Wow, this was a frightening one to research.

So I was flipping through A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetics Ingredients, and was intrigued by the fact that there seemed to be pretty much no restrictions on what a company could put in their products in America, but that the author kept referring to the "Canadian Ingredient Hotlist", so I decided I wanted to know more about the differences in regulations in the two countries.

It's not pretty.

Here are two examples of direct comparisons between Health Canada and the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and how they handle certain issues.

The first is a warning about "Black Henna" temporary tattoos.

Health Canada: PPD in "Black Henna" temporary tattoos is not safe

FDA: Temporary tattoos & Henna/Mehndi

What startled and bothered me with those two was that they were warnings about the exact same item, yet the FDA website really seems to skirt the issue. They talk about how they have no restrictions on products used by professionals, including there being no need for someone applying "henna" at a state fair to let anyone know what's in the product being used. Health Canada suggests you ask to see the ingredients and that if no list can be provided, you should not use the product. The websites do both suggest that if you feel you have suffered a reaction to this sort of product, you should contact them, but the FDA hotlinks to a rather intimidating list of what you should have ready before you call, as well as having no option I can find for e-mailing them, whereas Health Canada has both a toll free number and a hotlinked e-mail address, and also suggests you contact them if you suspect a vendor may be using a dangerous ingredient in thier products, not just if you or someone you know has been harmed.

The second is the "Canadian Ingredient Hotlist" I was referring to, and it's counterpart on the FDA website.

Canadian Ingredient Hotlist

Ingredients Prohibited & Restricted by FDA Regulations

Note that the Canadian Ingredient Hotlist has over 500 ingredients, and was updated in September 2009. The FDA list has 11 and was last updated in May 2000.

The differences in cosmetics regulation in Canada and the US are astounding, at least to me. It seems very unsafe that the FDA seems to have almost no control (other than a "Voluntary Registration" program)  over what goes on in the cosmetics industry, and requires Congress to approve any changes made to their authority to protect consumers. Living here in Canada, I'm glad to know that Health Canada has the power to insist companies register their products and ingredients prior to selling them here, as well as the authority to say that they no longer consider an ingredient safe and set a date that it must be changed or removed from the market.