MIndblowing Facts About Cosmetic Safety


December 12, 2013

Sharpen your pencils for a quick cosmetics quiz:

1. Are cosmetics products approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market?

2. Must toxic and allergenic ingredients be listed on cosmetics ingredient labels?

3. Is the term “Dermatologist Tested” a good way to pick products that won’t irritate your skin or cause allergic reactions?

No, no, and absolutely not.

EWG has been looking at the issue of cosmetic safety since 2002. We’ve been shocked to learn how little power the FDA exercises over the ingredients used in soaps, shampoos, sunscreens and makeup that people apply to their bodies daily.

EWG launched its Skin Deep database in 2004 to shine a light on problems created by FDA’s lax oversight of cosmetics and personal care products. Seven years and more than 230 million searches of Skin Deep later, we have educated millions of consumers, helped develop a market for less toxic products and seen major companies shift away from some of the most troublesome ingredients.

Changes to the FDA’s rules that govern cosmetic products are badly needed, but we haven’t seen any of them happening.

As the agency puts it on its website, “FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market.” As well, it acknowledges, “cosmetic companies may use almost any ingredient they choose.” Worse yet, the agency lacks the authority to recall possibly unsafe products.

For example, advocates, scientists and FDA officials themselves have warned consumer against hair straightening products, known as “Brazilian” or “keratin treatments.” In reality, they are based on formaldehyde, which the U.S. government and World Health Organization have categorized as a known human carcinogen.

The FDA launched an investigation of these formaldehyde hair straighteners in 2010 and has collected dozens of reports of serious hair damage and scalp burns by consumers using these products. The agency sent a warning letter to companies in 2011, but consumers continue to be exposed to these harmful products. Earlier this month, superstar Jennifer Anniston cut her famously straight hair short because, as she told ElleUK, “I did this thing called a Brazilian and my hair did not react really well to it.”

Want to know how little is known about the products you buy? Want to find out what label terms “dermatologist tested” or “hypoallergenic” really mean? Need to know if you can avoid allergenic ingredients by reading product labels? You can sort out myths from facts about cosmetics safety with EWG’s Skin Deep website.

Find out if you are a savvy cosmetics shopper by taking FDA’s cosmetics safety quiz. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/videos/cfsan/cosmeticsquiz/ While we may quibble with one or two of the answers here, we appreciate the agency’s frank admission that it cannot do what’s necessary to ensure the safety of personal care products
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