Cosmetics receive very little regulation

Shoppers should consider ingredients hiding behind many enticing products

Beauty routines go back thousands of years. Kohl powder was used in ancient times to darken the eyelids in the Middle East and Africa. Around 3000 B.C., the Chinese started to paint their nails with vibrant colors to represent which social class they belonged to.

Today, makeup doesn’t define someone’s social class, but it is used as a form of personal expression. The average woman puts 12 products on her skin each day, with men clocking in around four.

But it’s surprising how little the public knows about the products they liberally apply. The European Union has banned 1,300 harmful ingredients used in cosmetics. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned 10:  choloroflurorocarbon, chloroform, halogenated salicylanilide, hexachlorophene, mercury,  ethylene chloride, bithionol, tallow, trichloroethane and zirconium. Dangerous chemicals like these increase the risk of cancer and are carcinogenic, as well as being harmful to the environment.

With all these dangerous chemicals that could find their way into makeup, the Food and Drug Administration has a surprising lack of supervision over cosmetic company ingredients. Over 80 percent of cosmetic products have never been tested for safety, only performance. The last (and only) law regarding cosmetics was passed in 1938, over 75 years ago.

According to the Center of Disease Control, no safe blood lead level has been found. In 2010, the FDA did a study of lead amounts in lipsticks. The results were alarming. The top offenders were CoverGirl, Maybelline, L’Oreal and Revlon. Maybelline’s Color Sensational lipstick in Pink Petal had 7.19 parts per million of lead. L’Oréal’s Color Riche lipstick in Volcanic had 7.00 ppm. This may not seem like a big deal, but compare it to the FDA’s limits on lead in other ingested substances, and we’ve got a problem: the limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm. The FDA justified this through a Q and A they published: “It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy.”

True, though anyone who has worn a lip product before knows that it comes off during the day with eating, licking your lips, kissing and drinking.

The lax FDA regulations mean there will be no change in the immediate future. Studies on the ingredients in cosmetics and their effects on humans are few and far between, which prevents consumers from making informed decisions about what they are putting onto their skins. Makeup users don’t expect to be facing health risks when shopping for their favorite products. The FDA expects cosmetic companies to regulate their own products, a practice that doesn’t seem very practical. It seems that the job is up to consumers.

So how does one really avoid unsafe cosmetics? There’s no need to completely stop using makeup.  Resources like and make safe makeup hunting easy for consumers. Use makeup in moderation. Look for makeup with shorter ingredient lists. Pay attention to your skin and its sensitivities when trying a new product. Avoid buying knockoff makeup brands, which are often advertised as unrealistically cheap.


Class of 2014

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