Do you know what’s on your cosmetics aisle?

May 08, 2012

Cosmetic aisles see growth, and the FDC Act does not require pre-approved product labels. Retailers can empower shoppers with a broader knowledge of these ingredients, so they can make better choices.

It’s hard to ignore the continuous stream of studies and stories in the media, warning us about the safety of some ingredient we never paid attention to on the label. And for the retailer and the consumer, with so much information flowing, it can be difficult to determine which studies are credible. What we do know is that consumers are concerned and aware more than ever about what ingredients are in the food products they purchase. So how about cosmetics?

Reading the label of some beauty products can be just as intimidating as reading the label of a highly processed food. Many words are unrecognizable to shoppers, unless of course you are a scientist! And although the FDA regulates cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), the FDA does not pre-approve cosmetic product labeling. This means that if a cosmetic label is false, misleading, lacking required information, improperly displayed, or violates the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, the FDA will only intervene if a problem arises.

For example, last year the FDA reprimanded a company for a hair care product called Brazilian Blowout that contained formaldehyde. Some consumers reported skin rashes and breathing problems when they used this product. The company was not ordered to remove the product from shelves, but they were required by the FDA to include a warning on the label of this product that when heated, the ingredient methylene glycol in this product, releases formaldehyde. (Chemistry degree required to have known that without this warning!) According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are many other products that contain formaldehyde or can expose you to formaldehyde, but don’t necessarily list this as an ingredient on the label.

Healthy & Beauty Aids are a growing category for food/drug/mass merchandisers, according to data from The Nielsen Company. In the 52 weeks ending April 14, 2012, total Healthy & Beauty Aids dollar sales increased by 1.2 %, going from a little over $63 billion to over $64 billion. Specifically, Cosmetics increased by six percent in dollar sales, Grooming Aids saw a 3.5% increase, and Hair Care saw a 2.2% increase.

So as retailers expand their shelf space to make room for all of these products, how can they help consumers know what they are purchasing?

Supermarkets cannot be expected to police the industry. However, stores can educate themselves on common ingredients, and be aware of what is on your shelves. Store dietitians may be able to help facilitate a run-through of what ingredients in newly added products are and bring alert to any potential harmful ingredients. Also, store dietitians can hold workshops to educate shoppers on how to read the ingredients and what some of the more common ones are. This is not to cause alarm about ingredients and to scare your shoppers! The objective is to empower them with knowledge, so they can choose for themselves what products they are most comfortable purchasing and using.