Spelman College's eSpelman Cosmetic Science Online Certificate

Cosmetic Regulations: What Are They?

Nearly everyone uses cosmetic products in their daily lives. Makeup, moisturizers, colognes, perfumes, hair dyes, nail products, and many others fall under the broad category of cosmetics. If you are interested in becoming a cosmetologist, or you want to start your own business in making and selling cosmetic products to people, you need to have a greater understanding of the types of cosmetic regulations that can impact your work. You may have wondered who regulates the cosmetics space– is it the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) or does another organization handles this task?

What Are Cosmetic Regulations?

Cosmetic regulations are rules and standards that apply to the cosmetic industry. These laws typically apply to the manufacturing and branding of products that are shipped to consumers. These regulations are designed to help promote safety and prevent adverse health effects. They also help inform consumers about product benefits. Two regulations in the United States that govern the cosmetics industry are the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

Who Regulates Cosmetics?

There is no global authority that provides regulations on cosmetics for everyone. Instead, each individual country will have regulations regarding cosmetic products manufactured within their borders. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulates cosmetics across the country. In Europe, the European Union (EU) Commission governs finished products and enforces all regulations for member states.

Although the FDA must provide premarket approval for color additives, they do not need to approve cosmetics or ingredients. However, the FDA does enforce action against cosmetics that do not comply with the law. Certain states have regulations that also govern cosmetics, such as California, Washington, and Minnesota. It is important to follow up with your state as they may, in the future, also develop cosmetics regulations.

What Does the FDA Do?

The FDA has the authority to require certain manufacturing standards to be upheld during the making of cosmetics. These standards may involve the ingredients that are in the products and how the cosmetics are labeled. They also provide good manufacturing practices that companies can follow to minimize the risks of producing poor-quality products. The FDA can also report and recall cosmetics that pose health problems.

Labeling and Ingredient Requirements

Certain microorganisms can/may be present in raw materials/ingredients, but it shouldn't exceed FDA's guideline limits. Introducing products with objectionable organisms or excessive microbial contamination can be grounds for FDA deeming that product adulterated in out of compliance with the FD&C Act. 

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPS)

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPS) are systems that outline production standards for specific industries. These systems provide assurances that the manufacturing of products is done under standard industry conditions. Cosmetic manufacturers can follow GMP guidelines to minimize health and safety risks as well as avoid misbranding or adulteration of personal care products. In addition to the ingredient and labeling requirements already mentioned above, Good Manufacturing Practices can cover every aspect of manufacturing operations.

  • Building: They detail the design and construction of the manufacturing and storage building, as well as all the internal construction, materials, fixtures, and systems.
  • Equipment: Cleaning and sanitizing guidelines for all equipment, utensils, transfer piping, and contact surfaces.
  • Personnel: Workers supervising, controlling, or handling cosmetics should have the training, education, and appropriate protective clothing to promote personal cleanliness.
  • Production: Equipment should be clean and only approved materials should be used in the creation of cosmetics. This section also covers proper labeling of batch and filling equipment, ensures materials are weighed and measured, requires samples to be taken before and after processing for testing, and other factors. It also provides guidance involving the examination of any cosmetic products returned for contamination or deterioration.
  • Laboratory Controls: Samples of water, raw materials, and finished products are tested (and retested) for identity verification, compliance, and for microbial contamination along with other hazardous elements.
  • Records: Control records for raw materials, packaging, manufacturing batches, finished products, distribution, and other operational processes are maintained.
  • Complaints: The cosmetic firm should keep and maintain a consumer complaint file to record reported injuries, the medical treatment involved, the product associated with the injury, and other factors. The file should also include the name/location of any government agency, poison control center, or physician group that has received the toxicity data and formula information.

    The FDA will also perform evaluations and inspections to determine if the cosmetic manufacturer is using unlisted or uncertified color additives or prohibited ingredients. The above list is not comprehensive, as there may be additional guidelines and added regulations from the FDA. It is always advisable to periodically review the GMP for new regulations that may be introduced.

Safety Requirements and Reporting

Manufacturers have the legal obligation to support the safe use of its products. Safety/Tox testing is often used but doesn't necessarily have to be executed. Effective 12/29/23, the FDA can require/mandate a product recall if a safety issue is identified per MoCRA. 

Rules to Know About Cosmetic Regulation

MoCRA does not require registration of raw materials (ingredients). Finished products and facilities must do this by 12/29/23, and there are some specific qualified exemptions available (ex., small businesses). Fragrance compositions are proprietary to the fragrance houses and are not required to be disclosed to the public (label), just fragrance allergens. FDA has not published its list of fragrance allergens (yet) but once they do, this will have to be on the product label (per MoCRA requirements).

State and Local Regulations

California, Washington, and Minnesota have enacted regulations that govern cosmetic products. In Minnesota, the chemical formaldehyde is banned from all children's personal care products. Washington has enacted the Children's Safe Product Act to require companies to report any product that has chemicals of high concern to children.

California has the most regulations compared to other states. The Safe Cosmetics Act, Professional Cosmetics Labeling Requirements Act, the CA Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, and the CA Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredients Right to Know Act are designed to ban dangerous chemicals, require ingredients labels, require full disclosure of products containing Proposition 65 chemicals, and require disclosure of secret ingredients for fragrances.

Fragrance compositions are proprietary to the fragrance houses and are not required to be disclosed in CA. Fragrance allergens (82 recognized in the EU) must be disclosed if present above designated thresholds/concentrations as well as any substance listed in the 23 lists CA uses to identify toxic substances. CA also has the Cruelty-Free Cosmetic Act (an animal testing ban (similar to the EU) on cosmetics effective 1/1/20. (FYI, over a dozen states have animal testing bans in effect)

Honest Advertising

FDA & FTC tag team is responsible for cosmetics. Claims must be substantiated and this gets a lot of companies in trouble. It's not just labeling and branding (explicit) but also includes implied claims. The FTC is becoming more active on certain kinds of claims (ex., environmental), so having a knowledgeable attorney in-house (or outsourced) is good/standard practice.

Why Follow Cosmetic Regulations?


Having regulations designed to keep harmful chemicals out of products reduces false branding and ensures consumers can make the right decisions when selecting personal care products. By having the correct labeling and ingredients listed on products, people who may have minor, moderate, or severe allergies can evaluate the listed ingredients and avoid cosmetics that could cause allergic reactions. In addition, constant retesting of products over a long period can determine if the cosmetics may cause health issues with continued use, or at a specific concentration.

Consequences of Breaking the Rules

Cosmetic firms that break the rules and offer dangerous products to consumers could face federal penalties and fines through the federal judicial system. Also, if they are found guilty of misbranding or adulteration of the products, they could be prohibited from importing, exporting, or shipping their cosmetics to retailers and consumers. Companies will also face negative branding and PR from any court cases, which could lower sales for their other products.

Learn More About Cosmetics with Spelman College

The cosmetics industry has many regulations regarding the manufacturing, formulating, labeling, and packaging of personal care products. Engaging in product safety ensures that people are happy with the cosmetics they obtain and know how to use them properly. If you are interested in making and selling your own beauty products or want to work in a laboratory to formulate and test cosmetics and fragrances, Spelman College offers a cosmetic science certificate through their eSpelman online program. Learn about this exciting career by requesting more information.