Cosmetics Side Effects Are on the Rise: Here’s Why

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( — June 7, 2018) — Have you ever felt itchy after using a specific brand of makeup? Or have you noticed a rash on your body after using sunscreen?

If so, you may be personally experiencing the rise in side effects from cosmetic products that’s plaguing the cosmetics industry. According to research from the JAMA Internal Medicine, cosmetic products (including makeup, hair color, and sunscreen) have been increasingly associated with adverse side effects; there have been an average of 396 reports per year, over the past 12-year period, but between 2015 and 2016, that number jumped dramatically. In 2015, there were 706 events, and in 2016, there were 1,591.

So why are these adverse side effects on the rise?

Motivating Factors

These are just some of the reasons.

1. Lack of ingredient regulation. Depending on the specific product, many cosmetic companies aren’t required to fully disclose the ingredients in their products. They may be required to list the specific ingredients, to an extent, and warn consumers about potential allergens contained within, but they don’t have to tell you what those ingredients are for, or where they came from. Some companies, like Milani Cosmetics, go out of their way to demonstrate transparency by describing their cosmetic ingredients in full—but these are the exception to the norm. Accordingly, consumers often use products they don’t fully understand, exposing themselves to potentially harmful chemicals.

2. Lack of laws for advertising reports. There are also different laws in place for how manufacturers must respond to adverse effects. Unlike companies producing drugs or medical devices, cosmetic companies aren’t required by law to report negative side effects—even if they’re coming in high volumes. Manufacturing companies that want to cover up or avoid discussing these side effects find it relatively easy to do so, though the FDA still collects and may take action on consumer complaints.

3. Specific incidents. The rise in reported adverse effects can also be linked to a handful of specific products that were especially problematic in 2015 and 2016. For example, WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioner products have been widely associated with “hair loss, hair breakage, balding, itching, and rash.” The FDA is continuing to investigate more than 1,000 reports about this series of products alone.

4. Use cases. We may also be seeing a spike in cosmetic side effects because of the sheer amount of times we use them. Unlike with prescription drugs or medical devices, the vast majority of Americans use some kind of cosmetic product every day, with most of us using several products a day. That instantly multiplies our potential exposure to harmful chemicals, which could be damaging our hair and skin.

How to Protect Yourself

Knowing this, what active steps can you take to minimize your risk at experiencing these adverse effects?

  • Pay attention to labels. Though ingredients labels can still be deceiving, it’s important to pay attention to them. Does this company list their ingredients out transparently, or are you confused about what some of these ingredients are for? A quick online search can probably tell you whether that unfamiliar chemical name is a standard for the industry, or if it’s something new, with questionable efficacy.
  • Know which products you’re using. Approximately 35 percent of all these new complaints came from hair care products, including shampoos, conditioners, and styling aids. Another 22 percent came from skin care products. Recognizing which products you’re using on a daily basis, and limiting that range, can help you avoid many potential side effects.
  • Buy from brands you trust. Whenever you can, buy from a brand you trust. If you’ve been getting their products for years with no issues, it’s less likely that you’re going to experience a sudden outbreak of a rash or other side effect. Look for companies with a track record of quality and transparency.
  • Try new products gradually. If you are going to try new products from new brands, make sure to try them gradually. Use small amounts of the product at first, one day at a time, to determine whether you’re at risk for a side effect.

Until new regulation forces the cosmetics industry to do a better job reporting on their ingredients (and adverse effects), it’s on consumers to protect themselves from potentially harmful products. Raise your own awareness and pay close attention to the labels on your favorite products, and you’ll greatly minimize your chances of experiencing a negative side effect.