Any company that has been on the receiving end of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ fervent advocacy understands the consumer-safety organization’s power to ignite change.

Ask Johnson & Johnson, which reformulated its baby products in 2011 after aggressive efforts from the Campaign. Or OPI, the nail polish powerhouse that agreed to take DPI out of its products in 2006 (and today is proud to be DBP, toluene and formaldehyde free). And for its latest advocacy efforts, the Campaign has introduced an initiative to get Walgreens to clean up its products, likely the first of many retailer-focused initiatives. 

“We plan to continue to focus on retailers because that's where real change can happen in the marketplace,” said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Retailers take action when there are consumers asking for safe products and manufacturers making them.”

In some cases, the process is contentious and grueling, taking years for chemicals to exit products; in others, it is swift and seemingly simple, transpiring within a matter of months. But one thing seems constant: when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics targets you, it’s nearly impossible to avoid public scrutiny. Therefore, reformulation becomes more than an ethical move; it’s a strategic business investment.  

The same patterns will likely hold true for retailers, the most recent targets of the Campaign’s efforts. Back in December 2012, the Campaign released its report Retailer Therapy, which examined how some of the largest retailers rank when it comes to the safety of personal care products on their shelves.

Going public with private label safety

In November of last year, newhope360 reported on Walgreens' launch of “nontoxic” private label line, Ology. Even in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Retailer Therapy report, Walgreens was ranked middle of eight retailers, receiving “4 kisses” out of 10 for its efforts to introduce safer alternatives.

So why set an example with this retailer, one that seems to be taking positive steps?

“The announcement of Walgreens Ology line felt particularly egregious and disingenuous to us given the fact that they were celebrating the creation of their new ‘safe’ line, while simultaneously selling private label baby products containing a chemical linked to cancer,” said Nudelman.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ hope is that retailers will start the transition into offering safer personal care products first by cleaning up their private label brand or brands—to lead by example.

“We are asking retailers to start with their private label brands because it would be hypocritical of them to ask the national brands they carry to clean up their cosmetic products if their own brands aren't safe.”