By: Jazmin Smith, Senior Staff Member
Urban Decay NAKED eye shadow palette (pictured above): $54.00.[i] Guerlain Exceptional Complete Mascara: $52.00.[ii] Make Up For Ever foundation: $42.00 for one ounce.[iii] Crème de la Mer moisturizing face cream: $295.00 for two ounces.[iv] Many women swear by these products, despite the lofty price tags. The cost of being beautiful is high, and some consumers are turning to online shopping to find deals on name-brand cosmetics. On eBay, Amazon, and unofficial cosmetic websites, one can find makeup for half the cost; for example, the NAKED 2 eye shadow palette is available at the low price of $13.78 on www.shopurbandecay.com,[v] which is not Urban Decay’s official website. Thirteen dollars may seem like a steal, but there’s a catch: these “bargain” cosmetics contain harmful levels of mercury, lead, beryllium, aluminum, and bacteria.[vi]
Counterfeit cosmetics are on the rise, and they are difficult to spot (aside from the low prices). The packaging is usually nearly identical to the name-brand product, but the real difference is in the formula. These counterfeit products are often made in unsterile environments, and likely contain carcinogens. They have been found to cause acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections.[vii] Counterfeit fragrances are known to contain urine and a substance called DEHP, which has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA.[viii] Paint stripper and nail varnish removers have been found in counterfeit mascara.[ix] The list goes on and on, and there isn’t much the FDA can do.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government does not regulate cosmetics for safety.[x] The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) does not provide for any type of premarket approval.[xi] Words like 'herbal,' 'natural,' even 'organic' that can be seen on many cosmetic labels have no legal definition, meaning that anyone can put anything in a bottle and call it ‘natural.’[xii] Neither the FD&C Act, nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients.[xiii] Additionally, the law does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA, nor do manufacturers have to register their establishments.[xiv] Finally, the FDA cannot order recalls of cosmetics.[xv] The FDA can only take regulatory action through the Department of Justice to remove adulterated and misbranded cosmetics from the market.[xvi] Cosmetics that are not in compliance with the law may be subject to seizure.[xvii]
Though the FDA does not have much legal authority over cosmetics, the government is working to prevent the sale of counterfeit cosmetics. The National Intellectual Property Rights Center (IPR Center) is coordinating with state and local governments and trying to keep fake products off the market.[xviii] Though the IPR Center is at work, these products are still out there. Next time you think you’ve found a good deal, pay attention to where you’re purchasing the product from, and examine the packaging, smell, and texture before using it on your skin. A good bargain isn’t worth the risk when it comes to cosmetics.
[i] Urban Decay, http://www.urbandecay.com/naked-3-palette-by-urban-decay/409.html#start=11&cgid=1 (last visited Aug. 26, 2014).
[ii] Sephora, http://www.sephora.com/noir-g-de-guerlain-exceptional-complete-mascara-P303407?skuId=1395508 (last visited Aug. 26, 2014).
[iii] Sephora, http://www.sephora.com/product/productDetail.jsp?keyword=MAKE%20UP%20FOR%20EVER%20HD%20Invisible%20Cover%20Foundation%20P217905&skuId=1096908&productId=P217905&_requestid=122071 (last visited Aug. 26, 2014).
[iv] Crème de la Mer, http://www.cremedelamer.com/product/5834/12343/Moisturizers/Crme-de-la-Mer/Ultra-rich-dewy-finish (last visited Aug. 26, 2014).
[vi] Press Release, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterfeit Cosmetics, Fragrances Hazardous to Your Health (Jan. 2, 2014) available at http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/january/counterfeit-cosmetics-fragrances-hazardous-to-your-health.
[x] See U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Authority Over Cosmetics, http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/guidanceregulation/lawsregulations/ucm074162.htm (2013).
[xii] Organic Consumers Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/index.cfm (last visited Aug. 26, 2014).
[xiii] U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Authority Over Cosmetics, http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/guidanceregulation/lawsregulations/ucm074162.htm (2013).
[xviii] Press Release, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterfeit Cosmetics, Fragrances Hazardous to Your Health (Jan. 2, 2014) available at http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/january/counterfeit-cosmetics-fragrances-hazardous-to-your-health.