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The Right Chemistry

How CVS is cutting back on chemicals in cosmetics

The drugstore chain has moved to remove chemical additives for nearly 600 house label beauty and personal care products.

As vice president of store brands and quality assurance at CVS Health, I spend a lot of time thinking about one big question: What do our customers want?

Every decision our team makes is driven by customer trends and insights, gleaned through research, external data and consumer testing. When it comes to our store brand beauty and personal care products, we’ve heard our customers loud and clear. They want products that work, with all the benefits they’re accustomed to, but with fewer ingredients of concern.

Last month we announced a major step forward with respect to "free-from" products: We will remove parabens, phthalates and the most prevalent formaldehyde donors (preservative ingredients that can release formaldehyde over time) across nearly 600 of our beauty and personal care products from our CVS Health, Beauty 360, Essence of Beauty and Blade store brands.

We will begin rolling out products that do not contain these ingredients to our stores in the coming months, and we plan to stop shipping products that don’t meet these standards to our distribution centers by the end of 2019.

We have been working on this important initiative for the last couple of years. We started with extensive customer research, including surveys, focus groups, analysis of social chatter, customer service channels and more.

Identifying chemicals of concern

We wanted to know which ingredients our customers were most concerned about, so we could work with our suppliers and internal teams to determine which products could be safely reformulated while maintaining the product efficacy our customers expect.

Throughout this process, we have been fortunate to receive support from several partners that have collaborated with us in shaping our approach to chemical safety in the area of beauty and personal care.

Our work with groups including Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Chemical Footprint Project allows us to stay on top of emerging issues that we need to be mindful of and prioritize in our approach to chemical management.

Beyond removing certain chemicals, customers and advocacy groups increasingly demand more transparency on all product ingredients.

That’s why, in addition to announcing our "free-from" milestone last month, we also published our full list of restricted chemicals (PDF) by category. A quick visit to this list can reassure a customer that any product within a certain category — including baby and child care, beauty or personal care products — never will contain certain chemicals of concern.

We will update this list each May when we release our annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report. And as we work to redesign our packaging over time, we’ll add a call-out about the "free-from" characteristics of products.

This work is an outgrowth of efforts started a decade ago, in 2007, when CVS became the first major drugstore to establish a Cosmetic Safety Policy (PDF). In 2016, we were the first major pharmacy chain in the country to become a signatory of the Chemical Footprint Project.

Our plans for the future include addressing additional chemicals of consumer concern and focusing on more product categories.

For instance, we’ve also begun partnering with our suppliers to validate the label claims on all of our store brand products in every category — more than 4,000 products. That means suppliers who make claims based on studies must provide us with validation of the studies' methodology and results. We look forward to sharing results and learnings from this effort in the coming year.

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