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Chairman Alexander Holds Senate Health Hearing on Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 22 Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) prepared remarks for today’s hearing, “Exploring Current Practices in Cosmetic Development and Safety,” are as follows: 

Today’s hearing is an opportunity for the committee to learn about how cosmetics and personal care products are developed, what is being done to make sure they are safe, and what we can improve to better ensure the safety of these products that Americans spend $60 billion on each year.

Most hearings should really be called talkings – but today I’m planning to hold a true hearing, and spend most of my time listening to what our witnesses have to say.

I'm grateful to Senators Feinstein and Collins for asking us to take a look at this issue.

Cosmetics aren’t just lipsticks and fingernail polish – they include a range of personal care products.

When a father brushes his toddler’s teeth at night or draws him a bubble bath– he’s using cosmetics.

And in the morning, when that father uses shaving cream and puts on deodorant he’s using cosmetics then too.

There are an estimated 8 billion personal care products sold in the U.S. annually.

In a one-year period from 2014 to 2015, the average US household spent over $650 on personal care products and services.  

My hope today is to better understand how cosmetic products are developed, how the safety of those products is reviewed before they go on the market, and how individual ingredients are reviewed to ensure they are safe.

We will also hear about possible public health and safety challenges with respect to cosmetics and their ingredients, ways safety issues are currently addressed, and possible ways to improve oversight.

Congress, through the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, along with the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate cosmetics. 

Congress defined cosmetics as products intended for “cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”

Congress gave FDA a variety of powers to make sure cosmetics are:

  • labeled correctly;
  • safe for use; and
  • do not contain ingredients that would cause harm or are contaminated.

To do that job, FDA has a number of tools, including:

  • the ability to inspect cosmetic manufacturers;
  • ability to receive and review reports of adverse customer reaction related to the use of a cosmetic; and
  • the power to remove any adulterated or misbranded cosmetics from the market.

Much of what we think of as cosmetics are also subject to other regulations.

If a cosmetic product is intended to help in the “diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” then it is also regulated as a drug. 

Toddler toothpaste is a cosmetic, but fluoride toothpaste is also regulated as a drug.

Moisturizer is a cosmetic, but moisturizer with sunscreen is also regulated as a drug.

Soap is regulated by the Consumer Safety Products Commission. But if it’s intended to make you smell good, it’s regulated as a cosmetic.

So what happens if a cosmetic causes harm?

FDA maintains an adverse event reporting system known as CAERS which tracks adverse events associated with cosmetics, as well as food and dietary supplements.

There’s a story in the news this year about a line of hair products called WEN that have reportedly caused rashes and hair loss. 

FDA received 127 adverse event reports related to WEN between February 2011 and July 7, 2016. 

That’s a lot of reports, given that FDA typically receives between 300 and 400 adverse event reports related to cosmetics in a year. 

I am interested in learning why FDA waited so long to alert the public, and whether there is more FDA could be doing within its existing authorities to protect consumers from potentially dangerous products. 

In order to better understand how FDA is using its current authorities, and to what extent there is room for improvement or a need for additional tools, I have sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Califf asking questions about their activities and authorities related to cosmetics. 

The cosmetics industry has had its own review process since 1976.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) is an independent panel created by the Personal Care Products Council.

This panel includes physicians and scientists from universities, hospitals, and laboratories around the country who review and assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics on the market today. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the work this panel does. 

I am concerned that FDA already has a full plate of responsibilities in protecting the public health.

I look forward to hearing if we need to strengthen and improve current practices, including those of CIR or FDA.  And if so, how can Congress help ensure FDA has the tools it needs to better protect the public health, while also balancing what it currently has on its plate.

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For access to this release and Chairman Alexander’s other statements, click here.