Researchers found that some cosmetics and personal care products are causing health problems to many users. The new study was conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers explained that the cosmetic industry is largely self-regulated, and companies aren’t required to comply with certain regulations before releasing a product in the market. Also, once these products are on the market, there are few systems in place to monitor the safety of them.
The study reported that complaints made against beauty products more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, with hair care products leading the list.
Complaints regarding personal care products have more than doubled in recent years
These complaints usually go largely without consequences due to the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not requiring the products to be pre-approved before they are released to be sold.
“You can start making a cosmetic and start selling it the next day without any kind of permission from the FDA,” said Steve Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and author of the new study, according to NPR.
If someone suspects that a product has caused an “adverse effect,” such as nausea, rash, stress, or even death, they can report it to the manufacturer or tell the FDA. And while reporting such problems might get the person to receive an apology or some coupons, there is no guarantee at all that the case will be investigated, or that the company will report it to the FDA.
In December 2016, the FDA released for the first time data collected by its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition on adverse health effects related to food and cosmetics since 2004 across the United States. Before that, if someone wanted to gain access to reports regarding safety problems, they had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FDA.
Adverse effects from personal care products included injuries, hospitalization, and death
According to the analysis conducted by Xu and colleagues at Northwestern University, hair care products, skin care products, and tattoos were most commonly reported as the source of adverse health effects.
Xu noted that the most common complaints were hair loss or breakage, as well as local skin irritation. Personal cleanliness products, baby products, and hair care or coloring products were found to have the highest rates of serious adverse effects, including serious injuries, hospitalization, and even death said the researchers.
From 2015 to 2016, the number of complaints of reported adverse events more than doubled, according to the data from the FDA. This leap, Xu noted, was driven mostly by reports of hair loss and skin irritation linked with WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners. Back In 2014, the FDA announced that it was investigating WEN products, following several complaints made against the hair products.
Even though the FDA had received only 127 complaints about these products at the time, the hair product manufacturer had received over 21,000 complaints. However, manufacturers have no legal obligation to report complaints regarding adverse events to the FDA. That’s why the FDA has asked the public to submit complaints regarding WEN conditioners directly to them.
According to Xu, many of the 2016 complaints were a direct result of that request from the FDA. The FDA also encourages people to report any problems with that or other personal care products through its online MedWatch system.
Some companies might be labeling their products as ‘cosmetics’ to dodge FDA approval
The study noted that there were more than 5,000 events reported to the FDA from 2004 to 2016, with more than 1,500 of those complaints reported last year alone.
“The FDA has much less authority to recall cosmetics from the market in stark contrast to drugs or medical devices,” said Xu, according to Daily Mail. “It’s harder for the FDA to get harmful cosmetics off the selves. This is really a wake-up call. The point of the paper is to broaden the awareness of this database and the need for everyone to participate in reporting adverse events from cosmetics.”
Xu noted they’re also concerned with the manner in which cosmetic companies are marketing their products, claiming to have “drug-like” results but dodge FDA approval by labeling the product as a cosmetic. He explained that although it has not been explicitly studied, this cosmetic product class is becoming a growing problem. He said that at the very best, these products are making unsubstantiated marketing claims for products that may or may not work. He added that at the very worst, there are actual drug components in these products that can cause real harm to consumers.