You should definitely blow the whistle on crummy cosmetics.
Whether you’re a full-on makeup junkie who sometimes skips lunch to shop at Sephora (oh, just me?), or you occasionally throw on some powder and mascara and call it a day, there’s a chance you’ve come across a beauty or hair product that triggered a skin irritation or reaction of some sort. It’s just one of those risks you assume when you use cosmetics, which don’t have to be rigorously tested for safety by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
“You can start making a cosmetic and start selling it the next day without any kind of permission from the FDA,” Steve Xu tells NPR. Xu is a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University’s McGaw Medical Center and author of a study on problems with personal care products published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
In turn, health issues related to beauty and body care products is a pervasive issue that often goes unchecked. According to Xu and his colleagues’ analysis, people most often reported hair care products, skin care products and tattoos as the sources of problems.
Fortunately, if you have a nasty experience with a blush, body wash or other product—anything from a gasp-worthy rash to something worse, like illness, scarring or hair loss—you do have a recourse beyond notifying the manufacturer (which you should still do!).
The FDA will take complaints on a bevy of personal care products, including:
- tattoos and permanent makeup
- face and body cleansers
- moisturizers and other skin lotions and creams
- baby lotions and oils
- hair care products, dyes, conditioners, straighteners/relaxers, perms
- …and much, much more.
The FDA advises discontinuing use of the offending product (obvi) and contacting your health care provider, first and foremost. After that, the agency welcomes any complaints stemming from:
- A reaction after using a cosmetic, such as a rash, redness, burn, hair loss, headache, infection, illness or any other unexpected reaction, whether or not it required medical treatment.
- A problem with a cosmetic product, such as a bad smell, color change, other sign of contamination, or foreign material in the product.
Once you’re prepped to pipe up, you have three choices:
- Call an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator if you wish to speak directly to a person about your problem.
- Complete an online form.
- Print and fill out this form, then mail to the FDA.
Lifehacker recently reported that the FDA launched an investigation into the hair product company WEN by Chaz Dean after receiving just 127 complaints. The hair product company had received—get this—21,000 complaints. But the law doesn’t require cosmetics companies to report problems with their products to the FDA. So, it took those official government complaints by real consumers, like you, to make headway on the issue.
The bottom line: Next time you do battle with a personal care product that’s all sorts of off, there’s absolutely no shame in filing an official report with the government. You could end up saving other people from suffering a fate that’s similarly irritating (or, in some cases, much worse).