Definitions: The Many Faces of Cosmetics


Now when was the last time you genuinely thought about cosmetics, I mean really considered the sheer number of cosmetics you or the average person uses on a day-to-day basis. Whether male or female, most of us use quite the range of cosmetic products to achieve various beautification goals. Whether body wash, lotion, deodorants/antiperspirants, toothpaste, shampoo and so on, these are all products that are typically manufactured in a large quantities for the masses, and although the relevant governing bodies allow product sales depending on the consumer safety regulations, safety standards remain inconsistent from nation-to-nation worldwide.

Generally, most consumers think of cosmetics as topical application used by females, the USFDA defines cosmetics as “(1) articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body or any part thereof for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance, and (2) articles intended for use as a component of any such articles; except that such term shall not include soap” (Federal Food & Drug Act, 1938, p. 32).  The European Union defines cosmetics more stringently as “any substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips and external genital organs) or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance and/or correcting body odours and/or protecting them or keeping them in good condition” (The rules governing cosmetic products in the European Union, 1999, p. 7). The table below shows the variations in cosmetics definitions by nation:


Even with clear definitions of cosmetics, the long-term effects of new products is rarely evaluated/understood prior to flooding the consumer markets; hence the need for consumer cosmetics safety advocacy organizations like Environmental Working Group (EWG) and  campaign for safe cosmetics to  evaluate risk factors and educate the consumers on cosmetics ingredients and their safety/ risk to human health and the environment.

Shop wisely, stay beautiful inside and out.

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