You might be surprised to learn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t closely control the ingredients used in cosmetics products. You might wonder if, perhaps, there’s another federal body that does. Somebody must provide oversight for that, right? In fact, believe it or not, the only specific thing the FDA has been given jurisdiction over when it comes to cosmetics is color additives.
This is largely due to the deregulation of industries. For example, all of the largest corporations in the world making cosmetics products have immense lobbying power, which they’ve built up over the last several decades. They lobby congress to deregulate and remove rules that require oversight. It is much better for the companies, you can imagine, to be free from restrictions on what chemicals they use than to have to be honest and straightforward with their ingredients and where chemicals come from. In short, they prefer not to be accountable to an agency that tracks their use of chemicals.
Companies are constantly producing new and “improved” chemicals that they then use in their products in pursuit of being able to label them exactly that: “new” or “improved.” These flashy labels are, in fact, one of the primary reasons for the high level of non-medical animal testing all over the world. Because companies are constantly attempting to create the next new thing — the thing that will let their new product outsell the competitor’s new product — they synthesize, create, and even sometimes re-create chemicals over and over again. They often reuse chemicals from one formulation in an entirely different and unrelated product. They often change chemicals by just a bit, but, as we all know, even slight changes in chemistry can produce extreme differences. Because this often involves unfamiliar and possibly toxic chemicals, not to mention reactions between chemicals, large corporations are constantly running the chemicals through round after round of animal testing. They have entire departments devoted to this, so-called “research” wings made up of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people and countless animals.
One of the saddest facts about chemical use in cosmetics products is that the vast majority of animal testing is ineffective at providing any useful information about how the chemicals will affect human bodies. On top of the cruelty inherent in this way of creating products, rabbit and mouse skin and hair is simply drastically different from human skin and hair. This likely isn’t a surprise to anyone who has spent any time around animals! Rabbits’ eyes are significant different from human eyes… that is a fact of biology. Even if they were similar, we kind of already know not to put dangerous ingredients in our eyes, right? The point is that we don’t learn much from animal testing, but these companies continue to do it. Much of the testing is done without purpose or reason.
So what can you do to prevent this? What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Compared to the untold number of chemicals in our products, natural ingredients have largely already been tested. We know how most natural, unprocessed ingredients affect humans because we’ve been using or avoiding them in some form other for usually thousands of years. We know, for example, that if we combine most natural products, we won’t be producing a toxic fume that will poison everyone in a 10 square mile radius. That simply cannot be said of the vast array of chemicals used in cosmetics products.
The FDA does have some general rules when it comes to cosmetics, but these are largely regarding the proper labeling of cosmetics. This, of course, does not include the rigorous scientific research required to prove the safety of chemicals. And, even if it did, this would inevitably mean more animal testing. Thus the cycle of chemical use in cosmetics products is a dangerous one for almost everyone involved, especially for you, the consumer, and for the animals. But you don’t have to be a part of it!
An interesting juxtaposition to laws in the US are those of the European Union. The EU has, over the past few decades, banned more than 1300 chemicals for use in cosmetics. This means that the 28 current member countries of the EU cannot manufacture, sell, or import products containing any of those chemicals. How does the US fare, you might ask? The US has only banned a grand total of 11 chemicals from use in cosmetics. That’s right. That’s not an exaggeration either; it’s the truth. And this isn’t only a European thing. Canada has significantly better regulation of chemicals in cosmetics. It has even caused problems in Canada with importing American cosmetics products, as those companies have to ensure that the products they send to Canada meet the higher Canadian standards.
So the disparity is stark. But what does it mean for you? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to be part of it! You have a choice in the matter. Many choices, actually, including what you spend money on and what you educate yourself about. It also means that you are largely responsible for your own safety when it comes to what you put on your body. It means that the responsibility for knowing that the average moisturizer can contain more than 30 different chemicals falls on you. Recent studies have found that the average woman uses more than 500 separate chemicals on her skin every day. But you’re not alone! We’re here to help you navigate these sorts of questions. Stay tuned for more in-depth articles and discussions on these and many other topics!