There are some interesting nuances that the consumer should know regarding the labeling of cosmetic products. First of all, one needs to understand what a cosmetic really is. According to the FDA and believe it or not the definition is based on the Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1939, a drug is something that acts on the skin and changes it in some manner, whereas a cosmetic is one that merely adorns the skin. So, by definition of the FDA, a cosmetic cannot perform any useful function.
Reading the Labels
So, there are games that are played with the wording and additionally a new class of agents has appeared on the scene called cosmeceuticals. These are agents that are applied to the skin, which do have an effect on the skin more than just adorning them. The FDA does not recognize the term, but it does exist and is useful in the world of dermatology and cosmetic language.
Reading labels carefully can give you an interesting picture of what is going on in the industry. A product cannot claim it reduces wrinkles; it can only claim that it reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Reducing wrinkles is a drug claim; reducing the appearance is not.
If a label states that it retards or reduces aging, it contains a sunscreen. A moisturizer contains water (the highest concentration on the label is the one first and it is always water) and then has items that traps the water and makes the product smell good.
Fragrance free means it does not have a smell, but it does not mean it contains no chemicals that have a fragrance, because chemicals are added to hide the smell of certain chemicals.
Data on file simply means there is data at the company—may be good, may be bad. It doesn’t say.
Dermatologist tested means that the company paid a dermatologist to test the product, but again the results are not known to the consumer.
As seen on TV means just that—it has been on TV—big deal!