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Simply Sustainable: How are our personal care products regulated?

Similar to food and drug products, personal care should be regulated to ensure they are safe for use. One would think that personal care products are treated with similar rules and regulations as food and drug products, but that is not the case. 

In the United States, the FDA has the authority to regulate personal care products. Food and drug products are required to be approved by the FDA but personal care products do not require FDA-approval before they are able to go on the market. Personal care products are only FDA-regulated, not approved. 

Why this is concerning

Now before we get more into the "regulations" lets talk about why this is a problem. Its obvious that a product should be deemed safe before it is consumed or used to treat a medical issue and one would think that personal care products would receive the same attention. 

The skin is our largest organ and anything we put on our skin has the ability to absorb and enter the bloodstream. Once something enters the bloodstream, it can be transported all over the body and could cause potential harm. 

So if these products have the ability to get into our bloodstream, why are we not regulating them the same way we would a drug or food? 

One might not think this is an issue because products contain small concentrations of ingredients, but after prolonged use this could become an issue. Imagine how often you apply your favorite foundation or skin moisturizer, ingredients from this product can build up in your body and cause potential health impacts in the future. 

How does the FDA regulate personal care products?

Although personal care products are not required to be approved by the FDA, there are some regulations in place. But spoiler alert, they are by no means comforting. 

First lets differentiate between what the FDA calls a "Drug" or "Cosmetic". Personal care products fall into the "Cosmetic" category which is defined as "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering appearance". But a product like a sunscreen would fall into the "Drug" category, which is defined as "treating or preventing a disease or affecting the structure of the body", because sunscreen has sun-protection claims. 

Although cosmetics are not required to be approved like drugs, they are both regulated by the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. Lets break these down:

The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act states that "cosmetic products and ingredients, with the exception of color additives, do not require FDA approval before they go on the market". Which really just means that no one is truly regulating the products we are putting on our bodies on the daily. 

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act provides a certain set of guidelines products must follow when labelling the product. The label must not be misleading, must have an expiration date and should list the products ingredients. But there are many loopholes to this act. If a company has a list of "trade secret" ingredients, the FDA does not require them to disclose what those ingredients are. Fragrance is a common example of this, If you see "fragrance" listed on a personal care product, that could be any combination of thousands of chemicals that are not-regulated and not required to be disclosed to the public. 

So who does make sure products are safe to use?

There is no law in place that regulates the actual safety of a cosmetic product, the FDA leaves it up to the manufacturer to ensure a product is safe for the public. And even better, the FDA DOES NOT require manufacturers to share their safety information. The FDA encourages companies to use "whatever testing necessary" to determine a products safety and claim that they conduct inspections and collect samples, but there is truly no way of knowing. We really have no way of knowing whether an ingredient has gone through proper, if any testing and that is a scary thought.

Why are we not treating cosmetic products the same as a food or drug product? It is scientifically proven that topically applied products are able to enter our blood stream, and we continue to use products in which we truly do not know whether they will harm us or not. 

No action is taken by FDA or manufacturers until there is a public conflict, why wait until someone is already put at risk to investigate the safety of a product?

A Silver Lining!

As of 2019, a new act has been put in place. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Act of 2019 will hold companies accountable for the safety of their ingredients. It would help to place an immediate ban on some of the most toxic chemicals present in cosmetics, protect vulnerable populations with safety standards, and require companies to have registered facilities and products that comply with safe manufacturing processes. 

USA Personal Care Regulations vs. International Personal Care Regulations

Places like Australia, Canada and the European Union have much stricter regulations in place. Many chemicals that have been banned internationally are still allowed in United States, regardless of concentration amounts. 

Its not that the FDA is not taking any action, they are attempting to put more chemicals under review. But compared to places like the EU, the US is extremely behind.

First lets talk about the European Union:

The European Commission is the overall legislative body that governs cosmetics in the EU, but each country also has specific authority that is responsible for upholding the legislation. 

The EU actually regulates their personal care/cosmetic products relatively similar to the US but they are much more proactive about which ingredients are acceptable for use. They also require more pre-market safety precautions and assessments. 

In the US, companies are not required to register their manufacturers, although this is currently being addressed. The EU requires mandatory registration and government authorization. 

What can we learn from the EU?

The EU recognizes chemicals/ingredients that are linked to health and environmental threats.

The US could be more proactive about banning unsafe chemicals, as some products have not been reformulated since the 1950s! And with the surprising things we have learned since then, it is time for a change. More research and testing is needed.

But there is a silver lining, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Act of 2019 is working to address changes that need to made.




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