The Trouble With Getting Dangerous Cosmetic Products Off the Market
When it comes to products that are sold to consumers, there are many different government agencies tasked with monitoring product safety and keeping dangerous and defective products away from consumers. The NHTSA handles motor vehicle safety while the Consumer Product Safety Commission watches out for a multitude of other consumer products. The USDA handles safety oversight for meat, poultry, and eggs while the FDA is in charge of keeping things like food, over-the-counter drugs, medical products, and pharmaceutical drugs safe.
Since the FDA’s scope includes such a wide variety of products, you might think that cosmetics and other products like shampoo and lotion would be included in that. Cosmetics are a $50 billion a year industry, but according to a recent report from the New York Times, government oversight for cosmetic products is actually very limited and the FDA has little power to recall cosmetic products that have harmed people.
A recent problem that highlighted the problems with the current system is when reports started surfacing about people who have used WEN by Chaz Dean hair care products experiencing hair loss and rashes. After receiving 127 complaints directly from consumers about problems caused by the products, the FDA began investigating the reports and discovered that the manufacturer and distributor of WEN products had received over 21,000 adverse event complaints from consumers. Remarkably, the manufacturer was under no legal obligation to notify the FDA about any of those complaints and the FDA is mostly powerless to stop the products from being sold.
Under current laws, manufacturers of cosmetic products are not legally required to notify the FDA about any adverse event reports they directly receive, even if a person has died. In fact, there are only two occasions when the FDA has the authority to order a recall for a cosmetic product: if the product is contaminated or if the product is mislabeled. Since the FDA hasn’t found evidence of WEN products being mislabeled or contaminated, they are not able to order a recall for them.
The laws that currently cover safety oversight for cosmetic products were created in 1938. Many lawmakers are attempting to modernize the laws and remedy the lapses in oversight. The Feinstein-Collins bill has been introduced and would require manufacturers of cosmetics to notify the FDA about all serious adverse reactions as they receive them. Manufacturers would also need to create annual reports of all adverse reaction complaints they receive. The bill would also require cosmetics manufacturers to pay fees for the FDA to be able to investigate the safety of ingredients that may potentially be dangerous. The FDA would also be able to recall dangerous products.
Many of the world’s largest cosmetics manufacturers, including Estee Lauder, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, have all voiced support for the bill. Many other organizations focused on environmental, public health, and consumer matters have also backed the bill, but of course, there is still some resistance from the industry. An alternative bill was introduced by opponents of the Feinstein-Collins bill that would still require cosmetics manufacturers to notify the FDA about serious adverse events, but would not give the FDA the authority to collect fees to investigate ingredient safety or allow them order recalls.