The cosmetics industry is surprisingly under-regulated.
Since the passing of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the U.S. cosmetics industry–currently valued at $62 billion–has been under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This Act, a 112-page law passed in 1938, provides exactly one full page detailing the regulation of cosmetics, and according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics "provides virtually no power to perform even the most rudimentary functions to ensure the safety" of the enormous industry. While food and pharmaceuticals tend to face stringent regulations–think Taco Bell and their not-allowed-to-call-this-beef mystery sludge–cosmetics have been virtually regulation-free for the past 80 years. Most cosmetics don't even need FDA approval, and are largely self-regulated by the companies that produce them.
While this lack of restrictions may be unsurprising to people familiar with the industry, stranger still are the rules about reporting customer complaints. For example, if a certain chemical in your mascara is causing your eyelashes to fall out and you file a complaint with the manufacturer, the company has no legal obligation to report this to the FDA. It's within the manufacturer's rights to keep that information private and do with it as they see fit. In short, even if a makeup company is poisoning people, there are no laws requiring them to recall their products.
This stuff'll kill ya
A real life example of this, is the scandal surrounding WEN Hair Care, a company founded by celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean. In 2014, the FDA opened a file on them after receiving 127 customer complaints about WEN's products causing hair loss. The subsequent investigation revealed that more than 21,000 complaints had gone unreported. Years later, the FDA still doesn't know what ingredient caused the alleged hair loss, and following an internal clinical trial by WEN, the company is once again touting their products as safe. Obviously, from a public relations standpoint the damage has been done and no amount of testimonials are going to fix WEN's image. Still, the fact that after a $26 million class-action lawsuit WEN and the FDA don't know what ingredient caused the hair loss borders on absurdity. For reference, try imagining how well that would go over for a company selling anti-inflammatories.
Hair loss from WEN productsPeople Magazine
This isn't the only way in which the beauty industry dodges regulations however. There are certain terms, like organic and hypoallergenic that while not completely devoid of meaning, have very wide parameters governing their use. The word organic as it pertains to foods/cosmetics, isn't regulated by the FDA, but rather the National Organic Program (NOP), a subsection of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the USDA is a federal department, its primary focus, as its name implies, is agriculture. Regarding cosmetics, all the USDA can really do is determine whether or not the plants from which the ingredients are harvested, are organically (meaning pesticide/GMO-free) grown. Since the USDA has no jurisdiction over the process with which makeup and other cosmetics are made, the organic label means very little. The term hypoallergenic definition is even looser, as in the FDA's own website says there are no federal regulations surrounding the use of hypoallergenic on packaging. The word essentially means nothing.
Lead-based makeup was all the rage...like literally, the lead poisoning drove people insane.
When looking back at pre-industrial beauty trends, it's easy to look at the lead-based makeup of the 17th and 18th centuries that poisoned so many royals, and write it off as primitive, but our startling lack of legislation designed to protect present-day makeup consumers might be leave us in a similar predicament. As recently as two months ago, the FDA had been investigating Claire's, under the suspicion that their foundation contains tremolite. Tremolite has been linked to lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, and is an extremely dangerous poison.
All this said, most makeup and skincare products won't kill you and are perfectly safe to use regularly. The purpose of this article isn't to be unnecessarily alarmist, but rather to illustrate the dangers an unregulated industry can pose to the general public. Unfortunately, barring a major change in legislation, consumers and not the federal government are responsible for ensuring that their cosmetics are safe. So before you go out and buy that new mascara at Sephora or that new face wash from Ulta, do a little research. Check the ingredients and find out if they're dangerous before you buy. It's definitely inconvenient, but most things that are good for you are.
Tattoos have evolved over the years, but are they harmful or toxic to the body?
When most cancer survivors ask their oncologists if they can get a tattoo, the answer is, "No! And don't even think about it." The reason often stems from numerous studies looking at a possible connection between tattoos and leukemia, a blood cancer. The big concern is chemicals in the dye that will go directly on and potentially in the skin. The key questions many studies are trying to answer right now are: "What are in the dyes?" "Do they go directly into the blood stream for some or all?" "What is the impact of the dyes long-term?" and "Why are those dyes not regulated in he first place?"
So if everything else that can potentially go into your bloodstream is regulated, then why isn't tattoo ink?
First, to give you perspective, I have to share one cautionary rule that many oncologists tell survivors to follow in order to lower their risk, and this is certainly good for anyone. Think before you apply anything to your skin because it does have the potential to go directly into your bloodstream, and that includes sunscreen, bug spray or lotion. This should come as no surprise, especially with the existence of a birth control patch the size of a bandage that goes directly into your bloodstream. So if everything else that can potentially go into your bloodstream is regulated, why isn't tattoo ink?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states on its website, "While state and local authorities oversee the practice of tattooing, ink and ink colorings (pigments) used in tattoos are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. However, because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them." After receiving various reports of adverse reactions to tattoo ink, the FDA launched an investigation in 2008. It has a warning on its website to consumers that says several of the pigments used in tattoo ink are "industrial-grade colors suitable for printers' ink or automobile paint."
The FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), research chemist Paul Howard, Ph.D., and his team are investigating to get more answers. What they do know is that some ink particles have shown the ability to go beyond the skin, into the bloodstream and into the lymph nodes or lymphatic system, which is where the body carries out disease-causing organisms. That's a problem. The FDA also found some potentially dangerous substances, including metals and hydrocarbons that are known carcinogens in the ink, saying, "One chemical commonly used to make black ink called benzo(a)pryrene is known to be a potent carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal tests."
Some ink particles have shown the ability to go beyond the skin, into the bloodstream and into the lymph nodes or lymphatic system, which is where the body carries out disease-causing organisms.
Outside the US, more studies are being conducted. One out of the University of Bradford in the UK found that the tattoo process removes the body's main connective tissue and the ink particles leave the surface of the skin and travel elsewhere. Another study out of the UK is led by Jorgen Serup, a professor of dermatology at Copenhagen's Bispebjerg University Hospital. He claims that he found evidence that the nanoparticles present in inks can reach major organs of the body and cause cancer. According to the International Business Times, the study says that as many as 13 out of 21 commonly used European inks have cancer causing chemicals in them. The article goes on to state that the Tattoo Ink Manufacturers of Europe "believe that about 5 percent of European tattooists use toxic ink, and wants the EU to compel ink makers to conduct risk assessments on their products and make the results public."
Think that henna tattoos might be your best shot? Think again! The Telegraph looked at a study in the United Arab Emirates, published in the "Leukemia and Lymphoma Journal." Women there who use henna to stain their nails, hands, feet, etc., face a higher incidence of leukemia. They said it is not the henna itself that is the problem but rather the compounds used as a solvent for the henna powder. That solvent contains benzene, which is known to cause cancer. According to the Telegraph, benzene is banned in many countries but still used.
I checked many tattoo website across the country to see if, perhaps, a newer, "cleaner" dye has been introduced since these studies were published, but I found no mention of anything. A few sites mentioned that there are always risks since it is a dye/pigment is permanently being added to the layers of your skin. Bottom line: There is no hard evidence that there is a 100 percent connection to leukemia but there is much cause for concern about what chemicals are in the ink, the long-term effects of the ink, and how the ink enters the body. Ask questions. Know before you ink. Perhaps, if you have a history of cancer in your family and you are at higher risk, talk to your doctor as well.