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External use only – what does that mean for cosmetics?

Wade wonders… So I have started to use Nivea Creme on all parts of my body, including my lips. The tin says that the cream is “for external use only.” I would like to know the definition of: “for external use only,” specifically as it relates to the cosmetic world.

The Beauty Brains respond:

By definition all cosmetics are for external use only. To refresh your mind here is the legal definition of a cosmetic:

“The FD&C Act defines cosmetics as articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions.”

External does include the lips but does this definition mean that every single cosmetic can be applied anywhere on your body? Not quite. There are some subtleties in what is meant by “external.” Here are a few examples of products that are applied externally but CAN’T be applied all over your body.

Product intended for use around the eyes

These are products used AROUND the eye, not in it, such as eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, and eye creams. To be used around the eyes products must be formulated with colorants that have been approved specifically for that use. In other words you can’t just use any random color in eyeshadows, etc.

Products intended for use on the lips

These include lipsticks, lip glosses, lip balm, and some moisturizers. The same warning applies here: products used on the lips must only contain colorants which are approved for incidental ingestion. (Food, Drug & Cosmetic colors vs just Drug & Cosmetic colors.)

Cosmetics which are also over-the-counter drugs

Over-the-counter drug products can affect the physiology of the body and therefore may be unsuitable for use on the lips, where they might accidentally be, or around the eyes where they could enter the eye and cause irritation. Examples include antiperspirants and acne products which contain active agents like benzyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So what does all this mean for your Nivea moisturizer? As long as the product is not a drug and not pigmented there’s no legal reason not to apply it to your lips. However, there’s no way to know if all the ingredients (particularly the fragrance) are approved for incidental ingestion. To be safe you should check with the manufacturer to see if they recommend using it on the lips. Or you could just buy a lip balm.

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