For the first time in history, the Food and Drug Administration is set to conduct a survey examining safety and production practices of cosmetics and beauty products. On July 2, the FDA officially announced its intention to investigate the beauty industry and gave 60 days (by 8/31/18) for the public to comment.
Beauty Industry is Largely Unregulated
Most people are surprised to learn that the FDA has very little regulatory authority over the $100 billion cosmetics industry. Cosmetics, including shampoos, lotions, deodorants, nail polish, and other personal care products, do not require FDA approval before being sold to the public, nor does the FDA have the ability to force a company to recall a product.
The only authority the government holds over these companies is due to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, introduced in 1938. The FD&C Act defines cosmetics as products that are “rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” The act gives the government oversight of deceptive labeling practices of these products. Even so, companies are able to falsely label products as natural or organic, as the FD&C Act does not consider those claims to be “misbranding” a product.
There is an industry group that keeps a watchful eye on the 600 companies of which are members. Called the Personal Care Products Council, the group claims that they hold companies to high manufacturing and safety standards, and employs a separate company to review all product ingredients to ensure their safety for public use.
Known Carcinogens and Harmful Chemicals Allowed in Cosmetics
Many women are aware that the European Union has more stringent standards for what chemicals are allowed into their beauty products. What might be surprising, however, is the difference between what is banned in the EU and what is banned in the United States. To date, the EU has 1,328 chemicals on its banned list for use in cosmetics. The U.S.? Only 30. The EU also requires safety testing, registration of each product to be sold, as well as government permission before using substances in the manufacturing of cosmetics.
Some of the substances banned in the EU that are permitted to be used in cosmetics here are:
- Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen that is still used in many hair and nail products.
- Talc: The naturally occurring mineral is often found to contain asbestos and has been the subject of hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. It is still allowed to be used in U.S. cosmetics, foot and baby powders.
- Avobenzone: Mostly found in sunscreens to block UVA rays, it has the ability to damage skin cells and cause cancer, surprising considering that its intended use is to do the exact opposite.
- Hydroquinone: Frequently used to lighten dark spots on skin, the product is also believed to cause cancer when used in excess. The FDA currently limits the strength of hydroquinone available to 4% by prescription, but even that dosage has not been proven safe.
- Parabens: Parabens have been found to trick the body into thinking it’s estrogen. Certain cancers, such as breast cancer, are attributed to estrogen and parabens have been found in breast cancer samples.
There are plenty of other EU-banned ingredients allowed to be used in the production of our beauty products, but these are the most well-recognized offenders.
Study Shows Instant Impact of Cutting Out Chemicals
We already know that these chemicals have an impact on our bodies and a recent study proves it. A 2016 study by UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas studied 100 teenage girls to find out the impact swapping out chemical-laden cosmetics and beauty products would have on their hormone levels. After 3 days of using safer products, urine samples showed dramatic decreases in levels of these chemicals. The level of methylparaben fell 44%, propylparaben went down 45% and both triclosan (now banned in the US) and benzophenone-3 (BP-3) dropped 36 percent. Teenage girls were the focus of the study because they are believed to be the biggest users of beauty and cosmetic products, with the average teen girl using 14 products a day.
The announcement of the FDA’s intention to examine the safety and manufacturing processes of cosmetics is obviously good news. However, without legal authority to forbid the use of certain chemicals and substances in the making of these products, what exactly will the FDA survey accomplish? Perhaps if the information is available to the public, we will stop buying products that contain these harmful ingredients and companies will get the message that our health and safety should be their top priority.
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