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Proposed cosmetic regulations act concerns small beauty industry

Sept. 15, 2008

Good Thymes Bath & Body owner Cheryl Niemela is fighting for her business

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With more emphasis on consumer safety and chemical-free bath and beauty products, Congress will soon be reviewing a draft that could prove to be detrimental to small businesses and leave consumers with fewer options.

A draft of the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008 is proposing greater authority to ensure consumer safety with cosmetic products, but small business owners such as Cheryl Niemela of Cokato, is worried these regulations could hurt her bottom line.

Niemela began Good Thymes Bath and Body in 2003, after discovering ways to make bath products out of the herbs she grew in her garden.

Niemela began making the products for herself, family, and friends until she started getting requests for more.

Now, Good Thymes can be purchased at a number of local retailers as well as on the web site, good-thymes.com.

With the threat of the FDA Globalization Act of 2008, Niemela is concerned stronger regulations could hurt the business she and her daughters have worked so hard to build.

Though Niemela does not oppose consumer safety, she suggests the conditions of the act be readdressed to save her business and thousands of other small businesses like hers.

The current conditions of the draft would require businesses to register with the federal government and pay an annual FDA registration fee of $2,000.

“That would have a significant impact on my bottom line,” Niemela said.

Another condition of the draft would be that all companies would be required to conduct ingredient safety testing on their products.

For a small business like Good Thymes, paying for lab testing could be extremely costly as well as unnecessary since the majority of the ingredients used in her formulas are edible food products, according to Niemela.

The all-natural ingredients found in her products include wholesome foods such as oils, butters, grains, nuts, and honey, etc.

Other ingredients used are processed from vegetable sources, such as the emulsifiers which bind oil and water in her lotions and body creams, Niemela explained.

“We use only vegetable-based emulsifiers, not petroleum-based,” she said, adding her products are paraben-free, urea-free, and formaldehyde-free and free of artificial colors and detergents.

Even though the jury is still out as to the effects and possible chemical links of beauty products to cancer, Niemela prefers to be safe rather than sorry by using products from their wholesome natural state as much as possible.

Another condition of the proposed act would impose a $10,000 fee for importing ingredients from other countries.

Though Niemela, herself, does not import any ingredients, she does purchase tropical oils and butters from suppliers in the United States that have imported them from other countries, such as shea butter from Africa.

Those suppliers would have to increase prices, which would increase the cost of making product and result in higher retail prices.

Taking action

As a member of the Indie Beauty Network, countless small business owners, including Niemela, are working together to ensure their concerns are brought to the table.

Indie Beauty Network helps small businesses by sharing resources, information, and ideas “that make it as affordable and efficient as possible to own and manage a small cosmetic business,” according to its founder and president, Donna Maria Coles Johnson in a letter she wrote in July to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Also in the letter Johnson wrote: “The main purpose of the draft legislation – to protect consumers – is important and we wholeheartedly support it.

“However, even well-intentioned laws can go too far by imposing on small businesses so many financial and regulatory burdens that they serve only to sustain big businesses while devastating small ones.

“If enacted, this draft legislation, however well meaning, would destroy thousands of small businesses across the nation, and prevent many thousands more from entering the marketplace in years to come.”

It was also stated that if this draft goes into effect, it will limit consumer options and force them to pay higher prices.

With Johnson working in Washington, Niemela is contacting her Minnesota congressional representatives to get the word out and to stop this draft from going into law.

“With the help of the Indie Beauty Network, we hope to be able to work with Congress and the FDA on this issue for the benefit of consumers and businesses both,” Niemela said.

“I would like to see consumer safety addressed while preserving and encouraging the small cottage industry that has grown from the need for natural and safe bath and body and cosmetic products,” she added.

A reasonable solution

For small, independent companies, Niemela suggests an FDA registration fee that is reflective of the business revenues earned or, if a company is small enough, they could be exempt from paying the annual fee altogether.

Also, Niemela suggests revising the current Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines, because the current guidelines are not conducive for small cottage industries that oftentimes are single proprietors.

To eliminate lab testing costs, Niemela suggests a list be made of ingredients that are already known to be safe for which testing is not necessary, such as the food ingredients which already meet FDA approval.

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