Cosmetic Safety

Written by Kristeen Moore
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 9, 2013

Cosmetic Safety Overview

Cosmetic safety concerns the efficacy and the prevention of side effects of cosmetics on the market. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to take legal action against companies who don’t manufacture, label, and market their products correctly, the agency does not directly regulate cosmetics. It is up to consumers to be mindful of the cosmetics they use and to report any safety concerns directly to the FDA. It is also up to consumers to discontinue using any product that causes side effects.

Types of Cosmetics

The term “cosmetics” often translates to makeup to many individuals. While makeup certainly falls under the umbrella of cosmetics, there are numerous products that fit in the category. Some of the most common include:

  • makeup
  • face and body creams
  • nail polish
  • deodorant
  • perfume and cologne
  • hair care products
  • hair dyes
  • toothpaste

Certain cosmetics are marketed as being organic. Such products are grown without the use of pesticides. While these cosmetics are pesticide-free, some consumers still have allergic reactions to plant substances used.

Common Injuries

The majority of cosmetics are considered safe (Office on Women’s Health, 2004). While some companies may utilize unsafe and unethical practices when supplying their products, most safety problems stem from other dangers. Everyone reacts differently to various substances in cosmetics, which makes it difficult to regulate these products for uniform safety.

One of the most common injuries stems from adverse skin reactions to fragrances. According to the Office on Women’s Health, over 5,000 types of fragrances exist in cosmetics. While these substances are important in making a product smell nice, they can cause rashes and itchiness in some users. Unfortunately, finding safe fragrances is often a trial-and-error process. Many people don’t know how certain ingredients affect them until use. If you have sensitive skin, your best bet is to use products labeled as fragrance-free.

Preservatives, such as the following, may cause reactions in some users:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • formaldehyde
  • phenoxyenthanol
  • paraben

Despite the chemical dangers of cosmetics, the most common injuries are self-inflicted. Mascara wand scratches are the number one cause of cosmetic injuries, reports the Office on Women’s Health. These types of problems can quickly spread to infection. Sharing makeup and using products past their expiration dates also increases the risk for injury.

Regulating Cosmetics

Many consumers expect products sold on the marketplace to be safe. Companies have an obligation to use safe ingredients and marketing practices. However, cosmetics are not regulated the same way as food and drugs. This is partly due to the fact that cosmetics aren’t designed to prevent or treat illnesses, so it is not up to the FDA to regulate such products. Still, the FDA does impose occasional inspections on facilities that produce cosmetics.

While cosmetics aren’t regulated the same way as other types of products, laws are set in place to protect consumers. The first is the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). This law prohibits harmful substances from entering or coming in contact with cosmetics. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) prohibits false and misleading label information. If a product isn’t tested, the company must say so on the label.

Cosmetic Safety Measures

Awareness is the best mode of prevention when considering cosmetic safety hazards. Reading ingredient labels can provide clues as to whether a particular product is appropriate. If you know you are allergic or sensitive to a particular ingredient, you may avoid a related product entirely. Exercise caution when using products without labels.

Another factor is sensible home practices. Don’t share cosmetics with others. This is especially important with eye products, as you may spread bacteria. Any adverse reactions should be reported to a doctor for treatment, especially if the rash does not go away on its own.

How to Find Consumer Alerts

Recalls can help prevent consumer safety hazards. The FDA does not initiate recalls, but the agency does list related products on its website. A company voluntarily recalls products when they are found to pose health risks. Also, some companies may recall cosmetics if they mislabel them. The FDA has the authority to take legal action only if a company doesn’t take measures to remove products that aren’t compliant with the FD&C Act and the FPLA.

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