When Will The FDA Seriously Regulate Cosmetics?


On a typical day (those on which I’m not being a slob who doesn’t shower) I expose my body to about a dozen personal care products: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, deodorant, face moisturizer, body lotion, mascara, loose powder, chapstick, perfume, hair texturizer. I’m pretty average, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which estimates Americans use about 10 products daily, resulting in exposure to more than 126 unique chemicals. Damn, Gina!

Unlike the food or drug industries, the $50 billion cosmetics industry—which uses more than 12,500 chemical ingredients—is virtually unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA doesn’t approve products before they hit the shelves and cosmetic companies don’t have to register ingredients or even notify the FDA about adverse reactions. The FDA is essentially in the dark. In fact, according to Donald Havery, an FDA chemist, as a female living in consumer mecca of New York City, I probably have a better idea of the products on the market than they do. Reassuring!

But this may change. Recently the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 was introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI). The bill intends to “close major loopholes in federal law that allow companies to use ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products known to damage human health and the environment,” according to Rep. Schakowsky’s website.

Some key parts of the act:

  • While the FDA would still not have the authority to approve cosmetics before they are on the market, it would require safety assessment of all ingredients used. The FDA defines cosmetics as any product “intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body or any part thereof for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”
  • Ingredients that the FDA finds to be dangerous, including known carcinogens like formaldehyde, a common ingredient in cosmetics, would be prohibited. Manufacturers would be required to phase out ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and reproductive or developmental harm.
  • The FDA would have recall authority for products that contain any prohibited ingredients or are found to be “misbranded, adulterated, or otherwise fail to meet the safety standard.”
  • Cosmetic manufacturers, packagers and distributors would have to provide FDA with reports of adverse health effects associated with the use of a cosmetic.

New legislation on cosmetics is severely overdue: The law currently governing the industry, the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938, hasn’t been significantly updated since it was passed over 70 years ago. Since then, cosmetic companies have been getting away scot-free with putting lead in lipstick, hormone-disrupting chemicals in perfume and formaldehyde in hair straighteners. They’re making billions off of people who want to feel clean and look pretty. It’s about damn time we get reassurance they’re not also making us sick.

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Melissa Jeltsen is a writer and recent transplant to New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @quasimado, where she tweets about stuff unrelated to makeup.

Image via Shutterstock.

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