Toxic Cosmetics

With few exceptions, current federal law does not require cosmetics manufacturers to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before their products go on the market. Manufacturers aren’t required to:

  • list all of their ingredients
  • test their products
  • use good manufacturing practices to prevent contamination
  • even recall products they know are dangerous 

The two most important laws pertaining to cosmetics marketed in the United States are the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). FDA regulates cosmetics under the authority of these laws. Cosmetic manufacturers have a legal responsibility for the safety and labeling of their products, but many cosmetic products marketed and sold in the U.S. contain toxic chemicals.

Loopholes in the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act allow companies to get away with using toxic ingredients and not disclosing this use.

Pursuant to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), the FDA requires cosmetics to have an “ingredient declaration,” a list of all the product’s ingredients.  However, regulations for this list of ingredients must not be used to force a company to disclose “trade secrets.” Fragrance and flavor ingredients are most likely to be trade secrets, so they may be simply listed as “fragrance” or “flavor.”  As a result, various chemicals (including toxic ones) are often combined to create “fragrances.” These unlisted and toxic chemicals are placed into cosmetic products.

The FD&C Act defines cosmetics by their intended use, 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 the appearance.”  Among the products included in this definition are skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup, cleansing shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, and deodorants, as well as any substance intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product.


Currently, these are the only prohibited or restricted ingredients by FDA regulations: 

  • Bithiono
  • Chlorofluorocarbon propellants
  • Chloroform
  • Halogenated salicylanilides
  • Hexachlorophene 
  • Mercury compounds                                                                               
  • Methylene chloride
  • Prohibited cattle materials
  • Sunscreens in cosmetics
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Zirconium-containing complexes

Women use beauty products more than men.  Among women, however, Black women and other women of color are more adversely affected. Studies have found products marketed to Black women (for example hair relaxers) to be among the most toxic. Toxic chemicals found in these products have been linked to many health issues including fibroids, cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm. 

The makeup industry has been mostly self-regulated for more than a century. Congress has not made significant updates to the Cosmetic Act since 1938. While we are pleased to see the House Energy and Commerce Committee working on a bipartisan discussion draft to address cosmetics safety, the NWHN supports banning toxic ingredients in cosmetics. We advocate for strengthening federal cosmetics regulation to include the strongest possible safeguards to protect women’s health. 

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