The skin care industry is under increasing pressure to offer new and more effective products to mothers.
The cosmetics industry is in a tough spot.
In 2015, the US Department of Justice announced a new federal law that requires cosmetics companies to make more informed, evidence-based decisions about their ingredients.
But a new study by the UK’s Centre for Applied Science Research (CAS) and the University of Exeter, published in the Journal of Clinical Dermatology, found that many cosmetic products, including many that are advertised as natural, are in fact manufactured in highly regulated labs that do not require any safety oversight.
“The cosmetics companies have a responsibility to take the safety of their products very seriously, and the evidence from the research shows that they do not,” says Dr Sarah Ritchie, a clinical dermatologist at the University Hospital of Birmingham, UK.
She adds that cosmetics companies should look to the “scientific literature” and to the best available scientific research, which “isn’t always a straightforward process”.
“Many of the chemicals in cosmetics are not tested for safety, and therefore there are no clear guidelines about what is safe and what is not,” she says.
CAS says its findings suggest that there is a gap between what is being advertised about skin care and what consumers actually need.
What’s more, there are several reasons why the cosmetics industry may be failing to meet consumer expectations.
First, the cosmetics companies do not have the data to monitor their products, and are relying on “hype” to justify their marketing.
A recent survey of 1,500 consumers by consumer magazine Consumer Reports found that only 12 per cent believed that the products they used were safe.
Secondly, many products advertised as being “natural” contain chemical ingredients that are not required for their intended use, such as alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde and hydroquinone.
Thirdly, the cosmetic industry is not equipped to provide a comprehensive safety assessment, and does not provide adequate information about the safety and efficacy of the products.
While cosmetic companies are not legally required to report safety issues, they should “make it clear to the public that they are working towards a safe product and not misleading consumers about its ingredients,” says CAS’s Dr Ritchie.
“[This is] something we are urging all cosmetics companies, as well as consumers, to do.”
“If they’re going to have products that are ‘natural’, why aren’t they using these ingredients in their formulas?” says CAS researcher Dr Susanne Evers, a professor of cosmetic surgery at the Medical College of Wales, UK, and chair of the Cosmetic and Cosmetic Dermatological Society’s (CCDRS) expert advisory committee on cosmetics.
Dr Evers says the cosmetics industries “are not aware of what the best scientific evidence says”.
It is not clear how much data there is on the safety aspects of cosmetics.
A recent study published in Science found that “natural cosmetics” are “consistent” with their ingredient lists, and that “a high percentage of ingredients are safe” (Source: Science Daily).
However, it also found that cosmetic ingredients that “appear to be beneficial” for skin health are not considered to be “essential” ingredients.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that a product should be labelled as “natural”, “clean”, “organic” or “biodegradable” if it contains less than 0.5 per cent or less than 1 per cent of synthetic ingredients.
“If the product contains less of the ingredients listed, the FDA does not consider it a ‘natural’ product,” says a spokesperson for the agency.
According to Dr Evers and CAS, cosmetics companies are often “trying to sell their products as natural or ‘clean’.” In their research, CAS and Dr Rickey found that cosmetics are being advertised as containing “natural ingredients”, but the products actually contain many more ingredients than those that are listed as “essential”.
This is “because the products often contain ingredients that have been shown to be harmful in studies,” says Evers.
This could include benzene, formaldehydes, formic acid, formate and triclosan, as can certain “food-grade” preservatives such as hydrogenated oils.
Cosmetic companies may also be using “natural-sounding names”, such as “baby-safe”, “scent-free”, “hydrating” and “water-resistant” because they want consumers to believe that these products are “natural”.
What can you do to stop the cosmetics marketing hype?
The cosmetics marketing industry is “tried and tested”, says Ritchie “but it has failed to make the consumer aware that it has the power to make decisions that are good for their skin, and in some cases are good, if we stop it from doing