Cosmetics business practices and convoluted supply chains, coupled with arguably outdated legislation, make full transparency of beauty products a challenge—even for the most astute consumers and diligent retailers. But if passed, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, introduced earlier this summer, could be well poised to have far-reaching positive effects on the personal care industry, say advocates.

Focused primarily on ingredients and transparency, the act would require suppliers to fully disclose every ingredient and its safety testing to manufacturers and manufacturers to include all ingredients on labels.

"In the big picture, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 will benefit natural companies—many of which are small businesses—by increasing the flow of information to businesses and consumers, leveling the playing field so that all companies are playing by the same rules, and increasing consumer awareness about their choices at the store," says Janet Nudelman, Breast Cancer Fund program and policy director and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics legislative advocacy coordinator.

In addition to increasing transparency and ingredient safety, the bill also has potential to grow the natural colorant and fragrance markets and promote innovation. "I tend to think that innovation increases when there are challenges put on an industry," says Rebecca Hamilton, director of product development for New Hampshire-based natural skin care company Badger.

But these potential challenges also are the bill's main source of controversy.

Opponents, such as the Personal Care Truth, argue such legislation would squash innovation and hinder growth of small businesses (despite the fact that companies making less than $2 million are exempt from registering and paying fees).

The Personal Care Products Council agrees there is a need for legislative enforcement, but says potential business costs of the act as written won't outweigh consumer benefits; others say industry should enforce current regulations, rather than introduce new ones.

"I feel the real issue is not creating additional regulation but instead creating support systems and funding for the FDA so that they can properly implement current cosmetic regulations," says Debbie May, president and CEO of Wholesale Suppliesplus, a soap and candle ingredient supplier.

Though "the idea behind this is not to divide natural and not natural," says Hamilton, the strongest support is coming from the natural products industry. "Leaders in the natural products industry really want to move the market in the right direction and do what's right for public health," says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, who notes that the bill's potential effects will put pressure on mass-market corporations to follow the natural industry's lead.