Claire’s case highlights lack of FDA oversight

Medha Upadhyay

While looking for makeup, shoppers often consider brand, price and quality. But it may be time to add a new factor: toxicity. In America, where a sense of false security is common among consumers due to the numerous committees and laws dedicated to their protection, most believe that the products they buy have undergone strict examination. This, however, is not always the case.

On Dec. 28, Claire’s, a makeup and accessory store, issued recalls for several of its makeup products after Kristiana Warner, a Rhode Island woman, claimed that she had found asbestos in several Claire’s products, including eye shadows, blushes and compact powders. Asbestos is a mineral that was popularly used in building insulation for years, but was proven to be toxic in 1973, and has since been linked with cancer and mesothelioma, a deadly lung disease. Warner mailed her six-year-old daughter’s makeup to the Scientific Analytical Institute, a North Carolina lab that specializes in testing for toxic substances, and the results revealed traces of cancer-causing tremolite asbestos.

“Harsher regulations, more restricting guidelines [should be put in place],” said art teacher and InDesign club advisor Charlotte Kruk. “That’s a really negative thing. Nothing can have asbestos by today’s standards.”

After the recall, Claire’s came forward to say that it had sent its products for testing, and had found these products to be asbestos-free. Despite Claire’s findings, the Scientific Analytical Institute continues to back their own, claiming that the exact product they tested has not yet been re-tested by Claire’s. Additionally, Claire’s has not specified which labs tested their products, which has led many to question the products’ safety.

“It is unsafe, if there is even a possibility of asbestos being in the products,” said senior and InDesign club president Christina Chen. “If a person bought makeup, and they are not sure about [what the ingredients are], then it is not fair to them because they are buying something without being told what is in it. If the company is not saying the truth and being honest to their consumers, then it should not be a safe brand that people trust.”

Although it is unclear whether or not asbestos was present in the Claire’s products, this case brings to light numerous discrepancies in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations. Although the FDA’s job is to protect consumers from potentially dangerous cosmetics, companies are still able to sell products with harmful substances by exploiting loopholes in FDA regulations. Currently, companies can easily avoid sharing the ingredients used in their products by claiming that doing so would give away “trade secrets.” Additionally, the U.S. only bans about ten chemicals in cosmetics while the European Union has over a thousand banned, and consumers are paying for these lax regulations.

“The FDA should intervene in cases like this, as it has the ability to affect many people’s lives” said sophomore Aayushi Jani. “The government should impose stricter regulations because an incident like this should not occur again.”

The FDA mainly relies on direct reports from customers in order to launch investigations into potentially harmful products. Even after customers have filed complaints, however, the FDA has no legal authority to recall the product, so it is entirely possible that the harmful products  remain on the market.

“The FDA should impose harsher regulations, more restricting guidelines,” said Kruk. “[Cosmetic] companies should not be allowed to sell dangerous makeup — that’s so terrible.”

In fact, companies are not even required to forward complaints to the FDA, meaning that such concerns often go ignored, and no changes are made to the product in question. Even terms like “organic” and “hypoallergenic” are unregulated, giving them little to no meaning in the cosmetic industry.

All this may tempt shoppers to throw their makeup out the window, but such drastic measures are not yet necessary. Avoiding fragrances is one way to steer clear of toxins, as it can take hundreds of chemicals to create a single fragrance. Lipsticks are also notoriously known to contain lead, a dangerous neurotoxin. Customers would be well-advised to stay away from ingredients such as mineral oil, paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum, petroleum jelly, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol and polysorbates. These are petroleum derivatives, meaning they are extracted from crude oil. They have a nearly infinite shelf life, and are cheap and abundant, but can also lead to allergies and are known toxins. Parabens, phenoxyethanol and benzyl alcohol are preservatives that can disrupt hormones and nerves.

“We’re living in a poisonous world,” said Kruk. “I think that with makeup, it’s buyer beware. None of that stuff is good for you. I just wish that the message we were sending our young people is that they are gorgeous without all that nonsense.”

While these cautionary steps may seem unnecessary, it is becoming increasingly clear that each consumer must watch out for his or her own health and safety, even if it is something as simple as choosing what makeup products to purchase. Relying solely on government regulations to keep shoppers safe is no longer a viable option.