October 23, 2013

Drug vs Cosmetic: Does the FDA Regulate all the products you think they do?

Do you ever wonder if your skin cream or make-up is safe? Most of us assume that if we are buying a cosmetic product at our local drugstore or mall, that the ingredients have been approved and tested by the FDA.
According to Dr. Stanley Tocker, an expert in chemicals used in cosmetics for The CECON Group, with the exception of color additives, only products that are labeled as food or drugs are regulated by the FDA.  If a product is NOT an approved drug, its ingredients have not been tested, reviewed, or approved by a government agency.

So, your cosmetics can contain any ingredient the manufacturer selects as active or inert components. It is certainly in the legal interest of the manufacturer and marketer of a product to do sufficient product safety testing.

What steps should consumers take to research the products they use? Obviously read labels and reviews of products (one summary of possible toxins can be found here). Check the FDA’s page for product recalls (click here to see a warning about mercury poisoning linked to certain skin products).

Dr. Tocker recommends checking the safety of suspicious ingredients online. Some chemicals to avoid include parabens, glycolic acid, some sunscreen agents (see EWG website), and strong detergents/exfoliants. Consumers should also test a small amount of any new cosmetic on an obscure body part (such as an arm) prior to applying to the more sensitive skin on the face.

Generalized safety guidelines are difficult because each person reacts differently. Judging safety in some ingredients is a matter of quantity used, individual sensitivities, care taken in use, and frequency of use. Some chemicals react with other products used by the consumer to cause a reaction not anticipated by reading label ingredients.

For more information, see the FDA’s Cosmetics Page.

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