By Eric Lipton and Rachel Abrams, New York Times
WASHINGTON — When the Los Angeles hairstylist Chaz Dean pitched his almond mint and lavender-scented hair care products — endorsed by celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Alyssa Milano — he sold millions. But his formula got an unexpected result: itching, rashes, even hair loss in large clumps, in both adults and children.
More than 21,000 complaints have been lodged against his Wen Hair Care, and Dean, the blue-eyed, golden-haired stylist to the stars, has found himself at the center of a fierce debate over the government’s power to ensure the safety of a cosmetics industry with about $50 billion in annual sales.
The Santa Monica, California-based national distributor of Dean’s hair care line is part of a beauty care trade association that has been aggressively lobbying Congress to block the passage of tough new legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to test ingredients used in cosmetics and issue mandatory recalls for products found to be unsafe.
The fight has pitted smaller independent players against the giants of the beauty products industry, which back the proposed regulations, seeing them as an avenue toward regaining public trust, and have the size and muscle to comply with them.
Each side has its champions in Congress: Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, for the larger companies, and Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, coming to the aid of his home-state company, Mary Kay, which joined the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors to fight the Feinstein-Collins legislation. Sessions has introduced competing legislation backed and largely drafted by Mary Kay and the independent companies.
“If you are in business and are not involved in politics, then politics will …