There Are Six FDA Inspectors For 3,000,000 Shipments Of Imported Cosmetics Per Year

Image courtesy of DCvision2006

Every year, there are three million shipments of cosmetic products that pass through U.S. ports and onto our store shelves. The problem is that there are only six inspectors for all of those shipments, which means that .3% of them are ever inspected. Products like tattoo ink that goes under the skin and lipstick that could be ingested fall under “cosmetics,” and products could be dangerous.

“The appearance of contamination”

The most common reasons why a product might not pass inspection, in the rare case that it is inspected, are labeling, color additives that aren’t legal in this country, or “the appearance of contamination with filth or other contaminants.”

Most cosmetics that we import come from Canada and France, but imports from China are increasing. According to a letter [PDF] from FDA Deputy Commissioner Anna K. Abram to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, imports of cosmetics products from China have increased 79% over the last five years.

Relative risk

The FDA chooses products to actually inspect according to their individual risk, flagging certain high-risk product types like kohl eyeliners, which tend to contain high levels of metal, and skin-lightening creams, which should be sold as drugs in the United States.

“By a large margin, imports from China were identified with these concerns,” Abrams wrote, referring to issues with color additives and contaminated products. While 20% of products that are inspected have problems, only products or manufacturers that may have problems are flagged for inspection.

Since so few products overall are inspected, this probably doesn’t apply across the entire market for imported cosmetic products. With so few inspectors relative to the number of products coming in, we don’t know.

The New York Times notes that under President Trump’s proposed federal budget, there would be fewer inspectors of imported cosmetic products, not more.