Recent discussion in the media about the rise of neon eyeshadow palettes, seemingly without any of the necessary FDA-approved colorants to make them possible, has given rise to safety and regulatory compliance questions. Naturally, some consumers are outraged, while others seem reluctant to raise a stink to the detriment of makeup options.
Neon eye makeup is all the rage in 2019, and brands have responded with electric shades promised to “pop like crazy,” in one marketer's words.
However, the safety and regulatory compliance of those neon offerings has come into question of late based on the pigments they rely on, which tend to include some that are not approved for eye-area use by the US Food and Drug Administration.
It's not a new issue exactly. Color additives must be green-lighted by the FDA for use in cosmetics, and corresponding regulations specify permitted uses, including whether they may be formulated into products intended for the eye area. The agency provides tables for easy reference on its website.
The vast majority of red and yellow colorants are not permitted for use in eye-area cosmetics.
On its website, the FDA discusses fluorescent colors on a page cautioning consumers about “novelty makeup.” The agency states, “These are the make-you-blink colors sometimes called ‘neon’ or ‘day-glow.’ There are eight fluorescent colors approved for cosmetics, and like other colors, there are limits on how they may be used. None of them are allowed for use near the eyes.”
The blogger behind Musings of a Muse broached the subject in June in her review of Huda Beauty, LLC’s Neon Obsessions orange palette, which contains colors that are off-limits for eye-area use under FDA regulations, she says.
Notably, the product is described as a pressed pigment palette (available in pink and green swatches, as well as orange), rather than an eyebrow palette, and according to the blogger its labeling includes a statement advising against eye-area use, if one that she says could be easily missed.
At the same time, Huda promotes its Neon Obsessions shades as a means of achieving “statement eyes,” describing the colors as “eye-popping” and providing instruction on its website for using them to that effect.
Huda is not alone in this approach. Seed Beauty’s Colourpop brand also provides a warning in online ingredient lists for its Super Shock Pigment line – “Not intended for use in the immediate eye area” – while featuring images of the product being applied in precisely that way.
Other suspects named in media reports include Kylie Cosmetics, and Lorac.
Refinery 29 notes in a 29 July article that colors without FDA’s approval for eye-area use may be under-studied in the agency’s view but still safe for consumers. According to the site, none of the named neon makeup marketers are linked to complaints in data files made available from FDA’s CFSAN Adverse Event Reporting System.
Further, the women’s media outlet points out that a number of colors prohibited stateside can be used in eye makeup in the typically more restrictive European Union.
However, an FDA spokesperson stressed in an exchange with Refinery 29 that cosmetics containing color additives that are not eye area-approved should not be used by consumers for that purpose or marketed by companies for that use. The rep added, “Since the eyelids are delicate, an allergic reaction, irritation or other injury in the eye area can be particularly troublesome.”
Instagram users registered their takes on the issue when whistle-blowing beauty collective Estee Laundry asked its 79,000 followers 7 July what they thought of “companies not disclosing [at least consistently] that their neon/vivid palettes are ‘not safe for use’ around the eyes.”
Commenters were divided, with some characterizing the practice as “incredibly irresponsible” and others dismissing it as a non-issue. A number of respondents said the phenomenon was more a reflection of outdated FDA regulations than shady business on the part of brands.
Multiple Instagram users indicated that they put more faith in European versus US regulations. One suggested that when it comes to overseeing color additives, the FDA is “very very over protective” in its approach.
Others maintained that even if the disputed colors are safe for eye-area use, albeit without the FDA’s sign-off, both brands and the retailers that carry their products should be held to higher transparency standards.
The issue parallels another raised by Women’s Voices for the Earth, which petitioned the FDA in 2015 to develop guidance concerning feminine wash marketers’ use of colorants that are approved by the agency for external cosmetics only.
The NGO argued that labeling statements on products from Summer’s Eve and other feminine cleansing brands that contain such color additives – advising that the products should not be applied internally or otherwise come in contact with vaginal mucous membranes – run counter to consumer intuition and the companies’ other marketing communications.
The FDA ultimately denied WVE’s petition in June 2018. The agency cited, among other factors, a low incidence of adverse-event reports associated with the feminine-wash category, as well as its own “many competing priorities.” (Also see "FDA Denies WVE Petition For Feminine Wash Colorant Guidance" - HBW Insight, 17 Jul, 2018.)
However, Summer’s Eve did go on to eliminate three targeted colorants from its feminine wash formulations, a move WVE attributed to its multi-year pressure campaign. (Also see "Summer’s Eve Removes Three Colorants From Feminine Washes, A ‘Huge Win’ For Women’s Voices" - HBW Insight, 21 Mar, 2019.)