There’s more to your makeup than meets the eye. New research shows that health-related complaints about cosmetic products like shampoo and makeup are at an all-time high since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began keeping track more than a decade ago.
That’s concerning, because when cosmetic products cause health issues, addressing the problem—or even getting a potentially unsafe product off the market—isn’t a simple process. Currently, cosmetic manufacturers have no legal obligation to report health problems from their products to the FDA. Cosmetics also do not need to go through a pre-market approval process before they are sold in stores, and regulators do not assess the safety and effectiveness of the claims on the products. Instead, people and doctors are asked to report any health complications to the FDA’s database (called the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System, or CFSAN). If the FDA sees any increases that warrant concern, they can investigate.
“As a dermatologist, we live and breathe cosmetics and personal care products,” says study author Dr. Steve Xu, a resident physician in the department of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, citing his motivation for the study. “I get asked every day, ‘What is safe to use?'”
In the new research letter, Xu and his colleagues looked at the number of adverse events reported to the FDA and found that over a 12-year period, there were 5,144 health-related complaints submitted due to cosmetic products.
The study authors were able to evaluate the number of cases reported to the agency because in 2016, the FDA made the CFSAN database publicly available. The new researched shows that between 2004 and 2016, an average of 396 events were reported per year, with an increase between 2015 to 2016. The three most commonly cited products were for hair care, skin care and tattoos. “This isn’t designed to be alarmist,” says Xu. Still, “we have this huge industry and there are lots of chemicals in these products that largely go unregulated.”