So with all of the recent dialog around natural products, its easy to be left wondering what's with all the hype? I hope to enlighten you with some information about cosmetics and personal care products within the U.S. Part of my personal journey has been learning and understanding just how the industry is and isn't regulated. It came as a shock to me to find out that cosmetics and personal care products are not highly or even moderately regulated by the FDA. This article is not intended to scare or represent a bias, rather my goal is to give you the information you need to make informed decisions about the products you use.
What are companies required to do/disclose to the FDA?
- Companies are required to provide a list of ingredients used to manufacture their products. However, they are not required to provide ingredient lists on labels for items deemed "proprietary". For example, fragrance is comprised of many ingredients that do not need to be disclosed.
- Companies are prohibited from marketing adulterated or mis-branded products. This means the product cannot knowingly cause harm, be contaminated by filth or be misleading.
Well, that about sums up the regulation. Two bullet points.
What the FDA does not do.
- FDA is not responsible to ensure the safety of products. It is up to the industry and each individual company to manufacture safe products. "Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA."
- FDA is not authorized to force companies to recall products.
- Products are not required to go through a pre-approval process.
In addition, the FDA does have a list of ingredients banned for use in cosmetics/personal care products. A mere 10 ingredients make the list (Kind of sad when we look at the European Union who has banned over 1300 ingredients).
Prohibited ingredients include: Bithionol, Chlorofluorocarbon propellants, Chloroform, Halogenated salicylanilides (di-, tri-, metabromsalan and tetrachlorosalicylanilide), Methylene chloride, Vinyl chloride, Zirconium-containing complexes, Prohibited cattle materials.
To read the FDA's summary of the regulation, click here.
It's shocking to me that chemicals like formaldehyde and cyanide don't make the list, as should many others. We know that ingredients like formaldehyde are indeed used. In 2013 a well known consumer products company came out saying they were removing the ingredient from their baby shampoos. Why on earth do we need chemicals like formaldehyde in baby shampoo? My guess is this is not the only case where formaldehyde is used.
If you take some time to Google the topic you will read quite the array of polarized opinions on cosmetic ingredients. Industry sponsored sites will taut the lack of evidence that ingredients in cosmetics applied topically have any effect on human health, and that those products that do contain questionable ingredients contain such small amounts and are unlikely to even absorb into your system. The opposite camp will argue that small doses over a life time are cause for concern. Others will offer that all natural, all organic everything is the best answer, and use so called "scare tactics" and language to entice health conscious consumers to buy their products.
I personally think that awareness is a good place to start. I do think we need to take a closer look at the products we put on our skin. I believe there are many small easy steps that can be taken to live a life with fewer chemicals, and why not live with less? While the jury is still out on the level of harmfulness, I will err on the side of caution. Not to mention in my personal experience, getting rid of all the chemical crap out of my personal life has proven to be very positive. I would argue that there are natural products out there that work better with fewer ingredients. These products are healthy and often require less frequent application.