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Eye Cosmetic Safety
Eye cosmetics are intended to make eyes more attractive, or in some cases to cleanse the eye area. One thing they shouldn't do is cause harm. Most are safe when used properly. However, there are some things to be careful about when using these products, such as the risk of infection, the risk of injury from the applicator, and the use of unapproved color additives, such as kohl. The following information provides an introduction to some safety concerns and legal issues related to eye cosmetics.
Keep it clean!
Eye cosmetics are usually safe when you buy them, but misusing them can allow dangerous bacteria to grow in them. Then, when applied to the eye area, a cosmetic can cause an infection. In rare cases, women have been temporarily or permanently blinded by an infection from an eye cosmetic. See the Safety Checklist below for tips on keeping your eye cosmetics clean and protecting against infections.
Occasionally, contamination can be a problem for some eye cosmetics even when they are new. FDA has an Import Alert in effect for cosmetics -- including eye cosmetics -- contaminated with harmful microorganisms.
Don't share! Don't swap!
Don't share or swap eye cosmetics -- not even with your best friend. Another person's germs may be hazardous to you. The risk of contamination may be even greater with "testers" at retail stores, if a number of people are using the same sample product. If you feel you must sample cosmetics at a store, make sure they are applied with single-use applicators, such as clean cotton swabs.
It may seem like efficient use of your time to apply makeup in the car or on the bus, but resist that temptation, even if you're not in the driver's seat. If you hit a bump, come to a sudden stop, or are hit by another vehicle, you risk injuring your eye with a mascara wand or other applicator. Even a slight scratch can result in a serious infection.
What's in it?
As with any cosmetic product sold on a retail basis to consumers, eye cosmetics are required to have an ingredient declaration on the label, according to regulations implemented under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, or FPLA -- an important consumer protection law. If you wish to avoid certain ingredients or compare the ingredients in different brands, you can check the ingredient declaration.
If a cosmetic sold on a retail basis to consumers does not have an ingredient declaration, it is considered misbranded and is illegal in interstate commerce. Very small packages in tightly compartmented display racks may have copies of the ingredient declaration available on tear-off sheets accompanying the display. If neither the package nor the display rack provides the ingredient declaration, you aren't getting the information you're entitled to. Don't hesitate to ask the store manager or the manufacturer why not.
What's that shade you're wearing?
In the United States, the use of color additives is strictly regulated. A number of color additives approved for cosmetic use in general are not approved for use in the area of the eye. An import alert for cosmetics containing illegal colors lists several eye cosmetics.
Keep away from kohl -- and keep kohl away from kids!
One color additive of particular concern is kohl. Also known as al-kahl, kajal, or surma, kohl is used in some parts of the world to enhance the appearance of the eyes, but is unapproved for cosmetic use in the United States. Kohl consists of salts of heavy metals, such as antimony and lead. It may be tempting to think that because kohl has been used traditionally as an eye cosmetic in some parts of the world, it must be safe. However, there have been reports linking the use of kohl to lead poisoning in children.*
Some eye cosmetics may be labeled with the word "kohl" only to indicate the shade, not because they contain true kohl. If the product is properly labeled, you can check to see whether the color additives declared on the label are in FDA's list of color additives approved for use in cosmetics, then make sure they are listed as approved for use in the area of the eye.
Dying to dye your lashes?
Permanent eyelash and eyebrow tints and dyes have been known to cause serious eye injuries, including blindness. There are no color additives approved by FDA for permanent dyeing or tinting of eyelashes and eyebrows. FDA has an Import Alert in effect for eyelash and eyebrow dyes containing coal tar colors. For more information on this subject, see Eyelash Dyes and FDA Warns Against Use of "Permanent" Eyelash/Eyebrow Dyes and Tints.
If you use eye cosmetics, FDA urges you to follow these safety tips:
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