Nontoxic, Cruelty-Free Makeup

Choose ethical, eco-friendly cosmetics to avoid ingredients that cause lasting harm to our long-term health.

| July / August 2018

  • The only times the FDA has the authority to recall harmful cosmetics are when a product has been adulterated or misbranded.
    Photo by Getty Images/vadimguzhva
  • For women, teens, and men alike, cosmetics are part of a daily self-care routine.
    Photo by Getty Images/everydayplus
  • The FDA once tried to establish cosmetic definitions for "organic," "natural," and "hypoallergenic," but were overturned in court.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Konstantin Yuganov
  • Despite their hazards, cosmetics are designed to stay on our faces throughout the day, or to be repeatedly reapplied.
    Photo by Stocksy/Marko Milovanović
  • Only 8 chemicals and additives are banned from cosmetics per FDA regulations, and only 11 more have been banned by the CIR.
    Photo by Stocksy/Sonja Lekovic
  • An average person uses 10 personal care products each day, often with no knowledge about their safety or production standards.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/goodluz
  • Cosmetic manufacturers in the US are free to use any ingredient in their products without safety testing, reviews, or government approval.
    Photo by Getty Images/victoriya89

On average, we use 10 personal care products each day: soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, lip balm, perfume, cologne, and more. For many people, personal care also includes cosmetics — a category that comprises a slew of products all its own. Cosmetics are designed to give staying power to the looks we want to achieve. Each is applied in the morning, often reapplied in the afternoon or evening, and not washed off until bed.

With the exception of eight chemicals and additives banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cosmetic manufacturers in the United States are free to use any ingredient in their products without mandatory safety testing, ingredient reviews, or government approval. This includes known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, and chemicals proven to cause reproductive harm, such as parabens and phthalates. Imagine the hundreds of beauty companies in the nation operating under these lax standards; for comparison, the European Union has banned more than 1,300 chemicals from cosmetics.

The root of the problem is that our cosmetic companies regulate themselves. They can join the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP), allowing the FDA to evaluate their personal care products that are on the market. However, as the title suggests, companies don’t have to register in order for their makeup to become widely available. Even within these procedures, actions aren’t as strict as we might believe. For example, there is a Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel (CIR) that can use the VCRP to assess ingredient safety, but since its inception 36 years ago, the CIR has used this information to ban only 11 ingredients from makeup.

Manufacturers aren’t even obligated to register their cosmetic establishments with the FDA. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) the FDA can inspect cosmetic establishments “at reasonable times, in a reasonable manner, and without prior notice,” but it doesn’t have the authority to recall harmful cosmetics. The exceptions are only when a cosmetic is adulterated or misbranded. An “adulterated” cosmetic violates the FDA standards involving its composition, and “misbranded” refers to an improper label or deceptively packaged product.

“Misbranded,” however, doesn’t cover the false use of terms such as “natural,” “organic,” or even “hypoallergenic,” which are often deceptive when used on makeup labels. Neither FDA regulations, the FD&C Act, nor the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act define the term “organic” in cosmetics. Similarly, cosmetics labeled “hypoallergenic” don’t have to substantiate the claim with the FDA, and no federal standards govern the term. The FDA once tried to establish definitions for these words, including “natural,” but its actions were overturned in court. As a result, companies can use the terms as desired, and although they have marketing value, dermatologists say these words have very little meaning in cosmetics.

Perhaps all of this is more concerning with cosmetics than with other personal care products because makeup is designed to stay on our faces all day. In fact, makeup lasts so long because it doesn’t remain on the surface of the skin. The ingredients frequently contain enhancers designed to penetrate — and they do. Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, parabens in breast tumor tissue, and musk ketone (a synthetic fragrance ingredient) in human fat and breast milk.

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