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The TRUTH about Cosmetics Safety

Source: Environmental Working Group


The Food and Drug Administration has no authority to require companies to test cosmetics products for safety. The agency does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on the market


Myth – If it’s for sale at a supermarket, drugstore or department store cosmetics counter, it must be safe.


Fact –  The Food and Drug Administration has no authority to require companies to test cosmetics products for safety. The agency does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on the market. FDA conducts pre-market reviews only of certain cosmetics color additives and active ingredients that are classified as over-the-counter drugs.


Myth – The government prohibits the use of all dangerous chemicals in personal care products, and companies wouldn’t risk using them.


Fact – With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited substances, cosmetics companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval (FDA 2005). Whereas the European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the FDA has only prohibited the following (FDA 2000a):

  • Bithionol

  • Chlorofluorocarbon propellants

  • Chloroform

  • Halogenated salicylanilides (di-, tri-, metabromsalan and tetrachlorosalicylanilide)

  • Methylene chloride

  • Vinyl chloride

  • Zirconium-containing complexes

  • Prohibited cattle materials (including material from non-ambulatory cattle, material from cattle not inspected and passed and mechanically separated beef).


Myth – The cosmetics industry effectively polices itself, making sure that all ingredients meet a strict standard of safety.


Fact – Since FDA does little to regulate ingredient safety, it has authorized the cosmetics industry to police itself through its Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel. In its more than 30-year history, the industry panel has declared only 11 ingredients or chemical groups to be unsafe (CIR 2012). Its recommendations on restricting ingredients are not binding on companies (FDA 2012).


Myth – Cosmetic ingredients are applied to the skin and rarely get into the body. When they do, the amounts are too low to matter.