Before you slather on a new body lotion, brush mascara onto your lashes or swipe lipstick onto your pout, do you research the tests that prove it to be safe for your body? Chances are, you don’t, and that’s to be expected: With the government regulating the foods we eat and the medicines we take, it appears makeup would be just as carefully vetted, too.
It turns out cosmetics fall into a different category, at least as far as the government is concerned. The industry is mostly self-regulated, which means manufacturers more or less create and test their products on their own before putting them on the market.
Not to worry, though: The system has seemed to work for decades, and here’s why.
There Are Some Government Requirements
Even though cosmetics aren’t as regulated as other industries, not just any manufacturer can put any product on the shelves of your local drugstore. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does have a set of guidelines put in place, though they’re much more lax than they are with other industries.
Before going to market, the FDA requires every personal care and the cosmetic product must have its ingredients tested for safety beforehand. The product cannot contain any prohibited ingredients. All products must be properly labeled so consumers know exactly what they’re putting onto their skin.
The FDA does regulate the cosmetic industry’s inclusion of color additives into its products, though. U.S. cosmetic law requires color additives must be used in the way in which they’re intended. On top of that, some color additives must reach a certain standard of purity before they can be used in cosmetic products, so the FDA is stringent about that, as well.
To be extra-careful, companies can register with the FDA’s Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program, which gives the FDA the ability to tell a company if its products use a prohibited ingredient, or if they misuse color additives. That way, cosmetics companies can safely sell their products in the U.S.
Companies Do Their Part, Too
Even though cosmetics companies aren’t as tightly regulated as you might expect, you shouldn’t be alarmed. These manufacturers do their part to ensure customers feel safe using their products. They invest in expensive, lengthy testing and research.
They also create products using exact processes to ensure safety. In fact, the staff roster of a cosmetics company often reads like that of a science lab instead of a makeup manufacturer: Biologists, environmental scientists, toxicologists and chemists all weigh in before a product goes up for sale.
And, as more attention has been drawn to the lack of FDA regulation of cosmetics, many companies have stepped up to the plate to create products with only the highest-quality ingredients. From natural oils to UV blockers to finely tuned chemical combinations that restore moisture to the skin, they pump their products full of these high-quality additives.
The People Play the Final Role
The last piece of cosmetics regulation comes from the people, although you might argue that your role is a less-than-exciting one to play. If a product comes onto the market and causes damage to your skin, hair, nails, etc., it’s up to you to report the product to the FDA.
Consumer reports about cosmetics are incredibly rare, considering how many products there are on the market: The FDA received an average of fewer than 400 complaints each year up until 2014. After that, one particular brand, WEN, caused complaints to spike in the following years because it caused scalp damage and hair loss. Users who experienced such side effects filed a lawsuit and won, but WEN remains on the market — they claim their products are completely safe and tested.
All of this could change, though, if the Personal Care Products Safety Act makes it through Congress. Introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Susan Collins of Maine, the bill aims to give the FDA the power to oversee and regulate cosmetics more strictly.
For now, though, it’s up to manufacturers to ensure their products are safe, and it’s up to consumers to report anything that’s not. Working together, we can ensure cosmetic products serve their intended purpose of making us look and feel great — without any side effects getting in the way.