In my last post here I promised to share more about what I have been learning about the cosmetic industry and how it pertains to us as consumers. An important step in becoming an informed consumer is to understand not just what is listed on the labels (more on that in later posts) but perhaps even more importantly what may not be on the label. To go along with these potentially missing items we should also understand why they are allowed to be left off under the current regulations of cosmetics.
The company that boldly confirmed the years worth of rumors about companies using bi-products of aborted fetal tissue in skincare products is a company based out of Switzerland by the name of Neocutis. They were the first, and to my knowledge the only company to openly disclose and even use it as a positive marketing point of their products the fact that they use PSP® (Processed Skin Cell Proteins) and openly discloses that it is derived from fetal skin cells.
This can leave one wondering why and how a company could have used ingredients like this and even had the option to leave it off the label. It seems like a pretty important thing to know about a product before you use it.
Here’s something you need to understand about almost all skincare and cosmetic companies.
Ready for it?
They are not Full Disclosure companies.
As a matter of fact, most are anti-disclosure companies.
From a business perspective it does make sense. If you disclose everything you put into a product it means your competition can knock off your product faster and easier than perhaps they could otherwise. Understandably there is a desire to protect ones unique, usually costly to develop and have tested product.
So how is it legal to do this though? As any business owner can attest, just because something makes good money making sense it does not mean it’s legal. Aren’t our rights as consumers supposed to be protected by laws and policies set in place by Government Agencies? And shouldn’t our rights to be informed consumers supersede a companies money making interests?
Cosmetics marketed in the United States, whether they are manufactured here or are imported from other countries, must comply with the labeling requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), and regulations published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the authority of these two laws. That seems like a lot of supervision and a lot of accountability for the Cosmetic industry.
Upon closer inspection however a less comforting picture begins to appear.
The FDA does not have the authority to pre-approve the labeling of cosmetic products before they are placed on the market, the manufacturer and/or distributor have the responsibility to ensure their products are labeled properly. This means that if somebody in the FDA happens to get around to testing and reviewing a cosmetic product and finds that what is on the label does not add up with what is actually in the product the company can be in big trouble. However, unless someone blows the whistle on them in a big enough way to attract the FDA’s attention many companies can go years and years without their products coming up for testing and review. This means that the actual accountability offered by the FDA for cosmetics is loose and randomly enforced at best.
Under the FPLA, if a product is sold on a retail basis to consumers, the ingredients must conspicuously appear on an information panel and be displayed in such a manner that it is likely to be read at the time of purchase. More importantly, the ingredients must be listed in descending order of quantity used, with few exceptions. One such all important exception includes the listing of trade secret ingredients. If the FDA pre-approves a company’s request for trade secret exemption, then that “trade secret” ingredient does not need to be declared on the label, and in lieu of declaring the name of that ingredient, the company may state the phrase “and other ingredients” at the end of the declaration of ingredients. The cosmetic company must first obtain FDA approval for trade secret exemption through a confidential application process before the cosmetic company is exempt from publicly declaring all ingredients.
If a company has applied for this trade secret exemption from the FDA they are excused from disclosure obligations on their label no matter what quantity these “trade secret ingredients” may be in the end product. I used to be under the mistaken impression that as long as these undeclared ingredients stayed below a certain total percentage of the product that is what determined whether it had to be disclosed or not. For example, it had to be less than 3% of the total whole of the product. Under this trade secret exemption however that is not true. No longer can I comfort myself upon reading the phrase and other ingredients on a label “Oh well, at least it’ll only be a little bit of the total product…” The fact that it is listed last in the ingredients means nothing in regards to quantities and percentages used on a cosmetic product label.
So where does that leave us? Hopefully examining our current cosmetic labels to satisfy personal curiosity. But if the label isn’t required by governing agencies to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth how can we even trust what the label says? This is the time to pick up the phone, hop on-line and shoot off an e-mail, chat up a live support person or whatever venue of communication you find easiest and ask a very simple question of the companies that provide your makeup and skincare cosmetics.
This one question should enlighten you as to whether or not you can trust the labels produced by their companies.
“Are you a full disclosure company?”
If the answer is no, balking, obfuscating or excuses making (aka explaining how they have a moral obligation to protect their proprietary ingredients) then it is probably time to find a new company. Seek out Full Disclosure Companies. Ask before you buy.
You may not like everything they disclose but at least they’ll be doing the courtesy of being honest to you as the consumer so you can CHOOSE to put those ingredients on your skin or not.
For all the criticism and flack Neocutis has received from organizations around the world for revealing their “secret” ingredient to their highly successful products I feel like they should in some way be applauded. They have had the courtesy to you as the consumer to freely disclose what they use and how they use it. On their website they openly share the process of how their product was developed. Whether you like it or not, morally and ethically agree with their ingredient sourcing they have put the freedom of being an informed consumer back into your hands when it comes down to evaluating their business and products. There are more than 100 other large cosmetic companies out there that manufacture similar anti aging products as Neocutis. To date, as far as I was able to verify not a single one of them have agree to go on public record with a full disclosure of all their ingredients so that pro life organizations can whole heartedly endorse them as being fetal skin cell free.
Neocutis has put the freedom of informed choice back where it belongs and has taken the hailstorm of criticism and boycotts as a result but has not back pedaled or faltered in it’s open policy marketing. Demand the same courtesy of full disclosure of other companies before you give them business and have the courage to withhold your business if they refuse.
Coming up soon: Common ingredients in cosmetics and skincare and what they do…for the makeup and to you.