The difference between a product being marketed as a cosmetic and marketed as a drug can be a very thin line. However, the differences in regulation between the two are stark. The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (The Act) governs the regulation of drugs and cosmetic products. The Act defines a cosmetic, in part, as something designed for the, “cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance [of a person].” By contrast, the Act defines a drug, in part, as a product “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” or “intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.” Further, when a product is considered a cosmetic, it generally does not need FDA approval before they are sold to the public. When a product is classified as a drug, then it must generally pass FDA review before it can be marketed to consumers.
FDA has recently noted that many cosmetic companies have crossed the line with claims on their advertising or packaging, causing products that would otherwise be regulated as cosmetics to be considered drugs by the Agency. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been issuing warning letters to companies whose claims have gone beyond promoting the cosmetic benefits of their product and into the territory of promising outcomes typically associated with drugs, such as indicating that the product is intended to treat or prevent disease, or change the body’s structure or functions. If a company fails to comply with these rules, the FDA may take additional action beyond issuing a warning letter, which could include removal of a product from the market or other sanctions, which would likely prove costly.
Warning letters that have been issued to cosmetics manufacturers for marketing products with claims that indicate that the product is a drug can be found here. The products range from skin care creams and lotions, hair care products, and even eyelash and eyebrow treatments.
In general, the FDA advises that, first, products intended to cleanse or beautify are generally regulated as cosmetics. Second, products intended to treat or prevent disease, or affect the structure or function of the body, are drugs. Third, that some products are both cosmetics and drugs. Examples include anti-dandruff shampoos and antiperspirant-deodorants, as well as makeup with SPF (sun protection factor) numbers. These products must meet the requirements for both cosmetics and drugs, as applicable.
When promoting products in the cosmetics industry, it may be advantageous to sell the potential user on the benefits that they may experience. However, it is extremely difficult for any company to toe the line between cosmetic and drug claims. For this reason, it may be particularly helpful to have a trained professional examine the claims made regarding the product to ensure their compliance with all federal laws and FDA regulations.
We offer assistance to companies with label reviews and ensuring that products comply with FDA regulations. If you would like assistance with your cosmetics products, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.