Adverse Health Events From Cosmetic Products Just Doubled In 12 Months

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Adverse Health Events From Cosmetic Products Just Doubled In 12 Months
Photo – annca –

The beauty industry has received a giant boost in the last few years, with beauty vloggers on Youtube and Instagram creating buzz around various beauty products that motivates their viewers to rush to the nearest department store or drugstore to purchase them. Forbes reports that the beauty industry alone is worth close to half a billion dollars. However, because of how lucrative the market is for beauty products, not all companies adhere to the same set of stringent protocols that ensure that the products produced are safe for the consumers. In short, a lot of cutting corners is done — and this is bad for men and women who use beauty products directly on their faces and bodies. [1]

The spotlight shone on these cut corners in a recent article published in the health section of the CNN website, wherein the topic was adverse health effects of cosmetic and personal care products. The author cites a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Kwa, et. al. in 2017. The journal comments that there have been several controversies surrounding cosmetic products like lipsticks, lip balms, and eyelash products with Prostaglandins, a naturally occurring enzyme in the body. A popular hair care product WEN by Chaz Dean was also mentioned in editorial commentary, particularly for the thousands of complaints received by the company regarding hair loss and scalp irritation. [2][3]

Kwa, et. al.’s study found that there were 706 adverse events related to cosmetic use in 2015 and over twice as many – 1,591 – in 2016. The study actually included data over a span of 12 years; the researchers found that the increase in adverse effects reported went up by 78 percent in 2015 and 300 percent in 2016 compared to 2004. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Shuai Xu, states that the actual numbers are probably much higher than what is reported – because of underreporting from both the companies and the consumers.

Dr. Xu highlighted that majority of the reported data came from a hair care product, WEN by Chaz Dean. The FDA received 1,386 complaints of adverse health events by November 2017 from using that product, which prompted an in-depth investigation. They found that the parent company of WEN, Guther Renker LLC, had actually received more than 21,000 complaints, but under current FDA regulations, they weren’t lawfully required to report said complaints to the FDA. The FDA isn’t even allowed to issue a mass recall of the hair care products — because there isn’t a law for that! In fact, WEN is still out in the market, being purchased by consumers. Can you believe that companies who produce beauty products aren’t required to receive FDA approval before a new product is sent out to the market? [4]

The CNN report includes statements made by Robert Califf, the former head of the FDA. According to Califf, the problem is rooted in the FDA’s limited ability to regulate cosmetic products. The “oversight authority” of the FDA remains stuck in the 1980s; 1983 was the year regulations were made regarding the FDA’s ability to control the production of cosmetics. An associate director at Berkeley University, Kim Harley, reports that if the power of the FDA were to extend to specific ingredients, it would be easier to test and recall dangerous products from the market. This is the focus of a bill that was proposed earlier in May by two senators from California and Maine, Senator Diane Feinstein and Susan Collins.

The real danger, Harley reports, are the long-term effects of using dangerous cosmetics. Acute adverse effects, or those that easily show up after a single use or use over a few days, are easy to treat and manage, since these effects are usually superficial (e.g. rashes). However, long term effects, effects that only become apparent after years of use like the absorption of dangerous chemicals like lead, can cause serious health consequences. Kwa, et. al. and the FDA encourage all consumers to report adverse effects no matter how small, in order to raise public awareness as well as to start investigations regarding potentially dangerous products.


[1] Sorvino, C. (2017). Why The $445 Billion Beauty Industry Is A Gold Mine For Self-Made Women.

[2] Knight, V. (2017). More health problems reported from cosmetic products.

[3] Kwa, M., Welty, L., & Xu, S. (2017). Adverse Events Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products.

[4] US Food and Drug Administration. Statement on FDA Investigation of WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners.

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