The number of reports of adverse health events linked to use of cosmetic and personal care products has more than doubled over a period of just one year from 2015 to 2016. Most of the complaints were of side effects linked to hair care products.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed data from the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Adverse Event Reporting System, which provides consumers and health care professionals chance to submit complaints about the unwanted harms caused by the use of cosmetic products.

Increase In Reports Of Adverse Events Linked To Cosmetic Products

The researchers found that the number of related adverse events in 2016 was 1,591, a significant jump from only 706 complaints made in 2015.

The number of complaints in 2015 is 78 percent higher compared with the average number of reports over a 12-year period starting from 2004 to 2016. Complaints in 2016, on the other hand, is 300 percent higher compared with the average number of reports during the study period.

Study researcher Steve Xu, from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues believe that the number of these adverse health events is underreported and better reporting from consumers and clinicians are needed.

"Here is a $400 billion industry with millions of products and multiple controversies, but we only had about 5,000 adverse events over the course of 12 years," Xu said. "That's very, very underreported."

More Than 21,000 Complaints Of Adverse Health Events

The researchers widely attribute the increase in complaints to WEN haircare products. Federal health regulators opened an investigation about the products in 2014 after it received 127 reports from consumers of problems such as brittle hair, hair loss, itching, bald patches, and rash.

The FDA eventually learned that the manufacturer already received more than 21,000 complaints about their haircare products.

Regulatory Problems With The Cosmetic Industry

The incident underlines problems that hound the largely self-regulated cosmetic industry. Under current regulations, cosmetic companies do not have to report the complaints they receive to the FDA. Products do not have requirements for approval before they are sold in the market. Once these personal care products become available for sale to the consumers, few systems are also in place to monitor their safety.

In the case of WEN products, FDA investigation is ongoing but the products are still sold in the market and while the agency can recommend recalls, it has no authority to recall these cosmetic products.

Premarket And Postmarket Efforts That Can Improve The Safety Of Cosmetic Products

Former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and colleagues said in an editorial published in the JAMA Internal Medicine that there needs to be a better premarket evaluation and postmarket surveillance of cosmetic products. The researchers also offered suggestions that can help improve the safety of cosmetics.

"The first step to improve cosmetic safety is broader reporting, especially from manufacturers. Greater coordination with other databases (eg, National Poison Data System) may yield useful collateral information," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on June 26.

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