Cosmetics Product Liability: More Common Than Thought

The world of Cinnamon Spice, Pink Basket Case, and Rum Raisin may not be so rosy.

Welcome to the world of lipsticks, nail polishes, and blushes. Women use these products all the time; and most women love them. In fact, cosmetics is a $7 billion-dollar industry – that’s the amount that women in the USA spend on cosmetics annually.

Yet, cosmetics are not regulated by the U. S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Which means that it’s really up to the consumer to decipher which cosmetics are good and bad for you. Cosmetics are filled with all kinds of ingredients, including chemicals, color, and minerals, and unless you’re a dermatologist, it’s hard to figure out the good, the bad, and the ugly. One way to decipher the details might be to read websites devoted to cosmetics safety such as the Beautypedia website published by Paula Begoun, the “Cosmetics Cop. ” Ms. Begoun, who quotes from all of the dermatology and biology trade journals, rates all brands of comsetics and tells her readers what to try and what to avoid, based on their ingredients. (Note: I’m not endorsing Ms. Begoun’s website here, only noting its availability.)

Because cosmetics are not regulated by the FDA, and because most people don’t know about websites such as Ms. Begoun’s, it’s up to the consumer to figure it all out for herself (or himself,) when it comes to cosmetics. This isn’t relevant to my own daily life, but I imagine this can be very difficult. And when and if things go wrong, say, you develop a face rash that never heals, or all of your eyelashes fall out — you may very well need a Boston product liability attorney.

But if U.S. Representative John Dingell of Dearborn, Michigan, has his way, new legislation would require manufacturers to register their cosmetics with the Food and Drug Administration, and give the FDA the power to recall cosmetics if problems should arise. This would make cosmetics safer for consumers. Recently, for example, there was much ado about the Brazilian Blowout. This all-the-rage form of chemical hair straightening uses keratin from sheep as well as a liquid form of formaldehyde to take the kink and frizz out of hair. After stylists in salons reported all kinds of skin rashes and breathing problems, the Brazilian Blowout class action lawsuit made news, and, aside from a large civil settlement the manufacturer paid as damages, the FDA made the manufacturer put a warning on its labels.

So, what makes a product “defective”? That’s a good question.

Here is where it helps to be a Boston/Dedham product liability lawyer. The answer can be complicated, but as a general rule I can tell you: For a product to be labeled “defective,” the “defect” of a product may have occurred at several stages in its lifespan: in its design, manufacturing, distribution, advertising or even marketing. This can be a broad definition, but in general, a product will usually be found to be “defective” if the danger the product posed could have been reasonably foreseen by the manufacturer or someone in production, marketing or distribution.

Some examples of defective products have become famous, such as Ford Motor Company’s Pinto manufactured in the Seventies. This case stands out as “classic” in the annals of defective products (and the callousness of corporate America in placing consumer safety long behind profits.) The Pinto caused numerous deaths and injuries due to a defectively designed and manufactured gas tank, which exploded at the slightest, low-speed rear-end impact.

I’m not suggesting that a skin rash has any comparison to a fiery death in a defectively-designed car. But if you live in Massachusetts and have suffered a serious injury due to using cosmetics, I suggest you consult with a Massachusetts product liability attorney.