians purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment was the original intent behind this law.

Asbestos is on the list, right next to arsenic. Obviously these chemicals can cause harm. But another ingredient that appears on Proposition 65 is the beloved sunscreen ingredient Titanium Dioxide. So why are  you not seeing the warning on your sunscreen? The physical state of the listed chemical matters too. Titanium Dioxide has been shown to cause cancer when airborne and contains particles of respirable size. When in an emulsion, it is nearly impossible to be breathing in the small, airborne particles.

This means that slathering on your Titanium Dioxide-filled sunscreen won’t necessarily cause cancer. On the contrary, working for a chemical company filling and transporting drums of raw TiO2 without proper safety garb might create some problems.

This blog post just scratches the surface of Prop 65. I can go on and on about this topic, getting into some pretty specific content. If you’re a brand and have further questions about how Proposition 65 might be affecting you, please reach out to me here. As always, if you’re a consumer or influencer that has more questions or concerns, or just need some clarification (this was a pretty loaded blog post!) comment below or reach out to me on Facebook, I’d love to hear from you!