Cosmetic Safety Guide

Written by Leanna Serras

Cosmetics, in one form or another, are worn on virtually every woman in America. One usually assumes, if sold on the shelves of drug stores and department stores, that the lotions, (perfume), and makeup that is sold is safe to use. But how does one know? Who determines whether it is safe to use or not? What standards are set? What should one look out for?


The cosmetic industry is regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (“FDA”), the same branch that regulates medications. The FDA researches the chemicals that could be harmful to the skin or if ingested, and, if the risk is too great, prohibits the use of a cosmetic. They also offer guidelines for use of products and advise users as to the efficiency of a product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits misbranding or misrepresenting products for use. A product is considered “adulterated” if it contains poisonous substances that could be harmful to the user, it contains a decomposed substance, it was packed under unsanitary conditions, its container is made from any poisonous substance, or it contains an unnecessary color additive that is deemed unsafe. The latter, however, does not apply to hair dyes. Those products considered mislabeled may be false or misleading or not complete. The FDA, however, does not pre-regulate cosmetics; that is, they do not approve them before they go on the shelves. Rather, they are able to impose penalties upon them for violations after they reach the consumer.


Because the FDA does not pre-regulate cosmetics before they reach the shelves of the neighborhood department store, it is imperative that the consumer check ingredients on the labels before purchasing. Ingredients on a label are listed from the most concentrated to the least concentrated. Many cosmetics do, indeed, contain ingredients that are unnecessary and actually dangerous, though many of those ingredients are in small amounts and do not cause great harm when used in the doses found in most cosmetics. Many cosmetics have common ingredients that correspond to their uses, and those you find in most of those common products.

Marketing Terms

Many cosmetic companies have taken to putting labels like "all natural" and organic on their products, but what do those terms actually mean? They are meant to make the product appear safer, but in reality these products may contain just as many chemicals as ordinary products. Here is what some of these tricky marketing terms actually mean:

Ingredients Banned from Cosmetics

Important Links

Consumers should always be aware of the ingredients in the makeup and solvents they put on their skin. For more information on cosmetic safety, ingredients, and banned substances, these links may be helpful: