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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    FDA glosses over makeup safety

    Allison Dumkacolumnist
    Allison Dumka

    When perusing the aisles of the cosmetics section, I’m normally distracted and vaguely thinking I should buy new mascara. After hearing about Skin Deep, a database that catalogues makeup by toxicity levels and untested ingredients, browsing for new beauty products has lost its appeal. Now I’m much more concerned the products I’ve slathered all over my face for the last 10 years are full of ingredients linked to cancer.

    The Environmental Working Group, which runs Skin Deep, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using “”the power of public information to protect public health and the environment,”” according to its Web site. Along with backing the Breast Cancer Fund and LUNAbar, the group supports the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition working to prevent the makeup industry from using chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects.

    Why do all these groups have to form coalitions for safe makeup? Because makeup and other beauty products are unregulated in the United States. That’s right, the Food and Drug Administration (technically the regulating body that covers beauty products) doesn’t approve your foundation, lipstick or mascara for safety before it goes on the market. The Administration’s Web site states, “”Manufacturers are not required to register their cosmetic establishments, file data on ingredients, or report cosmetic-related injuries to FDA.””

    So why should the FDA (or some other government body) put the smackdown on our eyeliner use? Beauty products are consumed by millions of American women every single day, and spread on skin, which easily absorbs chemicals. Hell, there are even ingredients that help makeup absorb into your skin more quickly. I don’t know about you, but I have a serious problem with that.

    For example, in the Skin Deep database, Maybelline Great Lash mascara in Blackest Black is a ranked a 5, considered to be a moderate hazard on a scale of 1-10. (0 is considered completely safe with no health risks.) Furthermore, 71 percent of the ingredients in Great Lash, one of most popular makeup products in the United States, have not been tested for safety – or, if companies have tested for safety, they have not made that information public. And they don’t have to, because the FDA doesn’t make them.

    Alternatively, the European Union mandates that beauty products follow certain standards of safety; the mandate clearly states that personal care items are an issue of public health.

    The EU Cosmetics Directive, originally passed in the late 1970s and revised in 2000, prevents companies from selling makeup containing ingredients linked to birth defects, cancer and reproductive health problems. The mandate ultimately banned 1,300 unsafe ingredients. Companies in the wrong must reformulate their products or lose access to the market of all EU countries. So personal care items sold in Europe have completely different ingredients than their American counterparts.

    Since the FDA’s regulation of beauty products is almost nonexistent, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics asks companies to voluntarily give up using unsafe ingredients and to sign a contract pledging they will not use specific components and chemicals. Thus far, L’Oreal, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have refused to sign the contract.

    So, where does this leave women?

    Well, we could all thoroughly research our deodorant’s components and shop at the co-op for truly natural, safe products. The downside of the overly-simple, let-the-buyer-beware argument is twofold. First, EU-compliant products are harder to find and sometimes much more expensive for a comparable item, and safety shouldn’t just be available to those with money. Second, an average consumer cannot conduct reliable tests on the potentially toxic components in her makeup. So how can the buyer beware?

    The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Skin Deep database are important first steps toward safe, tested beauty products. By signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, companies are publicly stating they value the health of women who consume their products.

    But what about Great Lash? Or, for that matter, any product brand sold in every drugstore in America? The Food and Drug Administration is clearly failing to protect consumers. Government agencies have a responsibility to ensure the safety of consumers, especially when cancer-linked ingredients are found in the average woman’s makeup bag.

    Allison Dumka is a senior majoring in political science and women’s studies. She can be reached at

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