How the Food and Drug Administration Regulates the Beauty Industry

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

The US Food and Drug Administration or FDA does not have legal authority to approve or test cosmetic products and ingredients before they hit the market. As such, the FDA does not have a list of tests for any particular cosmetic product. However, the manufacturer and/or distributor are legally responsible for ensuring that all products sold on the market are safe for consumers.

If a product is deemed unsafe to use, the FDA can take action against the manufacturer of the product if the administration has reliable information that shows that a product failed to meet the legal requirement for safety. What the FDA regulates is the color additives of beauty products. The law treats color additives differently because some coloring agents contain coal tar dyes that are toxic to the health. Before a product hit the shelves, the FDA will analyze the safety of the color additives and cosmetic products are not exempted from this rule.

The FDA’s Strategic Action Plan for Risk Communication is the agency that instructs consumers how the agency makes decisions on the safety and effectiveness of FDA-regulated products.

The FDA’s Regulation of Cosmetics

According to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetics are 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 the appearance.” These products include skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup, cleansing shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, and deodorants.

Products that are marketed for therapeutic use are deemed as a drug.  As such, personal care products are regulated as dietary supplements or consumer products.

Generally, the FDA does not test beauty products that do not contain color additives. What the FDA do regulate is the ingredients and finished products’ safety under labeled or customary conditions of use and proper labeling. The agency also monitors beauty product ingredients that could cause adulteration or misbranding.

Safety Data and Limitations

The FDA has a number of ways to monitor certain beauty products:

Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program or VCRP

The agency encourages cosmetic companies to report product formations through the VCRP. However, beauty companies are not required by law to provide information and safety data.


The FDA is authorized to inspect manufacturing facilities to determine if a company is utilizing proper controls and practices required by law. The agency also teams up with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to analyze imported cosmetics.

Product Surveys

The FDA buys cosmetics randomly and analyzes these products for safety, proper labeling. However, the agency lacks the resources to sample all cosmetics that exist in the market.

Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel

The CIR is an independent, industry-funded panel of medical and scientific experts that meet every quarter of the year to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients. The assessment is conducted through data published by peer-reviewed medical journals. The industry data may or may not be complete.

Reports from Consumers and Health Care Providers

The FDA encourages consumers and health care providers to report cosmetic-related problems. If you reacted badly from a certain beauty product, you can report the incident by calling 1-800-332-1088. You can also report the problem on MedWatch or through your local consumer complaint coordinator.

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