Cosmetics Safety 'Virtually Unregulated' by Federal Law

WASHINGTON, May 14 – Cosmetics and personal care products may be the main routes of exposure for Americans to many harmful chemicals. But the U.S. cosmetics industry is almost completely unregulated by the federal government, Environmental Working Group (EWG) told a House subcommittee today.

“Cosmetics are essentially unregulated under federal law,” EWG Vice-President for Research Jane Houlihan testified before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act provides the Food and Drug Administration with virtually no power to perform even the most rudimentary functions needed to ensure the safety of an estimated $35 billion of personal care products purchased by consumers annually.”

Houlihan testified at a hearing on proposed legislation that would strengthen U.S. cosmetics laws for the first time in decades. Click to see testimony.

Currently, said Houlihan, the safety of personal care product ingredients is evaluated through a voluntary program run by the cosmetics industry. She said the Food and Drug Administration relies on “woefully incomplete” voluntary reporting systems that are inadequate to protect public health. Under this system, she said, FDA cannot:

  • Require companies to test cosmetic products for safety before marketing.

  • Regulate cosmetic products until after they are released to the marketplace.

  • Require product recalls; but must go to court to remove misbranded and adulterated products from the market

  • Require manufacturers to register their cosmetic establishments, file data on ingredients, or report cosmetic-related injuries.

The Committee’s proposed legislation includes some “vital steps” to regulate the cosmetics industry by requiring cosmetic companies to register their facilities, products and ingredients with FDA; requiring cosmetic manufacturers to report serious adverse effects to FDA; and requiring good manufacturing practices, Houlihan said.

EWG’s extensive work on cosmetics and personal care products includes Skin Deep (, a free interactive guide to the toxic and untested ingredients in 29,000 products.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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