There’s an F word out here in the cosmetics world, and that’s the FDA. Some makers and creatives cower at the rules and regulations set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration. I don’t blame them. The website is confusing, intimidating, a bit muddy and unclear, and awful to navigate. The reality is, the FDA is here to protect and serve both consumers and manufacturers.
When I first started learning the rules, I felt like I was an illiterate peon trying to navigate my way through the off-roads of a foreign land. I bought every book, read every website, peered through every article until I could grasp what was going on. I’m glad I did. The more I read, the more I understood the purpose of the FDA – they are trying to ensure customers are not being duped by products. The whole time I thought it was a war against small business and cosmetic creatives, but it’s just not the case; the war is against false claims and a whole lot of bologna being thrown out into the world.
Lately, there has been a huge crackdown by the FDA and it has caused some turbulence in the cosmetic field. All FDA warning letters are published publicly on their website and an example is the warning letter sent to this company (click here). If you notice, the FDA is stating that some of the claims this company was making about their products are considered “drugs.” Here’s the big difference: A drug makes any claims to heal or correct, whether that is internal or external. A drug MUST be evaluated by the FDA for compliance to ensure public safety. A cosmetic makes claims to improve appearance, using only ingredients that are considered “generally acceptable,” and that’s all.
I wrote a blog post about how to read cosmetic labels a little while back, which should give you some insight into the physical labeling of the product. But sometimes, it’s not the actual label which is causing problems – it’s the claims being made on websites.
An example from a big-box retailer of essential oils states that their proprietary blend “of floral and tree essential oils will help you close the door on sadness and take your first steps on a hopeful path toward emotional healing.” This is claiming to actually have an effect on your mood and mental health – by all regulations, this should be considered a drug. The FDA warned this particular company that their branding was misleading.
The particular point that is especially important for consumers is to understand the difference between a cosmetic and a drug. If the product is making drug claims, you want to check to see if it has been FDA approved, if not, they’re not only misleading you, but they are causing detriment to all the small businesses who are doing things right.
Take a look at this weight-loss supplement example. Notice all of the tactics being used to try and sway consumers? They’re trying everything from pathos, to ethos, and logos, including testimonials and made-up certifications. But go ahead and be a smart consumer and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to the fine print: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.” There’s your kicker. Let’s be realistic here, if there was truly a diet pill that was evaluated as safe and effective, it would be a prescription, under the care of a medical doctor.
I want you to be a smart and savvy consumer. You have a right to clear and transparent labeling; you have a right to really know what the products have been scientifically proven to do. You have a right to simply buy cosmetics for the sheer joy of beauty without the gimmicks and nonsense that the product will cure an ailment, or do your laundry.