What’s a Drug and What’s a Cosmetic?
A couple of weeks ago we asked you what your fountain of youth was. I made the maybe-annoying (but totally sincere!) point that for me it’s all about smiling, exercise, diet, sleep, sex and…argan oil. In other words, I don’t put much stock in products that claim to be anti-agers, because I understand the science of how our skin changes as we get older, and because I know women of all ages with lines and freckles and whatnot who absolutely embody grace and beauty—and their husbands and boyfriends and girlfriends think so too.
But we still like to keep tabs on what’s going on in the anti-aging market, and as it turns out, so does the FDA. Say what?
From Beauty Schooled:
Over 80 companies — including big girl brands like L’Oreal, Avon and Revlon! — are on a special FDA watch list because the agency believes they may be importing, manufacturing or shipping skin care creams that make “drug claims,” like that said skin cream can alter the structure or function of your body (cellulite and wrinkle erasers, anyone?) or treat or prevent disease. This is a violation of pretty much the only cosmetics law we have in this country. And the beauty industry can’t even follow that one.
We talk a little in the book about confusing “cosmeceuticals”—this is a made up marketing term that means nothing but implies a lot. Specifically: a performance that could be almost drug-like, and the sense that it may be doctor-recommended, probably because so many of these lines are actually by doctors. These are essentially products that make drug-like claims, but are regulated (which is to say, are not really regulated at all) as cosmetics.
By definition, cosmetics are supposed to be, well, cosmetic. According to the FDA, cosmetics are defined by their intended use, as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”
If it were true that all cosmetics do is alter appearance and “promote attractiveness” (LOL), then we wouldn’t have had a book to write. We’d also have really dirty clothes, because that would mean our skin is impermeable and so everything we put on ourselves would just rub off onto anything else that touched it, which is obviously not what happens.
The bottom line is it’s simply not true that cosmetics behave in a way that is purely cosmetic. So shouldn’t some of them be treated like drugs? Yes, say many experts—even some conservative ones who probably disagree with almost everything else we say. Tthe FDA even has a section of its site devoted to the matter.
Through the trusty channels of skin absorption and inhalation, some—though not all—ingredients do make their way into our bodies, where all kinds of undesirable things can happen. So the problem, as we see it, is the way cosmetics are defined in the first place. The science has outpaced the definitions and the regulations, and based on what we now know about some ingredients—from the ones that promise to plump up our smile lines to the ones that promise nothing but can sneak into our bodies and mess with our hormones—it’s time for the FDA to hop out of its time machine and do something.