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The FDA Is Getting More Complaints About Beauty Product Side Effects

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Please give the FDA more money so they can regulate this industry better.

Photo: Wen by Chaz Dean

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The beauty industry is unregulated by any outside entities, except for a few products like sunscreen and acne creams, which the FDA has some jurisdiction over because they’re considered drugs. Otherwise, it’s a free-for-all out there, with the industry regulating itself. This never seems like a good idea, right? Look what happened to banking.

A new study published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that people have been increasingly reporting adverse events related to cosmetics to the FDA. An adverse event can be anything from a rash to your hair falling out to death. From 2004 to 2016, there were a little over 5,000 cosmetics-related events reported, which, if you think about how many cosmetics products are used on a daily basis, is not that many. This also doesn’t mean that more adverse events actually have been happening, just that more people are emailing the FDA about it. Also, there’s no way of knowing exactly what it is that gave people whatever issue they were reporting — but they were assuming it was the result of a product.

But the biggest increase in reporting came in 2016, when 1,591 beauty-product adverse events were reported to the FDA. A lot of this increased reporting came as a result of the FDA putting out a call to consumers to report issues they’d had with Wen cleansing conditioners. Back in 2014, shoppers started complaining that the products were making their hair fall out. According to the JAMA authors, the FDA received 127 complaints about Wen from consumers, but found out that the company itself had received about 21,000. This just puts into high relief the ridiculous fact that cosmetics companies are under no obligation to report these issues, and the FDA cannot mandate that they issue a recall like it can with, say, contaminated lettuce. You can still buy Wen conditioning cleansers!

With a series of recent beauty lawsuits, like the Johnson & Johnson $10 million talc suit and the icky Eos lip balm mold lawsuit, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need more regulation. I already pointed out that with the current anti-regulation White House, this looks about as likely as Ivanka Trump selling off her clothing business — but there’s a bright spot of hope.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are co-sponsoring a bill called the Personal Care Products Safety Act this year. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried it, though; Feinstein and Collins also introduced this bill in 2015, but it went nowhere. The large players in the industry were on board, but smaller cosmetics companies were not, saying it would hurt them financially. But maybe now we have the public impetus needed to get it through, especially since this bill has bipartisan support.

The bill would allow the FDA to issue recalls, increase labeling requirements, and help small businesses meet new mandates. It would also require the FDA to test up to five ingredients per year. Right now, the natural beauty industrial complex gets new customers primarily based on fear of the unknown. Some cosmetics ingredients are untested (although many more have years of research and safety data) or have poorly designed studies showing questionable bad outcomes, so so-called natural beauty companies capitalize on this with a “better safe than sorry” selling tactic. If we actually had solid, concrete data, perhaps then we would know for sure that our beauty products are not killing us.

Either way, it’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out, no sketchy hair product needed.