WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration has warned Congress that it is frequently finding contamination, illegal ingredients and other problems in the soaring quantities of imported cosmetics, and that it has only “limited resources” to inspect the shipments.
The warning was part of a letter sent in late June to a Democrat who is pushing Congress to enact legislation giving the FDA greater powers and resources to regulate cosmetics.
The FDA has the equivalent of just six full-time inspectors to monitor 3 million shipments of cosmetics coming in each year — lipsticks, eyeliners, nail polish, face powders, tattoo inks and other products — an amount that has doubled in the past decade, said the letter to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FDA. These products came from 181 countries last year, sent by 29,000 foreign companies, few of which have registered with the FDA, as they are not required to do so, the agency said.
However, FDA officials and industry executives said they remained confident that most cosmetics sold in the United States — imported or made domestically — were safe.
Of the 3 million imported cosmetics shipments, the agency physically inspected 9,871, or about 0.3 percent, last year. It picks those products it has reason to believe might have problems, often based on past checks of material from the same company. The letter said that 15 percent of those inspections resulted in what the FDA calls “adverse findings.”
Laboratory tests were conducted on a smaller sample of those shipments — a total of 364 last year — and 20 percent of those led to adverse findings. The agency found bacterial contamination, illegal color additives that can cause skin or eye injuries, ingredients that were not on the label as required, and unsafe chemical substances like mercury, the agency said.
About 2,000 shipments a year are refused entry to the United States, based on these inspections or other issues; the highest share of those blocked come from China, India, South Korea, Canada and France, the letter said. Imports from China were particularly problematic — as has historically been the case with other products, including children’s toys.