Realistically, the FDA has done an absolutely abysmal job of regulating the cosmetics industry. For decades now common brands have contained all sorts of harmful chemicals, while the FDA has done nothing to protect consumers.

The History of the FDA Approval Process

In the past 75 years there have been very few changes to the FDA approval process. In fact, the FDA has just 12 pages devoted to regulating the entire cosmetics industry, which includes millions of different products from lipsticks to creams to moisturizers. 12 pages!


Not surprisingly, they also have very little power to do anything with the tiny bit of information they actually have. At best they can ask a cosmetics manufacturer to voluntarily recall a product if they think it may be harmful.

Even worse, manufacturers are not obligated to let the public know when a consumer brings a health concern to light. While some manufacturers claim they are open about such things, many consumers remain unconvinced. Somehow the idea that a big corporation would willing recall a product seems rather naïve in today’s world.

The Bill to Toughen Up the FDA

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Luckily, there is some hope in sight with a new bill coming out of the Senate, which proposes giving the FDA the power to impose mandatory recalls and generally a greater ability to police the industry. It even has support from the left and the right, with both Republican and Democratic Senators co-sponsoring the bill.

Some advocacy groups are hailing the bill as “the best hope for meaningful cosmetics regulation in many years,” while others somewhat less enthusiastically called the bill “a compromise.”


The new laws would require cosmetic companies to be far more diligent and disclose any consumer health concerns, like itchiness or rashes, in an annual report. More serious health effects, which resulted in hospitalization, disfigurement, or death, would have to be reported within two weeks of them finding out.

The Good News Gets Better

The new bill would also empower the FDA to study five questionable chemicals every year. The first few would include a common preservative called propylparaben, a chemical used in hair-straightening called methylene glycol, and a chemical in men’s hair dye called lead acetate.


The new legislation comes on the heels of mounting pressure from consumers with growing health concerns and demands for greater transparency and fewer chemicals. While similar laws have faced aggressive lobbying in the past few years, there is hope that this bill succeed where they failed.

The Limits of the Law

A Johnson and Johnson executive has optimistically stated that the strengthening of the FDA could “bring peace of mind to consumers,” but I think consumers would be wise to remain skeptical of cosmetics.

Even if the legislation is passed, it could take years for the FDA to get around to investigating all of the chemicals in the millions of products offered, and we should not forget that they’re starting from 12 measly pages.

You can read more at the New York Times.

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