How does the FDA Define Cosmetic?

Cosmetics are defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as any product (except soap) that is intended to be applied to the human body for cleaning, promoting attractiveness, beautifying or altering appearance.

It’s important to know all raw ingredients included in a product are considered cosmetic as well i

n their usage.

How does the Government Regulate Cosmetics in the US?

Cosmetics are FDA-regulated, but not as strictly you as one would hope and FDA regulated does not mean that ingredients are FDA approved. The FDA doesn’t have the authority to approve cosmetics before they go on the market, though they do approve of some of the ingredients.  While cosmetics companies have to abide by certain FDA regulations, these regulations are not what you’d expect.  Cosmetics are mainly regulated by how their ingredients are listed, they must not be deceptive or misleading to customers.  Labels have some requirements they must meet, labels have to include net amount/size, directions for safe usage, any warnings, ingredients list and the business name and address.  Labels and ingredients must be written in a way the consumer can easily understand.   Labels must meet certain size and font requirements, and they cannot be obscured by any graphics, stickers, etc. Products must not include any adulterated ingredients, this means they cannot be poisonous/toxic or harmful to humans in some way while being used as directed, they also cannot be putrid, filthy or decomposing.   They must be safe for usage when used as described by the directions, directions set by the company not the FDA.  The only ingredients in cosmetics products required to have FDA approval are color additives.  That means all those chemicals you see listed on your product label are NOT necessarily FDA approved to be putting on your skin.  As long as the ingredient has been deemed safe for usage, and they haven’t added any color additives the FDA has blacklisted the product is good to go.  As ingredients lists don’t tell us the quantity of the ingredient used, they could be using “safe” ingredients in unsafe amounts.  Labels that say a product is natural or organic are not considered mislabeling if all the ingredients are not natural.  Companies are not required to register their companies, formulations or products with the FDA., they are expected to self-monitor.  

Does Anyone Monitor Cosmetics Ingredients?

Kinda, sorta? The Personal Care Products Council and Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) assess the safety of ingredients.  The Cosmetics Ingredient Review was formed in 1976, it’s a non-profit, non-biased group set out to scientifically assess the safety of ingredients included in beauty and personal care products.  CIR works with the FDA to assess ingredients and alert the FDA to any safety issues they find.  (We then rely on the FDA to list an ingredient as adulterated).  However, it’s impossible for the CIR to review every ingredient on the market.  There are over 10,000 ingredients out there in the beauty and personal care product world.  These scientific assessments/tests take time so over 89% of these ingredients have not been tested yet.

What does this mean for you?

You just hope your favorite company/brand is using ethical and skilled scientist to ensure their formulations are safe. The business of consumer and beauty products is the wild west, virtually lawless and expected to regulate themselves. There are a few beauty and cosmetics items that are regulated by the FDA and these are the ones the FDA has listed as something else like: drugs or soap.  For example beauty products that claim to have sun protection properties are listed as drugs and cosmetics and they are regulated because of the “drug” classification.   This means that the FDA expect the companies to have done the work to know if the products are safe or that the consumers will do the research on their own.  Companies are free to use products and ingredients that have barely been tested regarding safety, or have yet to be tested at all.  Ingredients lists are CONFUSING and scary.  You’re left wondering what all these chemicals are and how they’ll affect your skin and it’s really hard to find the information out.   

What Can You Do?

You can educate yourself, know what’s going into your products, know what companies have been found to be in violation of rules or who chose to use less than stellar ingredients.  Know what the ingredients are in your products, and know what products to avoid.  Show your support for the proposed bills that demand FDA intervention, look for petitions to sign, groups to join, call your senator, call the White House, call the FDA, demand changes.   Be a proactive part of the change, be heard.  Demand safety for your cosmetics, demand transparency in your beauty products. 

Further Reading:

Food & Drug Administration:

Personal Care Products Council:

Cosmetics Ingredients Review:

Copyright © 2019 Caitlin McNeese