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Hurt by cosmetics? Tell the feds

March 31, 2011

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If you’ve ever suffered from a rash, hair loss, infection, or other problem after using personal care products or cosmetics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to hear from you. And yes, even if you didn’t follow product directions.

Though cosmetics and personal care products are widely used – on average, women apply an average of 12 different products containing 168 chemicals each day – most don’t require FDA approval before they’re sold in stores and salons or at makeup counters.

To identify trends and to remove unsafe products, the FDA is encouraging consumers to file adverse reaction reports. So if you’ve ever broken out in a rash after using makeup or applying a sunless tanning, or your son’s skin turned blotchy after he had his face painted at a school carnival, the FDA would like to know.

They’re also interested if a product smells bad or has an odd color — which could signal contamination — or if the item’s label is incomplete or inaccurate.

The FDA’s education and outreach effort is a good start, said Stacy Malkan, cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national watchdog group working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from personal care products. “They definitely need the data," Malkan said. “The question is,’ what are they going to do with it?”

Citing the Brazilian Blowout hair straightening treatments, which are banned in many countries, Malkan argued the FDA has a weak track record when it comes to protecting the public from dangerous cosmetics. "It’s time to reform the 70-year-old cosmetics regulations in the U.S. and give FDA the authority and resources to keep unsafe products off the market," she wrote.

Cosmetics, according to the FDA, include anti-aging skin creams, face and body cleansers, deodorants, baby lotions and oils, shaving products, perfumes, face paints, hair removal creams and permanent makeup.

How to file a report

Contact MedWatch, FDA’s problem-reporting program, or call 1-800-332-1088.


Try to have the following information for the report:
* The name and contact information for the person who had the reaction;
* The age, gender, and ethnicity of the product’s user (this helps scientists spot trends);
* The name of the product and manufacturer;
* A description of the reaction—and treatment, if any;
* The healthcare provider’s name and contact information, if medical attention was provided; and
* When and where the product was purchased.