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.
There's a vast cost discrepancy between organic food and "regular" food, but is it that much better for you?
With sale of organic food on the rise, the ongoing debate has become more polarized than ever - is organic food really that much better for your body, and the environment? Do the benefits justify the price tag? Let's start by determining what makes food 'organic' and why it costs more.
Organic farms are generally smaller and not designed or equipped to produce en masse, the way their conventional competitors can. This means while they cannot offer the price drops resultant of mass production, they do provide higher quality care for crops and livestock. Many organic farmers also practice crop rotation - after harvesting a successful cash crop farmers will plant a different crop to help replenish all of the nutrients in the soil. This because otherwise the soil will be more quickly deprived of its nutrient content. Large conventional farms have the land resources to grow cash crops year long. Without the use of chemical additives and growth hormones, crops and livestock take longer to mature Without the use of pesticides,more crop damage occurs resulting in less output. Also Obtaining the official 'organic' certification requires farmers and their farms undergo arduous and expensive procedures. There are many farms that grow food organically however they do not bear the official government 'organic' stamp.
A 2012 study conducted by Stanford University analyzed a wealth of data, seeking to determine if food bearing the 'organic' label provided more or less nutritional value. While they discovered that organic foods didn't necessarily provide more health value, crops and livestock farmed organically were shown to retain less pesticide traces and less antibiotic resistant bacteria.
It would seem the true reason for the difference in price is good old capitalism. Supply and demand. Because there's less organically farmed food available on the market and it takes longer to produce and is in produced in lower quantities, and because demand continues to rise, so does the price.
So is it really worth it? Probably not. The extra money you pay for organic food isn't because it's that much better for you. You're really paying for the 'organic' stamp from the USDA, and the increased cost of organic farming.
For those interested in the environmental, ethical, and even taste benefits of organic food, your best bet is to shop your local farmers markets. Many local farmers don't necessarily go through the hoops required to obtain the USDA 'organic' stamp, but they practice organic farming and do not use additives, hormones, or heavy pesticides.