Report calls for more regulation in cosmetics industry

A new study reports that consumer complaints to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about cosmetic products more than doubled between 2015-2016, and suggests that there may be big issues in the industry.

The study, led by Dr. Steve Xu at Northwestern University, found that hair care products are the subjects of the most complaints. Xu says that consumers remain at risk because the industry is basically unregulated.

Cosmetics do not require pre-approval from the FDA, and there’s no requirement for manufacturers to submit reports of adverse health events to the Administration. So, while there were more than 5,000 events reported from 2004 to 2016, Xu says it’s likely only the tip of the iceberg.

“The FDA has much less authority to recall cosmetics from the market in stark contrast to drugs or medical devices,” said Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, according to Northwestern News. “It’s harder for the FDA to get harmful cosmetics off the shelves.”

“The most common complaints in the database were for hair care products, skincare products or tattoos, the study found. The number of overall adverse events jumped from 706 in 2015 to 1,591 in 2016, with hair care products seeing the largest increase. Baby products, unclassifiable products, personal cleanliness products, hair care products and hair coloring products had the highest proportion of self-reports of a serious adverse health outcome, such as serious injury, death, disability.”

Xu said the study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, should be a wake up call. “The point of the paper is to broaden the awareness of this database and the need for everyone to participate in reporting adverse events from cosmetics.”

He also said we need better data.

“This is a $430 billion-a-year global industry with millions of products on the market. But we are only getting, on average, between 200 and 400 adverse events per year. That represents significant under-reporting. If we want more public safety and to keep dangerous products off the market, the first step is the make sure we have reasonably good data. The key point of our results is we don’t have it.”

Xu believes that Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Personal Care Products Safety Act, which aims to tighten cosmetic regulation would be a “first step forward in the right direction.”

He said, “The FDA should have the power to order recalls and mandate that manufacturers declare their products’ ingredients and report every adverse consumer health event to the FDA.”


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