cosmetic food supplements

Article by: Perry Romanowski

As a cosmetic formulator I’m often annoyed by chemical fear mongering of NGOs and other non-scientists who claim that cosmetics represent a significant health concern. The reality is that there is no evidence that parabens or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives cause any harm. There is no evidence that mineral oil or petrolatum or sodium lauryl sulfate or any of the other most vilified cosmetic ingredients cause actual problems. And yet there are entire groups who’s sole existence is to unnecessarily frighten people about products that are tested and safe. `cosmetic food supplements

Usually, I think they are just misguided but on my more cynical days I believe it to be a plot by Big Natural Cosmetics to dupe unsuspecting consumers into spending much more for their cosmetic products than they have to.

While the NGOs and their cosmetic chemical fearmongering annoys me there is something I find really strange. There does not appear to be an equivalent group who campaigns against a real danger in the US…dietary supplements.

Wild wild west of dietary supplements

While the cosmetic industry is regulated by the FDA, in the US the dietary supplement industry is essentially unregulated. They used to be, but in 1994 Congress passed the DSHEA which severely limits the power of the FDA to regulate dietary supplements. They have some recall ability and power to regulate medical claims but for the most part if you want to sell a dietary supplement in the US you can pretty much sell anything you want.

It really is a travesty and represents a significant health concern for consumers. There are lots of stories about the dangers of these products. This recent study demonstrated that about two thirds of the FDA recalled dietary supplements were still on the store shelves and contained banned drugs! That’s right even after an FDA recall for banned drugs in dietary supplements, consumers could still find them on store shelves.

These products are things you ingest. They get into your body where they can do actual damage. They are not simply put on the surface of your skin but rather right into your bloodstream. And the products are not required to be proven safe before being sold. As long as the manufacturer says they are safe, they can be sold. No proof required. In fact, nothing is required by the FDA unless there is some demonstrable health problem. And even after an FDA recall not much happens.

Something to be concerned about

This is a serious risk to consumers. It’s a real danger that people should be concerned about. And yet there is silence. NGOs like the EWG have nothing to say about it. Why can’t the Food Babe redirect her efforts to something that actually harms people? Fear mongerers like Mercola will scream about the “dangers” of cosmetics and then sell unregulated dietary supplements that could be filled with actually dangerous, illegal drugs.

It makes no sense to me.

The DSHEA has to go and the dietary supplement industry in the US needs much better regulation. How many people must die before it happens?

It seems there was movement afoot to do something in 2010 but obviously this has stalled in our do-nothing congress.

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6 comments

  1. newby

    Hi there, I just started a new job as a chemist at a dietary supplement company. I used to work as a formulation chemist in the personal care industry. Supplements are regulated as a food in the US. We get audited by the FDA every year. From my experience in both industries it seems like the dietary supplement has more actual regulation on paper but the cosmetic industry gets the “angry mom blog’s” focus. The regulations have been there for years but the FDA is only now getting around to focusing on making sure we follow them. My biggest problem is convincing the manufacturers out there to get out of the “wild wild west” and into 2016. As far as the dangers of our products? For the most part, if the product doesn’t do what the bottle claims, it will not do anything. There are very few cases where harm was actually done. The biggest safety issue I see is people assume that they are safe because they are “just vitamins” or “natural” and people aren’t looking at possible interactions with medications or actually read the bottle.

    Anywho, I came over here to ask if you knew of any similar resources for chemists in the dietary supplement area? When I first found Chemists Corner I read pretty much every thing you posted and recommended this to the new chemists I worked with. I want the same thing at my new job but I haven’t found anything.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Hello. Thanks for your comments. I have lots of opinions about the supplement market but appreciate your insiders look.

      I’ve long felt that since the passage of the DSHEA act in 1994 that the supplement market was essentially unregulated. There are forces in Congress that inhibit the FDA from enforcing the few rules that they have.

      While there are few cases of reported harm, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any harm. There was a recent story which showed in New York that supplement makers are not being truthful in what they put in their products. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/?_r=0

      But it is good to know that someone like you is in the industry and can hopefully move them in the right direction. I think it will take dedicated product developers to do this.

      No, I do not know of anything similar to Chemists Corner for supplement makers. That could be a good site I bet.

  2. Frank Lampe

    Boy, talk about fear mongering! In spite of your clearly uninformed contentions, the dietary supplement industry is highly regulated, specifically due to the passage of DSHEA 20 years ago. The law created a legal definition of supplements as a category of foods (and not drugs), good manufacturing practice implementation, qualified structure/function claims, an adverse event reporting system, and most important in regards to your article, comprehensive enforcement power for FDA to remove problem products. How many people have died due to dietary supplements? Extremely few. Want to compare that with the number of people who die from consuming legal OTC and prescription drugs each year? And the JAMA report you cite about banned “supplements” still on the market is flawed in two very important areas: by law, if a product contains banned or mislabeled drugs, then it’s not a dietary supplement–regardless of how you or JAMA wants to characterize these products masquerading as supplements. Additionally, a detailed review of the JAMA article shows that the authors’ own math is pretty hazy: 90% of the products included have successfully been taken off of the market–and this is an enforcement issue for an underresourced FDA, not one for the responsible supplement industry. You’d be well served to look at the thousands of peer-reviewed research articles showing benefit from supplements (ever hear of folic acid reducing spina bifida in newborns?) as well as their overall safety record instead of the fear mongering that’s all over your poorly researched rant.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Thanks for your comments.

      “Highly regulated”? We can just agree to disagree and I direct you to the following posts.

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/dshea-a-travesty-of-a-mockery-of-a-sham/

      http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/11/will-the-government-ever-regulate-supple/

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-dietary-supplement-safety-act-of-2010-a-long-overdue-correction/

      I’d be happy to look at the thousands of peer-reviewed research articles showing benefits of supplements…if only they existed. Folic acid is something doctors recommend to pregnant women. What exactly is Ginko Biloba or St. John’s Wort doing or mega vitamins doing?

  3. Javier

    Hi! I’m partially agree with this article. Since 2011 FDA is making a huge pressure on supplement manufacturers, in fact external audits requests increased since then. I personally audited several manufacturing sites in Miami and you can see a big improvement regarding to GMP and CFR compliance. But, still you will find plenty of warning letters issued to them every year. (This is public info on FDA web page).

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s good to hear they are doing something because supplements can be downright dangerous, especially to people who have health issues and are taking other medications. I’m not sure warning letters are enough.

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