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The commercial cosmetic market addresses consumer concern and prioritizes safety faster and better than the FDA in recent years.
Fear mongering specials by USA Today, CBS, AJ+ and a variety of viral YouTube clips have been warning about dangerous chemicals in makeup and self-care products for years with little effect on the market. Now Youtubers, celebrity lines such as Goop and Poosh, and Reddit groups have changed the production tides for makeup manufacturers.
There is a well known lack of FDA approval and inspection of makeup products. Although the FDA doesn't approve individual product sales like it does with food or medication, there still are manufacturing standards and limitations on the amount of certain chemical components, just like in any industry. For example it’s perfectly legal to use chemical pesticides on vegetables that are sold in grocery stores but if a company would market their pesticide as pop, the FDA would obviously raise a red flag and prevent it from going to market. Like with all chemicals, there is a careful balance between helpfulness and harm. Too much of anything, even Vitamin C, can be deadly.
So, is it perfectly fine for small amounts of aluminum to be a standard ingredient in deodorants and talc to be the base component for powder makeup? Officially, yes, but there is still considerable buyer concern. The recent Johnson & Johnson lawsuit linking talc in baby powder to certain cancers has heightened wariness of the ingredient and a variety of studies on aluminum absorption have caused similar concern.
Without any significant studies and research proving that cosmetic ingredients are dangerous, there hasn’t been any meaningful change in chemical makeup regulation but producers have responded to consumer concern nonetheless.
Covergirl’s main makeup line launch in 2020 year was branded as “talc free” and the catchphrase “without harmful dyes, silicone or paragons,” can be heard during any TV commercial break for a variety of self-care products. Natural deodorant lines are no longer limited to Whole Foods and now fill the isles of Targets and Walmarts. The “aluminum free” tagline is a major selling point, even without a solid body of research confirming aluminum’s danger.
Similarly, “indie makeup,” which simply means independently owned or without outside financial backers is a largely self-defined industry of small and medium sized producers that leverage their cult-like following to sell products. Many indie brands capitalize on the desire for transparent ingredients lists and makeup products that avoid parabens, fragrances and formaldehyde-based ingredients.
Youtubers, bloggers and Instagram influences realized there is money to be made by selling products manufactured without preservatives and branding themselves as “clean beauty” pursuers while taking brand deals with companies that prioritize natural ingredients. The wealth of information on cosmetic ingredients' and chemicals, which 10 years ago was only available on obscure blogs or in academic journals, is now neatly packaged into short closed captioned YouTube videos.
This makeup revolution has shown that while regulators play an important role in manufacturing standards and chemical regulation, consumers are perfectly capable of being informed buyers and demanding better from brands.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org