Why Skin Products Need Better Side Effect Reporting
Review of current regulations that don't require the reporting of adverse effects
By now, you may have already heard about the thousands of people who have filed complaints about hair loss after using select cleansing conditioners from WEN. Many of these complaints were seen only by the company, Guthy-Renker LLC, as current regulations do not require that such concerns be reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The regulations for personal care products, such as the aforementioned WEN conditioners, do not require manufacturers to report concerns about adverse reactions, like hair loss, to the FDA.
As a dermatologist, I want to know when people start experiencing an adverse side effect from a skin care product. Even if the side effect is not proven or only appears in a small group of people, I want to be aware of it so I can be vigilant if my patients experience similar side effects.
As a society, we rely heavily on skin, hair, and nail products (also known as personal care products). Whether we use makeup to get that extra glow, moisturizers to combat dry skin, or shampoos and conditioners to keep our hair looking clean and healthy, skin and beauty products have a huge impact on our skin care routines. As a dermatologist, I get a lot of questions about personal care products. What can I use to make my wrinkles better? What will give my hair better shine? What moisturizer can I use to keep my eczema under control?
In some cases, I can offer a prescription for a medication that can really help. But in most cases, I prefer to discuss lifestyle adjustments that can help my patients take control of their skin care routines. For example, steroids can help control inflamed skin for people with eczema, but they are not a long-term solution. Rather, I strongly encourage the use of over-the-counter moisturizers to help my patients gain better long-term control. Generally speaking, skin products that you can get at a local drug store are an important part of my care plan.
Whether I’m helping my patient select the right kind of hair care product, nail care product, or a moisturizer, it’s extremely important that the products I recommend are safe and don’t have negative side effects. We have new and exciting technologies and products that are constantly entering the market. Botanicals, natural products, new polymer technologies, and small peptides are a few of the new kids on the block. While effective new over-the-counter skin care products are exciting, the side effects are not always immediately known.
I do not believe every cosmetic or skin product needs to go through the hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars of testing that a medication goes through. Skin products would become tremendously unavailable and unaffordable if they did. However, we do need to have a way to keep track of products that are potentially causing detrimental side effects in a large number of people.
What I can do is to try to help patients get through side effects that may occur from a skin product or a medication. What I can’t do is always predict which products will or will not have a side effect. Sometimes it’s caused by a rare allergic reaction or a sensitivity to an ingredient. However, when a product has side effects that affect thousands of people, we need to get that knowledge out quickly to the masses, so that the general public and my patients don’t suffer unnecessarily.
The problem really comes to light if I were to see a patient with hair loss. Hair loss is socially devastating, especially for women. If I know that my patient is using a product that may cause hair loss, I would want them to stop using it as a first step to see if we could get the hair loss to recover. Otherwise, we may miss a key piece of information that would otherwise help me provide the best care possible. We need to have mandated reporting once side effects become widespread enough to meet a given threshold. This will allow consumers and health care providers to make more educated decisions and ultimately promote the safety of the products that we use.
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