Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why don't cosmetics need FDA approval?

A common myth is that cosmetics must be approved by the FDA before being sold in the United States. Not true!

Image courtesy anythingbutstill

A little backstory about how law is quirky in America. There's a whole body of law called "administrative law" that covers federal agencies--you know, the acronym ones in Washington, DC: USDA, FCC, FTC, FAA. Congress can make laws that give federal agencies the power to regulate certain subjects. Usually, lawmaking is Congress's job, but for various reasons Congress sometimes delegates the task of regulation to federal agencies.

One of those agencies is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Congress passed two laws giving the FDA authority to regulate cosmetics: the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. A substance counts as a cosmetic if it is meant to be used as a cosmetic--the FD&C Act actually specifies "rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body" for the purposes of "cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance."

Cosmetics are not quite food, not quite drugs, and do not require FDA approval before they go on the market (some coloring substances do). The FDA maintains a voluntary registration program, but cosmetics manufacturers are not required to participate.

Groups like the Environmental Working Group advocate for safer cosmetics. They maintain a cosmetics safety database that gives scores based on hazardous ingredients. When you add up the personal care products the average woman uses on a daily basis, the number of ingredients she exposes herself to is staggering.

I'm afraid to look.

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