Beauty & Fashion

The U.S. Department of Mascara

Americans will be discovering unhappy surprises in the 4,155-page omnibus bill for weeks, and our unhappy duty is to tell you about them. To take one example: Congress is giving the Food and Drug Administration expanded power over the cosmetics industry.

Some 3,500 pages into the bill arrives the “Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022,” and by “modernization” Congress means giving the federal bureaucracy more power. Peddlers of lotions and lip gloss now will have to register their facilities, report “adverse events,” and abide by stipulated manufacturing practices. Another section establishes new labeling requirements. The FDA will have power to issue mandatory recalls.

The FDA already has enforcement options to deal with adulterated or misbranded cosmetics, and its regulations preclude or limit certain ingredients such as mercury compounds. Many in the agency will welcome their new power, but note that an FDA official told Congress in 2019: “We believe that most cosmetics on the market in the United States are indeed safe, and in our experience, most firms are responsible actors—they care about consumer safety and the reputations of their brands, and in those rare cases when safety issues do arise, many firms work with us cooperatively to address them.”

How to explain the new mascara micro-management? For years companies hawking “clean” beauty products have lobbied Congress for regulations that hamstring the competition, a pure rent-seeking exercise. These “natural” brands are free to use their preferred ingredients, but their goal is to ban compounds they dislike, even if the underlying science is questionable and even though not all Americans can afford to spend $60 on nighttime moisturizer.

Much of the industry appears to be supporting Congress’s power-grab, perhaps in part because the bill tries to pre-empt some state proposals that make running a national supply chain a nightmare. But new rules aren’t needed. Americans have more information than ever. The Environmental Working Group runs its own “EWG Verified” seal for anyone who would like to avoid this or that.

Congress is stuffing this into the omnibus because lawmakers couldn’t pass versions of it in an FDA authorization bill earlier this year. An expanded cosmetics shop will be another power center at the FDA that competes for resources and distracts from more urgent priorities.

The agency struggles mightily to approve in a timely fashion new drugs that save lives, and the FDA recently failed to head off a nationwide shortage of baby formula, for heaven’s sake. It won’t perform better once it spends more time and money policing eye shadow.

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