Cosmetics can be hazardous to your health – Press of Atlantic City
In the past 24 hours, you probably have used a personal care or cosmetic product. Did you know there is very little to no regulation of this industry?
More concerns were raised by a study just published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, which reported complaints of adverse health events related to cosmetic and personal care products more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.
While cosmetics promise to make us well-kept, and in some cases healthier, this new study from Northwestern University indicates some products could actually cause harm.
While I am not being alarmist, it is vital we think about how these products are used — by us, our loved ones, newborns and pregnant women — and how to recognize and report adverse health effects.
The United States has the largest cosmetics market in the world, with revenue is expected to exceed $62 billion — and expected to maintain significant growth through 2018. While the industry has grown, in terms of regulations, we have not modernized the system in the past 50 years.
The lion’s share of the underlying problem of adverse health effects is from a lack of regulations for cosmetic consumer goods and, too, the underreporting of adverse events by consumers or companies directly to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You may be surprised to learn there are products that have caused irritation and remained on the market. And terms such organic, hypo-allergenic and“natural” are not regulated, which means they have very little meaning.
Every day, millions upon millions of people in our country place their trust in these products — so it is important to ensure safety.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Cosmetics and Personal Care Products’ Current Lack of Regulation
What are cosmetics? They are defined as products used for beautification, cleansing or altering our physical appearance. They include makeup, skin care, shampoos and conditioners, hair sprays and gels, soaps, lip balms and more. There also are a number of “cosmeceuticals” on the market — cosmetics that claim to have medicinal properties and contain bioactive ingredients with druglike properties. They include anti-aging, hair-growth and acne-eliminating products. The term cosmeceuticals is a marketing term and not a legal definition.
Who regulates cosmetics and cosmeceuticals? Both are under the purview of the FDA, but they are very lightly regulated — the FDA also does not recognize cosmeceuticals as a separate class of beauty products.
While the agency has some labeling requirements, companies can easily avoid listing a product’s ingredients by claiming doing so would give away trade secrets.
Additionally, if complaints are made to a manufacturer, it is not obligated to report them to the FDA nor pull items from distribution. So, let’s say a soap caused you to experience irritation or a blister and you tell the company; the company is not legally required to forward your complaint to the FDA.
The FDA also does not have the authority to remove products from the market, even if they contain toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, formaldehyde and lesser-known hazards that have emerged as what regulators call “chemicals of concern.”
Do cosmetics and personal care products need to be tested and approved before being sold? Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients do not require FDA approval before they go on the market. The exception is color additives, other than those used in most hair dyes. The FDA says companies and individuals who market cosmetics have the legal responsibility to ensure product safety.
Call to action: Drugs and medical devices undergo rigorous and vigorous clinical trials that take years and can reach — and even exceed — $1 billion. Once on the market, there is careful surveillance for adverse events, and the medicine or device can be recalled.
It is true cosmetics have an inherently decreased risk — they are not ingested, injected or implanted in the human body — but they have the potential to cause harm. Skin products can be absorbed or cause irritation or burns; hair products can cause hair loss; and lip balms can cause blistering or be toxic if ingested when we lick our lips.
Further, some chemicals in cosmetics are endocrine disruptors —when they enter the body, they disrupt the hormone system. They can mimic hormones and cause increases or decreases in the body’s hormone level or cause cells to die early.
Recently, the Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced. It is making its way through Congress with the goal to create uniform rules to protect consumers. It would expand the FDA’s authority over cosmetics by:
• Requiring the manufacturer to report adverse events to the FDA;
• Giving the FDA authority to recall harmful products;
• Creating an annual review by the FDA of the safety of at least five ingredients.
Legislation like this would help increase safety.
Be aware: No one wants to learn their trusted personal care products are made with hazardous chemicals. Thankfully, most are not. And there are steps you can take to reduce toxic exposure in your home and protect the health of your family. Because the beauty industry is largely unregulated, it is up to you to do your own research.
• Go online and check out the safety ratings and consumer reports — there are even apps available. The Environmental Working Group has a database of information on hundreds of cosmetic companies and products with safety ratings for each.
• Be aware there are no legal or government mandated standards for personal care products labeled “pure,” “natural” or “organic.” A product can be 99.9 percent synthetic, but if it contains even a tiny bit of something natural such as water (in the amount of 0.1 percent), the company can advertise it as natural!
• Look beyond packaging, magazine ads and testimonials by friends and neighbors. If the product appears too good to be true, it often is.
• Check the labeling to see if they advertise what you are NOT getting, such as “formaldehyde-free.” A manufacturer cannot mislabel a product, but they do not have to list all chemicals or contents.
• Choose products with simpler ingredient lists and fewer synthetic chemicals and avoid synthetic fragrances.
• If you experience an adverse event with a cosmetic product, file a complaint to the FDA — there is an easy to use online reporting form called FDA MedWatch
• Support action for more regulation. Call your federal lawmakers to let them know that you want more protections when it comes to personal care and cosmetic products.
Currently, products get put on the market and we wait for complaints to arise. I join other medical health professionals in hopes this information helps your awareness of actions you can take to help yourself and your loved ones — besides waiting for more oversight to achieve the high levels of safety we have a right to expect.
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at info@nina radcliffmd.com. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.