FDA Targets Cosmetics That Make ‘Hollow’ Promises

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The number of unlawful claims made by beauty products is on the rise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. So, the federal agency is on the move.

The FDA announced this week that it’s sending warning letters to cosmetics companies whose non-drug products make claims that could only be true of drugs:

These letters state that the products are being marketed with drug claims — indicating that they are intended to treat or prevent disease, or change the body’s structure or functions. The agency tells companies that they need to remove any drug claims from their products’ labeling or seek FDA approval to market these products as drugs.

If companies fail to comply, the FDA says it might take further action, such as removing products from the market.

Examples of the drug claims made by non-drug cosmetics include:

  • Treating medical conditions such as acne
  • Treating dandruff
  • Restoring hair
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Regenerating cells
  • Preventing facial muscle contractions
  • Reducing wrinkles by improving collagen production
  • Providing the same results as prescription injections or surgery

These products make specific therapeutic claims that the FDA reviews to make sure they are accurate, according to FDA dermatologist Jane Liedtka.

L’Oréal, for example, was cited last month for online claims about two of its serums, Rosalic AR Intense (the FDA says L’Oréal claims it treats rosacea-like “redness,”) and Mela-D Pigment Control (the FDA says L’Oréal claims it treats “dark spots and discolorations”).

Under federal law, the FDA is responsible for regulating foods and drugs. The agency does not regulate over-the-counter cosmetics — unless they make drug claims — but it does regulate cosmetics that are drugs, such as prescription products used to treat acne or psoriasis.

As CBS News consumer columnist Mitch Lipka explained it today:

Cosmetics companies often walk a fine line about the sorts of claims they can make before they’ve gone too far and can be considered as making the claims of a drug that’s subject to testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to beware of boasts that could ring hollow.

Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, states it even more simply: “If a product seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

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