Department of Ecology News Release - May 22, 2024

New rulemaking effort aims to keep toxics out of cosmetics

Goal is to reduce inhalation and skin contact with carcinogenic chemicals


Makeup, cosmetics and other personal care products can sometimes contain toxic chemicals. Since these products are used on skin, hair or sometimes teeth, those toxics pose a special concern for protecting people’s health. In 2023, the Washington Legislature passed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act (TFCA) to reduce these exposures, and now the Washington Department of Ecology is taking action to identify and restrict the use of chemicals that can release toxic formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde-releasing chemicals can be used as preservatives in cosmetic products like shampoos, lotions, makeup and hair smoothing treatments. The chemicals are called “formaldehyde releasers” because they slowly release formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde can cause cancer, harm brain function, increase the risk of asthma, irritate eyes and skin, and cause allergic reactions. Cosmetics can release formaldehyde into indoor and outdoor air. Formaldehyde can enter wastewater streams when products are washed down the drain.

Ecology’s new rulemaking will establish which of these chemicals will be restricted and by when. Restrictions on up to 10 formaldehyde-releasing chemicals may take effect as early as Jan. 1, 2026, with the rest taking effect as early as 2027. These restrictions would apply to cosmetics made, sold or distributed in Washington. 

Chemicals in cosmetics pose a special concern for women, especially women of color. Studies have shown that women have higher levels of some harmful chemicals found in cosmetics detected in their bodies than men, and Black women often have higher levels than white women.

“We expect the products we use on our faces, skin and hair to be safe, but that’s not always the case,” said Shari Franjevic, who leads Ecology’s work to implement the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. “Our goal with this new program is to support manufacturers as they find safer substitutes that don’t expose people to toxic chemicals.” 

Cosmetics are more than makeup and include most self-care products. TFCA defines a cosmetic the same way the federal Food and Drug Administration does -- anything intended to be used on the human body for the purpose of cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering a person’s appearance.

Get involved

Manufacturers, cosmetologists, distributors, community groups, professional associations, nongovernment organizations and the public are invited to participate in an informal comment period May 22 through Aug. 13. Ecology will use these comments to inform development of the draft rule and efforts to implement the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act. This includes which formaldehyde-releasing chemicals to restrict, when the restrictions will take effect and other feedback about the act. 

Webinar and email updates

Learn more

Washington’s Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act reduces human and environmental exposure to toxic chemicals by restricting certain chemicals and supporting businesses in reformulating and certifying products and switching to safer alternatives. For more information, visit

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Franji Mayes